My (Fictional) Literary Heroine: Lucilla Elliot
For the past several years, I have re-read the Eliot family trilogy by Elizabeth Goudge (one of my favorite British authors) around Christmastime, and so once again, I have just finished up the first book, The Bird in the Tree. The heroine of the trilogy is a grand old matron named Lucilla Eliot, a grandmother in her late 70s who regally reigns over her fortress of a home (called Damerosehay) on England’s Hampshire coast.
Lucilla is a force to be reckoned with, but also has the wit, wisdom, and winsomeness I can only hope to have a sliver of when I am nearing 80.
5 reasons I love Lucilla and want to model my grandmotherhood after her:
- Lucilla understands the power of atmosphere, place, and creativity. Lucilla purchased the broken-down Damerosehay when she was in her late 50s, with a vision of creating it as a safe haven for her grown children and future grandchildren. She envisioned all it could be, despite its mice infestation, overgrown gardens, and failing roof. She determined to make this home her final and most majestic creative accomplishment, all for the sake of the hearts and minds of her descendants.
- Lucilla goes to great lengths to foster an atmosphere of delight and imagination for the sake of her grandchildren. They have unrestricted freedom to explore the magnificent nooks and crannies of Damerosehay. While the gardens play an important role in the books, the inside of the house has its own personality, one that is uncovered only after multiple readings of the text. There is a children’s nursery full of live animals (a chameleon, a pack of white mice, two dogs, etc.); there are predictable tea times of biscuits and milk; there are crickety staircases and chairs reserved for certain guests. The furnishings were selected with an eye to beauty and longevity, all of which add to the imaginative landscape across which this family lives its life, and the enormous fireplace mantle once was part of the helm of a ship that wrecked off the coast of Hampshire. Magical stories and hidden mysteries are just one of the subtle but irresistible parts of the trilogy’s backdrop.
- Lucilla understands the importance of the outdoors for her grandchildren. There is one particular garden reserved for just the children, which must be entered by a certain gate, that is overflowing with an abundance of wildflowers and ancient trees, a rope swing, a stone wall, and an ever-present cadre of singing birds. The grandchildren have reserved it as their own, and that is just how Lucilla wants it. Moreover, the grandchildren have free reign to run through the marshes and into the edges of the old village to greet guests. There is a rhythm and ritual to every aspect of the outdoor life of Damerosehay.
- Lucilla is a fervent woman of prayer. A devout Anglican, she prays at the foot of the bed of each of her grandchildren after they are asleep. She knows they are in the Lord’s hands and yet also exercises her grandmotherly authority and influence to help extricate the foolishness of her grandchildren. She is exceedingly loyal to them and never dismisses their interests for her own.
- Lucilla is the gatekeeper of the family secrets and is the source of all wise counsel. Her wisdom and counsel is treasured above everyone else’s. Her grown children and grandchildren know she is reliable, steady, and faithful and do not despise her old-fashioned habits and manners but rather see them as a gateway to the wisdom and fortitude that only comes with decades of living a sacrificial life.
I could list a dozen more reasons that I love Lucilla, but I will instead end with an admonition to pick up The Bird in the Tree, The Pilgrim’s Inn, and Heart of the Family as soon as possible, with the hope that your vision of grandmotherhood may be equally as enriched.
Lucilla Eliot: Happy homes are very important, I think, far more important than you realize, and God knows how many of them have been built up by the sacrifice of private longings. I am inclined to think that nothing so fosters creative action as the sacrifice of feeling. It’s like rain coming down upon the corn. I think it is David’s beloved Shakespeare who says somewhere, “Upon such sacrifices the gods themselves throw incense.” (The Bird in the Tree, page 212)