The carriage gave another lurch, and Maria Merryweather, Miss Heliotrope, and Wiggins once more fell into each other’s arms, sighed, gasped, righted themselves, and fixed their attention upon those objects which were for each of them at this trying moment the source of courage and strength.
I picked this book up on a total whim, I have the vaguest recollections of a tv series by the same name, which may or may not have existed. But if it did I think I found it boring. Still I’m a horse fan. It was cheap, and short. I gave in.
And I’m so glad that I did. It is quite obvious that this book is not a modern one. First published in 1946 and set in Victorian England. The book is full of elements that date it. There is an innocence and such a positive outlook that is almost too much. The characters themselves aren’t all that well-drawn, being almost stereotypes. And the plot is simplistic and slightly overly religous.
But at the same time it is a wonderful little book. Very much a children’s story it was the style of writing that kept me interested. Slightly dry, and very humourous it has some wonderful descriptions. Whether those descriptions are of physical attributes, or of personality they work wonderfully:
For Maria was one of your true aristocrats; the perfection of the hidden things was even more important to her that the outward show
Maria is the heroine of the novel. A 13 year old girl, recently orphaned as her mother died when she was very young and recently her father died. She isn’t all tha bothered by this as she grew up without a mother. And her father was a soldier, always away with the regiment. She has been brought up by her governess, Miss Heliotrope. She loves Maria and always does what is best for the girl, and Maria returns this love. So it isn’t an unhappy start to the book. They, along with the dog Wiggins, are journeying to Moonacre, the home of the Merryweathers, where Maria’s cousin Sir Benjamin is waiting to take them in.
The journey by coach allows Goudge to give a quick character sketch of these main protagonists. Maria is a trifle vain, especially of her feet, which are “exquisitely tiny [and] of which she was inordinately proud. They were her chief beauty”. Wiggins the dog is a beautiful looking animal, but his character isn’t so lovely. He acts the part of the devoted loving loyal pet purely because he is very well aware who feeds him. Did I forget to mention? The animals here may not speak, but they are very much cast in the role of almost human characters. Miss Heliotrope is a gentlewoman, and although she suffers from a rather large and red nose, as well as indigestion, never complains for she
had been brought up by her mother to belive that it is the mark of a True Gentlewoman never to say anything about herself ever
The plot revolves around the Dark Men who live in the nearby pine-woods, and their continual assaults on Moonacre and the village. Whether that is poaching or stealing lambs they are spoiling the perfect happiness of the inhabitants.
And Maria is just the person to save the day. She is the descendant of the original Merryweather, Sir Wroulf who was responsible for both establishing Moonacre, but also for origins of the Dark Men. And it is up to Maria to put things right.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and while certain aspects are decidedly dated overall it works wonderfully. The language and style used by Goudge mean you don’t care about the happily ever after ending, or the fact that there is actually very little conflict or drama.