Sunday, June 26, 2011

Review of "Green Dolphin Street"

I finally finished reading Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge. It took me forever because I read in little snatches at night, before going to sleep. Toward the end, I began reading in longer stretches, and got it finished. I didn't know it was a movie too; I'll see if Netflix has this one. Nope. Just checked, and they don't.
I'd recommend this book if: 1) you enjoy reading, 2) you don't mind long, old-fashioned, highly descriptive prose and romantic stuff, 3) you enjoy a good yarn that takes you around the world, and 4) you don't mind a character or two who might irritate you.
What I liked about this book: 1) Complex characters who are still kept believable. They change and learn and improve over a lifetime. 2) The book does cover a lifetime, which is interesting and rich. 3) The writer is at thinker, and although she doesn't weary you with philosophy, she comes out with some interesting ideas. 4) Her locations are beautifully described, lush and appealing.
(Apparently there is a business somewhere ....)
For those who are Goudge fans, there are three passages that I want to dwell on for a while, so if you're not interested, this would be your cue to click out :)

First passage: When the Green Dolphin is sinking, and Cptn. O'Hara sees a man (William) swimming toward them to save them, O'Hara compares him to Christ: "He was the Savior, saving sometimes by life and sometimes by death, but never failing to redeem."

This is an idea that my brain has toyed with, but has never wanted to express openly:  that death is a way of saving someone, that when we die and go to heaven with Jesus, we are then fully saved, in our deaths -- or rather through our deaths, because we have to pass through death, to reach salvation. I've avoided this concept at times, because I really wanted only the first type of salvation;  I wanted "saving by life," as O'Hara says. We all want deliverance in this life, on this soil, in real time. But in this scene from the book, O'Hara has resigned himself joyfully to going down with his beloved ship. He wants his buddy Nat to be saved in this life, but he knows that he himself will be saved also, by dying. They're both saved either way.

I'm not expressing this well, but in the past I've viewed the deaths of Christians as a failure. God didn't heal them, and so they died. A sad, second-best finish. This passage celebrates that the Christian's death is also salvation, and is a perfectly good option.

Second passage: When Marguerite is talking with the Rev. Mother, they discuss what reality is. The nun says that all people are searching for a better reality, but they search for it in three different ways, depending on their temperaments. "We think of it as a place, a person, a state, according to our temperaments." Marguerite describes her sister, Marianne, as a "restless" person; the nun states that Marianne has "that conception of reality as a place that makes some souls pilgrims and wanderers."  The instant I read that, I felt it was true. Some people are wanderers, and are always looking for a place. And I think it's unfair to say they're unsettled, or unsatisfied. They are searching for a beautiful reality, and they conceive of it in a place.

Others look for their reality in a person. "If the craving of the soul for its perfect mate remains unsatisfied, they find salvation in the service of others, in saving others." This also rings true. Many humans cling to each other, looking for fulfillment, joy, or they love to serve others. This is fairly common.

The third assessment is a bit deeper. The Rev. Mother says, "Ascetics like ourselves conceive of reality as a state. We long for inward perfection." Yes - that's true also! Isn't it odd to find a person who doesn't seem attached to places or to people, but to something inside himself? He is also searching, in a different way.

I don't think Goudge means here that people are seeking reality in other things, when they ought to be seeking it in God.  Her assumption is that the Rev. Mother and Marguerite (at least) are devout believers. But even Christians are still searchers in this life, searchers for the good and beautiful that God leaves for us to find. We find it in different ways.

I found this orderly evaluation of humans into three categories very refreshing and true. I'd never thought of it before in any organized way, and I find myself wanting to ruminate and test it. Which of the three am I?

Third passage: Well, the third one is just a short finger-shaking. At one point, Goudge refers to "the waters of Jordan [River] ... poised above the ranks of the Egyptians before they fell and swept them to annihilation."

Um, that would be the waters of the Red Sea. They killed the Egyptians. The Israelites also walked through the dry bed of the Jordan River, but there were no Egyptians in hot pursuit by that time. It had been forty years.
A Green Dolphin Store! 
For anyone still reading, the most appealing thing in this novel is the complex relationship involving Marguerite, Marianne and William. They remind me of Scarlet, Melanie & Ashley, in Gone With the Wind. Marianne is fiery, arrogant, confident, annoying, driven like Scarlet. Marguerite is sweetness and light, joyful, kind, full of love. William adores her. He is a dear, bumbling, happy boy who accidentally asks for the wrong sister, when requesting a wife from half a world away. But he makes the best of it, marries Marianne anyway, loves her and saves her with his love, and sacrifices everything for her in the end. It's a stunning story of how complex and bizarre life can really be, and how people must somehow deal with the messes they make -- and, most important, how huge mistakes can still be redeemed over a lifetime. Most authors simply aren't brave enough to undertake such a tale. I admire Goudge for it.


  1. I thought the movie very disappointing. It jumped past the childhood and youth of the characters SO fast - and I had loved reading that part. Also I'm pretty sure it read more into William's wife's relationship with another man than was in the book.

    My book group read Green Dolphin Street alongside The Good Husband by Gail Godwin, and wasn't that a fascinating comparison of husbands.

  2. You're right, GJ, that the emphasis on their childhoods, and their longing for the beauty of it, is central to the book. Don't know that I'd like the movie. I do wish Marguerite's character were more developed; I found her enchanting, and got a bit too much of Marianne.


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