Xmas Teaparty: A City of Bells

Every year during December I post entries which are more Christmas in Books than Clothes in Books, and kind readers say it puts them in a seasonal mood.

This year we may need this more than ever, so here we are on 1st December with the first one: they will continue through to some New Year entries in January.

And if you have a favourite Christmas book or scene not featured yet – please let me know

A City of Bells by Elizabeth Goudge

published 1936

[excerpt from book]

Henrietta never forgot that Christmas tea-party.

Grandmother had lit twelve wax candles all round the drawing-room and there were twenty tiny candles on the small Christmas-tree that stood in the centre of the tea-table. The room seemed full of stars and all the stars were singing, like those that sang to the young-eyed cherubim when Lorenzo and Jessica sat on the bank where the moonlight slept. At least Henrietta thought they sang, but perhaps what she heard were the bells ringing for the evensong that no one had time to go to on Christmas Day because of the cake having to be cut.

Hugh Anthony cut it, with Jocelyn applying a little pressure in the background, and it was all that it should be, white icing and fruity inside and all, though the latter was a little plainer than was customary because of Henrietta’s weak digestion. It struck Henrietta as she ate, biting it all up very carefully as Grandmother bade her, that they were all looking extraordinarily beautiful.

Grandmother in her lace cap, Mrs. Jameson in her diamonds, Felicity with her lovely petticoat, Hugh Anthony with his flaming hair and Jocelyn smiling with his eyes in the way that she liked. Even Grandfather looked beautiful, with his snowy beard, and his bald head reflecting the candlelight so merrily … How safe they were, she thought. In this warm, cosy place nothing could hurt them … Outside it was cold and frosty, but the cold could not get in to them.

comments: Christmas is a big deal in this book – see previous entries, which also give more details of the plot – and Elizabeth Goudge is always good on social events and what people wear. The book is very much a comfort read, and Goudge fans are numerous and love this book and all her others. This one is part of the Cathedral Trilogy, which also includes The Dean’s Watch, an even better book than this one.

A City of Bells is very good on life in a Cathedral Close, and has an excellent description of the ladies of the Close arranging the flowers for a big church festival.

Lorenzo and Jessica are not inexplicable extra inhabitants of the Close (though sometimes it is hard to keep track), but characters from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.

You’d have thought they’d have made it to evensong…

The Dean wears gaiters:

He was a character. He had a commanding figure, bushy white side-whiskers and legs especially moulded by Nature to wear gaiters. Like Mr. Gotobed he always wore a top-hat, but whereas Mr. Gotobed’s hat was always poised on the back of the head the Dean’s was always tipped forward over the nose, which was in this case aquiline.


Gaiters came up in this previous entry, where all is explained…

A gentle book, about a gentle mellow place, with some lovely characters. And a great description of Christmas.

Top picture from a 19th century Christmas annual.


  1. Oh, I do like those descriptions, Moira. It's a really clear look at that sort of Christmas celebration at that time. I like the depictions of the characters, too. This year, more than ever, some comfort is definitely in order...

    1. I think we're all looking for comfort reads, Margot, and particularly at Christmas time. Luckily there are some great books out there...

  2. Not one for me, but I will try and do a Christmassy read this year!

    1. Go on, find a serial killer who is Santa on the run! There must be a book like that out there...


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