The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge
published 1960, set in the 1880s
[The Dean is organizing his Christmas presents, with the help of his wife Elaine]
In the world of toys he lacked experience but he believed this to be the most wonderful doll ever created. It was rosy-cheeked and blue-eyed with a dimpled chin and hair of a yellow as startling as Bella’s own. It was clothed in satin and its rosy bonnet was lined with lace…. He saw that it had pink leather shoes and a small gilt reticule hanging from its tiny waist.
“Thank you, Elaine,” he murmured. “Thank you, my dear, with all my heart. You must have gone to great trouble in choosing this beautiful doll.”
“Oh, no,” said Elaine airily. “I ordered it from town with the servants’ things. But it is a pretty doll. I believe it says mama if you stand it upright.”
commentary: More about this book in an earlier entry.
The Dean is shown as thawing out over time, and the little girl Bella is part of his new-found happiness. Earlier, for her birthday, he has chosen her an umbrella: the shopkeeper suggests an en-tout-cas, which is a parasol and umbrella combined:
It was bright emerald green and its handle was a yellow and green parrot… Miss Throstle held the green one up under the lamp, so that the light shone through its silken shimmer like the sun through beech leaves. “You think she would prefer the green?” he asked humbly.
“It’s the green she’s after, sir” said Miss Throstle. “Whenever her nurse brings her this way she’s flat against my window pointing at the parrot…”
The child is somewhat sugary-sweet, although there are funny implications that she is a bit of a madam within her family. But the relationship – hard to imagine in a modern book – is very nicely done.
Present-giving is of great importance in the book, and there is a very important celestial clock at issue. The clockmaker struggles with himself, but finally gives it to the Dean, so that he may give it to his wife. The ultimate fate of the clock is not what might be predicted, and the full implications of gift-giving – and a lot of related matters – confounded this reader. Just when you think the book might topple over into sentimentality, Goudge can still surprise.
The young lady in white is The Doll by Sir James Jebusa Shannon. The young lady dressed to go out is Girl with a Doll by John Everett Millais. Both pictures from The Athenaeum website.