There are some beautiful aspects of this story, especially the descriptions -- nature, food, clothing -- there's a richness to them that is very appealing. And the characters were interesting, although I can't say I *loved* any of them.
But the didactic elements! Man, I see why Goudge set the story in 1842 instead of a century later, when it was actually written. Over and over, the emphasis on Maria having to learn to accept and embody feminine virtues (and they are explicitly denoted as feminine, repeatedly). Be obedient. Don't ask questions. Sacrifice for others (although, interesting, Maria never ends up having to sacrifice much, she pretty much gets her own way and leads a pretty princessy lifestyle). Don't be proud. Forgive everything. Above all, don't quarrel.
And the foil character of Maria's "blameworthy" ancestress who was too "proud" to forgive her husband for little offenses like, oh, pretending to be in love with her when he really was after her inheritance, and then probably killing her father and infant brother to secure them. And in real life there is no way a man who had successfully battled through the feudal system to become a lord decided to just go live in a cave and not tell anyone, and if he did he was an asshole for abandoning his wife and daughter
. She is definitely presented as more culpable than her husband, who was only really blamed for taking away property from monks. I felt like the women were always blamed more. Except for the governess, because she was pious, modest, and obedient. Of course, that resulted in her losing the man she loved and becoming a servant so are you sure you want us to take this to its logical conclusion, Ms. Goudge?
Of course, Miss Heliotrope was a poor clergyman's daughter to start with. Poor people should stay poor and be happy and not try to change their social status. I see here the same trope several other reviewers mentioned regarding Linnets and Valerians with commoner woman marrying a nobleman, Oh Horror! and just Ruining Everything for everyone. Her descendants are the Bad Guys who do evil stuff like, um, reclaim their hereditary lands. Other than than their main crime seems to be poaching rabbits, which is pretty friggin' anticlimactic for the Dark Men who live in the Black Castle in the mysterious and frightening pine woods.
The ending was all too pat and easy, and OMG Maria gets MARRIED at 14, what the Hell?! She is no Juliet, either, she is consistently described like a little girl throughout the book. I thought it was pretty creepy when her future husband's mother was putting her in her future wedding dress the first time they meet, but I had no expectation that she was getting married during this book. Gross
I'll take care not to reread anything else of this author's.