Reviewed by Norman E. Gough, S. Staffordshire, UK
Annabel Davis-Goff (19 Feb 1942) is the daughter of Sir Ernest William Davis-Goff (1904-80), 3rd Baronet of Glenville, Waterford, and Horetown, Wexford. This charming autobiographical account, which is something of a classic in Goff history, describes her childhood living with landed gentry in Eire in the 1940s/50s. It received many favourable reviews when it was first published. Following an idyllic upbringing at Glenville with inevitable accounts of horse racing and fox hunting, she moves through adolescence, Protestant boarding school, a career in England and America as novelist, screenwriter, essayist, lecturer and social justice advocate, having a family and then divorce.
The book finishes at a place where most authors would have begun – at New Haven, where the regicides Goffe and Whalley lived out their remaining days either in glory or in shame, depending on whether you adopt a Commonwealth or Royalist stance. Her family, whose ancestors were given permission to adopt the arms in 1845, claimed descent from Lt. General William Goffe’s son Richard who, after turning Royalist, reclaimed estates in Ireland granted to his father by Oliver Cromwell. (1) Annabel’s ancestor was Rebecca Goffe (1859), great granddaughter of Jacob Goffe (1695-1750), son of Richard. Although the book does not specifically cover the supposed family tree, this can be easily pieced together using The Peerage web site. Of course, the authenticity of the tree as published in Burke’s Peerage has been questioned by historians, so there is much of interest here for Anglo-Irish-American Goffe researchers!
For me the over-romanticised final chapter centred around the correspondence between General William Goffe and his estranged wife ignores the fact that estates in Ireland were obtained by brutality that is rare in warfare – even in civil wars – and that William Goffe was an over-enthusiastic participant, whose well-documented fanaticism even attracted criticism from Cromwell. Clearly the author was not responsible for the actions of her ancestor and it is unkind to dwell on this, as there is so much to enjoy here. I particularly like the way in which she describes how her views of life evolved as she left the sheltered environment of a noble elite that was becoming increasingly jaded and irrelevant after two world wars. She reveals how her opinion on many topics such as sex, politics and religion that had been shaped within a narrow family environment in Ireland, became more liberal, accepting that all manner of variation from the norm was inevitable and acceptable and not a cause for uninformed criticism. She has a refreshingly clear style that is honest yet unsentimental and as you follow her maturity and intellectual development, you begin to see what influences shaped her character and why she chose to work for over 30 years with organizations that help homeless families in New York City and to become a passionate advocate for prison reform.
That recollections about childhood are fleeting, embroidered by repeated telling over the years, and dwelling on seemingly trivial irrelevancies, must be accepted. Adults looking back at that time may only recall that they were too busy struggling with everyday problems to notice what was influencing their child’s development. And yet Annabel Goff reminds us of the importance of nurture and family history: “my childhood was influenced by the previous two or three generations …. as an adult I found a new connection with the past. It was later in my life but the message came from earlier in my family history.” If you have not yet read this book, as a member of the GGFA, I feel sure you will enjoy learning why Annabel Goff wanted to record her personal childhood reminiscences.
(1) See John W. Goff, Research into the Parentage of John Goffe (1649-1716) Cordwainer of Boston, Goff/Gough – Their Ancestors and Descendants, vol XVIII, no 3, 1999.
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