Memorial of Murshida Sharifa Goodenough
Elise Schamhart et Michel Guillaume
No one’s existence is like that of any other and each human being is unique.
These are two primary truths, but they take on a special significance when it comes to the life of Lucy Marian Goodenough. For almost from childhood she seemed marked by a destiny apart, as much by her birth into the high British aristocracy as by her character which showed itself from an early age to be very strong, rather unusual and very self-assured. She was reserved, very sensitive, markedly idealistic and with a very strong will. To this is added a tendency towards austerity, increased by a very strict education, as will be seen further on. To these traits is added a lively intelligence, which from early on reached towards the depth of things. This is so much the case that before understanding the nature of this person and her destiny, we need to acknowledge that, if one considers the generality of people, she was rather different to the average person. And this difference continues when much later she met Hazrat Inayat Khan, recognised in him her spiritual teacher, and embarked on a development which made of her a mystic of the highest order.
But before continuing, in order to mitigate any impression of unreality caused not only by the immense originality Murshida Sharifa, but also by the vastly different era, some details may help to set the scene. It was the time when electricity had not yet supplanted either gas or oil lamps for public and private illumination, and when one travelled by train and horse. The idea of electronics would have been thought of as a harebrained illusion. Queen Victoria would still reign for several years over a society and an empire so vast that it was said that the sun never set on it.
We can hardly imagine the life one led in this historic England, if not through the novels of Jane Austen or Matthew Arnold. And some of Oscar Wilde’s writings give an idea of the social life of the class into which Murshida Sharifa was born.
Manners were paramount. Freud was still far from writing his “Introduction to psychoanalysis”. Discussing psychology would have been in bad taste, and as permissiveness is in fashion today, rigorous etiquette controlled actions and interactions in the same uncomfortable way in which they controlled the shape of women’s bosoms. Respectability, not only on the surface, was not just a word.
But it is in the midst of this world which to us seems so anachronistic, so outdated, that we must think of Lucy Marian Goodenough as a child and as a young lively girl, a being of flesh and blood.
All of this has to be kept in mind before approaching that which follows.