A Candle for St. Jude is a critically distinguished short novel praised at publication for its witty and compassionate characterization of two elder heroines, as well as for an intimate, behind-the-scenes rendering of the ballet. Like a group of lightly nostalgic British novels published in the aftermath of World War II, it focuses on a narrow but sparkling slice of humanity.
A Candle for St. Jude is a small story about art and continuity, tracing two days in the life of a small but accomplished ballet company. Told in the third person by an omniscient narrator, the novel revolves around Madame Anna Holbein, an aging Russian ballerina turned theater manager whose artistic inspirations, uncompromising standards, and heady points of view drive the action and dominate the narrative.
In this novel, as in much of Godden’s work, houses are harbingers of hope and links to the past. A Candle for St. Jude begins with the selection of a house that defines the novel’s central character. The dark, wisteria-framed London house that Madame Holbein chose to transform into a ballet school and theater was worn, difficult to clean, and nearly impossible to afford. To Madame, however, it was perfect, ripe with artistic possibilities to be realized as she saw fit. Madame is dedicated to artistic perfection: She provides vision, while the dancers, costumers, musicians, and others in her theatrical circle must deal with messy practicalities, however capricious and unreasonable Madame’s demands. Indeed, Madame’s opposite is her practical and self-sacrificing sister-in-law, the widow with whom Madame shares the London home. Ilse Holbein’s faith rests in God and the Catholic Church rather than art, but she contributes to Ballet Holbein by cooking meals, keeping books, and praying fervently for the success of the financially tenuous enterprise....
(The entire section is 770 words.)