Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden Pollards

Rumer Godden(10 December 1907 – 8 November 1998) was an English author of more than 60 fiction and nonfiction books written under the name of Rumer Godden. A few of her works were co-written with her older sister, novelist Jon Godden, including Two Under the Indian Sun, a memoir of the Goddens’ childhood in a region of India now part of Bangladesh.

Godden was born in Sussex, England. She grew up with her three sisters in Narayanganj, colonial India (now in Bangladesh), where her shipping company executive father worked for the Brahmaputra Steam Navigation Company. (1) Her parents sent the girls to England for schooling, as was the custom of the time, but returned them to Narayanganj when the First World War began. Godden returned to the United Kingdom with her sisters to continue her interrupted schooling in 1920, spending time at Moira House Girls School and eventually training as a dance teacher. She went back to Calcutta in 1925 and opened a dance school for English and Indian children. Godden ran the school for 20 years with the help of her sister Nancy. During this time she published her first best-seller, the 1939 novel Black Narcissus.

After eight years in an unhappy marriage, she moved with her two daughters to Kashmir(1) in 1924, living first on a houseboat, and then in a rented house where she started a farm. After a mysterious incident in which it appeared that an attempt had been made to poison both her and her daughters she returned to Calcutta in 1944; the novel Kingfishers Catch Firewas based on her time in Kashmir. She returned to the United Kingdom in 1945 to concentrate on her writing, moving house frequently but living mostly in Sussex and London, and was divorced in 1948. (1) After returning from America to oversee the script for the movie of her book The River, Godden married civil servant James Haynes Dixon on November 26, 1949.

In the early 1950s Godden became interested in the Catholic Church, (2) and several of her later novels contain sympathetic portrayals of Catholic priests and nuns. Besides “Black Narcissus,” two of her books deal with the subject of women in religious communities. In Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy and In This House of Brede she acutely examined the balance between the mystical, spiritual aspects of religion and the practical, human realities of religious life.

A number of Godden’s novels are set in India, the atmosphere of which she evokes through all the senses; her writing is vivid with detail of smells, textures, light, flowers, noises and tactile experiences. Her books for children, especially her several doll stories, strongly convey the secret thoughts, confusions and disappointments, and aspirations of childhood. Her plots often involve unusual young people not recognized for their talents by ordinary lower or middle-class people but supported by the educated, rich, and upper-class, to the anger, resentment, and puzzlement of their relatives. She won a 1972 Whitbread award for The Diddakoi, a young adult novel about Gypsies, televised by the BBC as Kizzy. (1)

In 1968 she took the tenancy of Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex, where she lived until the death of her husband in 1973. She moved to Moniaive in Dumfriesshire in 1978 when she was 70 to be near her daughter Jane. (1) She was appointed an OBE in 1993. She visited India once more, in 1994, returning to Kashmir for the filming of a BBC Bookmarkdocumentary about her life and books.

Rumer Godden died on 8 November 1998 at the age of 90, after a series of strokes; her ashes were buried with her second husband’s in Rye. (1)

A full list of Rumer Godden’s books can be found on Wikipedia


Source: Wikipedia:

(1) Chisholm, Anne (2004), “Godden, (Margaret) Rumer (1907–1998)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.), Oxford University Press.

(2) Tickle, Phyllis (2005), Introduction to In This House of Brede, Loyola Classics

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