Rumer Godden (December 10, 1907 – November 8, 1998) was novelist and memoirist born in Eastbourne, Sussex (England) and raised mainly in India at the height of colonial rule. She and her three sisters spent an idyllic childhood in the Bengal region, now actually part of Bangladesh. From an early age, she knew she wanted to be a writer. She was sent to be educated in Britain, as was the custom at the time, and traveled back and forth from England to Britain frequently.
After being trained to be a dance teacher in Eastbourne, Rumer returned to India in 1925 and, at age 18, started a dance school in Calcutta. The school allowed both English and Indian children to attend together, something that was scandalous for its time and place. Despite this impediment to success, she and her sister Nancy kept the school running for some twenty years.
The start of a prolific writing career
Within this time period, Rumer married Laurence Foster in 1934. She was pregnant when they married, and it was an ill-fated relationship from the start. The couple had two daughters and for the most part lived separate lives.
In 1939, her first novel, Black Narcissus, was published to immediate acclaim and became a bestseller. After eight years of marriage, she and Foster split up, and she took their daughters to live in Kashmir. They first lived on a houseboat, then on a farm. It appeared that a servant attempted to poison her and her daughters; this incident was later fictionalized in her 1953 novel Kingfishers Catch Fire. It was enough to send them briefly back to the more familiar territory of Calcutta in 1945, and the next year, she and her daughters moved back to England.
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Quotes by Rumer Godden, Author and Spiritual Seeker
A feature film
Black Narcissus was released in 1947 as a film, becoming the first of nine adaptations of Rumer Godden’s novels for the movies or television.
In the late forties, Rumer remarried, and also collaborated on the script for a film version of The River, based on her novel of the same title. A coming-of-age story set in India, the film was very true to the book. It was directed by Jean Renoir and released in 1951. It was well received and won the international award at the Venice Film Festival that year. It later became a great favorite of Martin Scorsese, and influenced director Wes Anderson as well.
The influence of religion
In the early 1950s, Rumer became interested in Catholicism. Shifting from the lyrical and atmospheric novels set in India that she’d become known for, she began exploring themes of secular life in her novels. These included Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy and In This House of Brede. In these works of fiction, she explores the spiritual side of human nature, and what it means to commit to a life devoted to religion. She officially converted to Catholicism in 1968.
Children’s Books and Memoirs
In her nearly 60-year writing career, Rumer produced dozens of books in many genres. She wrote more than two dozen books for children, and her memoirs, A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep and A House With Four Rooms are fascinating glimpses into a woman who led an extraordinary life. She wrote a number of other works of nonfiction that weren’t memoir, including a biography of Hans Christian Anderson
In 1994, when she was already elderly, she returned to Kashmir, India for the last time, to be interviewed for a BBC documentary about her life and work. Rumer Godden’s emotional, witty, and energetic prose spanned the bridge between real life and fiction. Though not as well known as they once were, a number of her books are still read and relevant today. She died in 1998 at the age of 90.
More about Rumer Godden on this site
As mentioned above, Rumer Godden was incredibly prolific. Those listed below are among the best known of some twenty-five novels she wrote for adults. And in addition, as also noted, she wrote some two dozen books for children as well.
- Black Narcissus (1939)
- Gypsy, Gypsy (1940)
- Kingfishers Catch Fire (1953)
- An Episode of Sparrows (1956)
- The Greengage Summer (1958)
- In This House of Brede (1969)
- The Peacock Spring (1975)
- Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy (1979)
Autobiographies and biographies
- Rumer Godden Literary Trust
- Reader discussions of Godden’s books on Goodreads
- Rumer Godden page on Amazon
Articles, news, etc.
- Rumer Godden: Influential but Underrated
- Rumer Godden’s Life Story is a Story in Itself
- Rereading the India Novels of Rumer Godden
Television and film adaptations of Godden’s novels (selected)
- Black Narcissus (1946)
- The River (1951)
- Loss of Innocence (1961) – retitled from The Greengage Summer
- In this House of Brede (1975)
- The Peacock Spring (1996)
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