A House with Four Rooms by Rumer Godden (1989)

A House with Four Rooms by Rumer Godden

A House with Four Rooms (1989) is the second part of a two-part autobiography by Rumer Godden (1907 – 1998). A noted and prolific novelist and memoirist born in Eastbourne, Sussex (England), her early years and youth were spent in India at the height of British colonial rule.

Though her life was not without its share of struggles, it was often as dramatic and colorful as the stories she so skillfully created.

Interestingly, she based the title — A House With Four Rooms —on an Indian proverb, which says: “Everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual.  Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room, every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.”

While the first part of Rumer’s autobiography, A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep (1987), is more absorbing and speaks of her years in India, this one should also appeal to the author’s fans, as it provides insights into the mind of a brilliant writer, who seems to appeal to generations, beyond her time.

The book starts with Rumer’s permanent return to England, forced upon her by an unfortunate incident in India.  Also on the verge of a divorce, with two little girls to take care of, this book is all about the rebuilding of Godden’s life, most importantly her writing one.

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a time to dance, no time to weep by rumer godden

See also: A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep
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Teacher, mother, writer

Rumer touches upon the caste system of India in those days, which resulted in the bifurcation of work done by domestic help and her learning to depend on them, from her childhood years.  She is frank enough to admit to her lack of skills in the housekeeping department and quickly evolves a convenient philosophy, “Never do anything that someone else around you can do better than you can.”

Thus she resolves to stick to whatever she has a gift for — “teaching children perhaps, and amusing them; bringing up Pekingese, and writing.” But conscious of her own shortcomings, she does make sure that her daughters get the training, not to be found wanting in domestic skills.

A substantial portion of this book covers her adventures with her various publishers and agents including Spencer Curtis Brown, who after reading her manuscript, The River tells her, “You need have no doubts that Robert Lusty will publish this. I particularly like the names of the four frog children,” which gives Rumer an idea of Spencer’s thorough perusal of her manuscript.


The River and working with Jean Renoir

How The River attracts the attention of Jean Renoir, “simply one of the finest film directors in the world,” in the words of Spencer, makes for an absorbing part of this autobiography.  Like his other contemporaries, Renoir had also made the shift to Hollywood from Europe, and felt that Hollywood would expect him to make films similar to what he was doing earlier.

In Renoir’s words, “I had to find a new style which would fit with the new person I had become and with the new life I had found. The day I read Rumer Godden’s novel, The River, I knew I had found it.”

Thus begins a new life for Rumer, as she is persuaded to write the script for the film, and is again catapulted into another life that includes a stay in India for the casting and shooting of the film.

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A House with Four Rooms by Rumer Godden

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Savoring success

In her autobiography, Rumer speaks unabashedly about her stepping foot into the life of luxury that only the very well-known writers can dream of. She writes:

“With Macmillan as my publisher, I seemed to enter into a new dimension. Eventually it was not only lunches at Boulestin’s, and its like or in the boardroom, it was dinner in private houses or at the Garrick, of having cars sent for me, or escorts to publicity interviews, radio and television…” and so on.

This book has mention of the many houses that Rumer opts to live in and do up, as she has a great fondness for bric-a-brac and a desire to make any house “into a home.”  There are also details about travails with the different kinds of domestic help, and in deciding on the right kind of schools for her daughters, Jane and Paula. 

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Rumer godden in window

Learn more about Rumer Godden
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A new husband and a spiritual search

The book heralds the arrival of James Haynes-Dixon, who worms his way into Rumer’s life and heart, finally winding up as her second husband.  From her descriptions, he is clearly the opposite of what her first husband has been and seems to be the man for all seasons for Rumer and her two girls. 

Rumer also speaks of her inner spiritual search, which she discovers in the religion that she was born into, Christianity.

Interspersed with black and white pictures of the author, with family and friends, the book does provide delightful glimpses of all the four rooms that Rumer Godden occupied.  One can’t help wondering though, whether there was a fifth one that she held back from her readers.

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Contributed by Melanie P. Kumar, a  Bangalore, India-based independent writer who has always been fascinated with the magic of words. Links to some of her pieces can be found at gonewiththewindwithmelanie.wordpress.com.

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