The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden (1976)

A peacock spring by Rumer Godden

The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden is a 1976 novel by the British-born novelist and memoirist who was raised mainly in India at the height of colonial rule. Margaret Rumer Godden (1907 – 1998) led a life was as dramatic and colorful as the stories she so skillfully wrote.

Inspired by her personal experiences and love for the Indian continent, The Peacock Spring is a beautiful and heartbreaking novel of loss of innocence and coming-of-age from the acclaimed author of Black Narcissus and The River.

Despite Godden’s love for the Indian people and continent, it is certainly time to consider literature written from the perspective of British colonialism from today’s perspective. However, she doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of wealth, privilege, race, and caste in colonial Indian society. As always, Godden’s prose is vivid and poetic.

The book was generally well received, and, like the majority of Godden’s works, was made into a BBC film of the same title in 1996. Following is a plot summary and a brief review of The Peacock Spring from 1976, the year in which it was published.


A brief plot summary

By Jeanne Rose for the Baltimore Sun, March 28, 1976: Fifteen-year-old Una and her twelve-year-old sister Hal (Halcyon) have come from their English school to New Delhi at the bidding of their father, Sir Edward Gwithiam, a high official in the U.N.

He is lonely and has told their headmistress. But Una and Hal soon realize their presence fills another need: Alix, the beautiful Eurasian governess Edward has hired, is his mistress, and the girls are there as chaperones.

Alix, ambitious and unstable, cannot teach Una; she lacks the background she has claimed. Una, frustrated and ignored, soon drifts into friendship, then more, with her father’s gardener Ravi, a poet and student hiding from the police. When Edward marries Alix, Ravi and Una run away but are soon found. And Una’s “peacock spring” ends in disillusionment and grief.

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The peacock spring by Rumer Godden (1976)

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Rumer Godden At Her Best

From the original review by Barbara Hodge Hall in The Anniston Star, AL, Apr 4, 1976: Rumer Godden has abandoned the sunny peace of her last novel, In This House of Brede, to write a brilliant tragedy of color, passion, and violence.

She perhaps overworks the peacock symbolism — the dazzling bird stands for India itself and also for Ravi, splendid but flawed. creates vivid minor characters. No one who reads this book will soon forget it.

 For English novelist Rumer Godden. as well as her sister Jon, another talented writer, India is a beloved childhood home, familiar and well-understood, a place of contrasts, beauty, and the same human emotions that govern us all.

Their never-to-be-forgotten Two Under the Indian Sun ten years ago captured their memories of colonial days there, and Rumer, in particular, has turned again and again to that fascinating subcontinent as a setting for her stories.

The Peacock Spring is Rumer Godden at her best, writing about India. young people, and the deep well-springs of love. At once somber and joyous, the novel will be wonderfully welcome after the long wait since In This House of Brede.

Two young sisters have been brought to India by their UN diplomat father, snatched up from boarding school shortly after the beginning of the term, and deposited in his palatial official residence under the questionable tutelage of a beautiful young governess.

It does not take long for Una, the wise. sensitive fifteen-year-old, to realize what is happening — her father, Edward, wants her and pretty twelve-year-old Hal to provide an excuse for Alix’s presence in his household. Edward and Alix are lovers, and New Delhi society is already buzzing with gossip.

The two girls, who are half-sisters, react in far different ways. Hal (short for Halcyon), is already beautiful, vivacious, and eager for life, and is enchanted by the whole arrangement — Alix, parties, horses, admiring boys, and the excitement of new experiences.

But Una, a brilliant student for whom her school had high hopes, is resentful and angry. She is being cheated on her studies, her chances for university, and the quiet English way of life she loves. Alix does not fool her for a minute, and the social whirl is just a waste of time.

And then she meets Ravi, a young Brahmin poet masquerading as the second gardener on the estate, a handsome, well-educated boy who alone seems to understand her feelings. What happens is new only to Una, at once innocent and as old as Eve.

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The Peacock Spring 1996 film

The Peacock Spring (1996 film) 
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More about The Peacock Spring 

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The River by Rumer Godden

You may also enjoy: The River by Rumer Godden,
another coming-of-age tale set in India

2 Responses to “The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden (1976)”

    • I absolutely agree. I adore this book and film was quite faithful to the story. Another coming of age novel at which she excels.

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