Thus Far and No Further by Rumer Godden (1946)

Thus Far and No Further by Rumer Godden is this prolific midcentury novelist and memoirist’s first memoir, published in 1946. It chronicles her brief sojourn in Kashmir India, where she lived briefly with her two young daughters on a tea plantation.

Though not as enduring as her novels nor her other memoirs, this slim book, her sixth overall, was well received by readers and critics.

Godden’s characteristically evocative writing captures the time she spent in Rungli Rungliot in Darjeeling in Northeast India. Some of the editions of this now rather obscure book are, in fact, titled Rungli Rungliot.

A beautiful story, delightfully illustrated, it is filled with gentle wisdom. One of the well-known passages is as follows:

“In good company your thoughts run, in solitude your thought is still; it goes deeper and makes for itself a deeper groove, delves. Delve means ‘dig with a spade;’ it means hard work. In talk your mind can be stretched, widened, exhilarated to heights but it cannot be deepened; you have to deepen it yourself.”

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Original 1946 review of Thus Far and No Further

From the original review by John C. Goodbody in The Boston Globe, May 9, 1946:  “Living Away from Crowds and Liking It”

Fleeing from complex, war-ruffled Calcutta of 1941, British novelist Rumer Godden escaped for six months to the Himalaya foothills where she conducted her own experiment of living away from the crowds and liking it.

On the level this autobiographical record is an exquisite monument in prose, erected in memory of her days of isolation by one of the few really talented stylists of today.

On another level, half-hidden beneath the beguiling simplicity of the diary form, the book becomes an absorbing study of the value of solitude in contemporary society. It is easily Miss Godden’s greatest achievement, and a convincing demonstration that she is far more than the talented literary virtuoso revealed in her last novel, “Take Three Tenses.”

When you leave the stench and confusion of Calcutta and climb perilously up the winding Teesta River valley to Darjeeling, you find yourself in a new world-a fresh, green, windswept world of tea terraces, sprawled against the rugged foothills of the jagged Himalaya range.

Miss Godden went beyond Darjeeling to a bungalow on a tea plantation at Chinglam. With her she had her two small daughters, a Swiss governess, a small retinue of Indian servants and four Pekinese.

Most of the entries in her journal are concerned with the new everyday world in which the author found herself:

“There are only a few things in these notes, Chinglam and its hills and valleys, work, flowers, children, animals, servants; there is nothing else because there was nothing else.”

It was a world of quiet sounds and vivid colors and strange tastes firmly bounded by routine.

Miss Godden learned the meaning of the Hindu proverb: “You only grow when you are alone.” She discovered that she could ration worry by hard work.

“The Buddhists here put their prayer flags where the wind will blow them and their prayer wheels in the stream where the water will turn them and get on with their work while the prayers are said. I think that is wisdom.”

But in the end, she knows she must with her retreat. Her solitude is not an end in itself, but a reprieve. After a wonderful Christmas — perhaps the best sequence of the book — Miss Godden leaves Chinglam to face again the challenges of society in the lowlands.

The most rewarding quality in this book is the author’s style, which seems to thrive when removed from the compulsions of the novel form. It is simple, incisive, evocative; it makes skillful use of repetition; it appeals directly to the senses. It invests this slim book with the special aura of craftsmanship.

More memoirs and biographies by Rumer Godden

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A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep by Rumer Godden

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More about Thus Far and No Further by Rumer Godden

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