"The stitch of a book is its words." -- Rumer Godden
Margaret Rumer Godden, OBE (December 10, 1907 – November 8, 1998), was an English author of over 60 fiction and nonfiction books under the pen name of Rumer Godden. A few of her works were co-written by her sister, Jon Godden, who wrote several novels on her own. These include Two Under the Indian Sun, a memoir of the Goddens' childhood in a region of India that is now part of Bangladesh.
"For a dyed-in-the-wool author, nothing is as dead as a book once it is written. She is rather like a cat whose kittens have grown up.""If books were Persian carpets, one would not look only at the outer side. because it is the stitch that makes a carpet wear, gives it its life and bloom.""The motto was "Pax," but the word was set in a circle of thorns."
Godden was born in Sussex, England. She grew up with her three sisters in Narayanganj, then part of colonial India. She returned to the United Kingdom with her sisters for schooling in 1920, eventually training as a dance teacher. She went to Calcutta in 1925 to start 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, Black Narcissus (1939).
Unfinished Chapter of Rumer Godden's Life'
Rungli-Rungliot was Rumer Godden's first published work which she donated to His Majesty's Armed Forces and published by Penguin in paperback edition. She expresses herself rather more naturally in her first attempt than in its sanitized version This Far and No Further which appeared a decade later. This is an autobiographical chapter of her life when she was still quite unsettled and her attention not yet focused.
It was during those years in the History of Imperial Britain when the tea estates of Darjeeling were enjoying the best of its years. Each of the tea estates had three Sa'abs, a Manager who was supported by a Garden Assistant and a Factory Assistant. They worked very very hard and played very very hard; an Assistant Manager Samson-Way holds the world record of 120 lb mahsheer caught by rod with McDonald spoon (another Planter) which is unbroken till this day. You may recall how a group of these daring tea-planters were employed during World War II in a cloak-and-dagger operation to blow up a German ship anchored off the port of Goa.
An unwritten custom of the day was most of the Managers were "locally married" to Gurkha wives, Mr Godden Sr being no exception, before he went down to Narayanganj as a Manager of a jute mill. The Gurkha wives were not just 'kept women'; many Managers paid great deal of attention to the social refinement of their Gurkha wives and several of these wives followed them abroad when they retired.
A very energetic and resourceful woman named Phillis Hill used to run a boarding school known as Greenshield for the children of these tea planters, most of them Anglo-Gurkha children. Later in life, many of these Anglo-Gurkhas immigrated to the UK but for some unknown reason, those who stayed back in India, prefer to be known as Anglo-Indians. Rumer Godden mentions the name of her host, the Manager, simply as W and refuses to introduce his wife; she was a Gurkha woman.
As WWII progressed, service of all the Assistant Managers were demanded for the greater cause and the Managers were obliged to fill up the vacant offices locally. Rumer Godden casually makes a mention of the Munshi of Zinglam, (so much for the fair-play, the Gurkha Assistant Managers were given the arbitrary title of Munshi and you can bet on it, much less remuneration). The Munshi's son had received King's Commission which Ms Godden mentions in her book although it is doubtful if they ever met.
Thus, Black Narcissus is the account of her own experience where the Managers were treated like a Maharajah and Kanchhi was the name of Mr Godden Sr's Gurkha wife. Listen to this popular ditty of that time... "Cricket ko muni Sa'ab le khelne tennis ko ramro game; Tilhari mathi jor-kantha laune Godden ko Kanchhi mem", she was known to be a beautiful woman. Let a Gurkha read it, he will begin to hum it instantly.
However, the film-makers (of Black Narcissus) totally ruined the integrity of Ms Godden's story and it is a pity Jean Simmons died before learning she was acting the role of a Gurkha woman. And, how could you forget of course, the Maharajah was the famous Tea Planter, the Burra Sa'ab himself. It is however, not understood why the film-wallahs brought in Sabu, perhaps it was meant to Indianise the episode.'
Following an unhappy marriage of 8 years, she moved in 1942 with her two daughters to Kashmir, living first on a house boat, and later in a rented house where she started a herb 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 Fire was based on her time in Kashmir. She remarried in 1949 and returned to the United Kingdom to concentrate on her writing, moving house frequently, but living mostly in Sussex and London.
In the early 1950s, Godden became interested in Roman Catholicism, though she did not officially convert until 1968, and several of her later novels contain sympathetic portrayals of Roman Catholic priests and nuns. 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. In 1968 she took the tenancy of Lamb House where she lived until the death of her husband in 1973. She moved to Moniaive in Dumfriesshire in 1978 when she was 70. She was appointed OBE in 1993. She visited India once more, in 1994, returning to Kashmir for the filming of a BBC Bookmark documentary about her life and books. Rumer Godden died at the age of 90 on November 8, 1998.
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, convincingly convey the secret thoughts, confusions and disappointments, and aspirations of childhood. Godden has been criticized for her class distinctions, which 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.
1936 Chinese Puzzle, her first published book-length work.
1937 The Lady and the Unicorn
1939 Black Narcissus, the first of her books to be adapted for movies, specifically film of the same name in 1947 – a story about the disorientation of European nuns in India. A radio adaptation was also broadcast in 2008.
1940 Gypsy, Gypsy
1942 Breakfast with the Nikolides
1945 Take Three Tenses: A Fugue in Time, made into a film in 1948, starring David Niven and Teresa Wright
1946 The River, made into a a film in 1951 directed by Jean Renoir, and she collaborated on the screenplay for the film
1947 A Candle for St. Jude
1950 A Breath of Air
1953 Kingfishers Catch Fire
1956 An Episode of Sparrows, made into a successful movie
1957 Mooltiki, and other stories and poems of India
1958 Greengage Summer, again made into a film
1961 China Court: The Hours of a Country House
1963 The Battle of the Villa Fiorita
1968 Gone: A Thread of Stories (written with Jon Godden)
1968 Swans and Turtles (short stories)
1969 In This House of Brede, follows Philippa (a cloistered Benedictine nun in the abbey of Brede in Sussex) through her first years in the abbey and not only her, but many of the other nuns who live there as well; made into a TV movie starring Diana Rigg
1975 The Peacock Spring, adapted for television in 1995
1979 Five For Sorrow, Ten For Joy
1981 The Dark Horse
1984 Thursday's Children
1989 Indian Dust (written with Jon Godden)
1990 Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love: Stories (written with Jon Godden)
1991 Coromandel Sea Change
1994 Pippa Passes
1997 Cromartie vs. the God Shiva, her last novel
1943 Rungli-Rungliot – republished in 1961 as Thus Far and No Further
1955 Hans Christian Andersen (biography)
1966 Two Under the Indian Sun (childhood memories – written with Jon Godden)
1968 Mrs. Manders' Cook Book
1971 The Tale of the Tales: Beatrix Potter Ballet
1972 Shiva's Pigeons (written with Jon Godden)
1977 The Butterfly Lions
1980 Gulbadan: Portrait of a Rose Princess At the Mughal Court
1987 A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep, an autobiography
1989 A House with Four Rooms, an autobiography
1947 The Doll's House, later made into an animated series
1951 The Mousewife, a children's book
1952 Mouse House
1954 Impunity Jane: The Story of a Pocket Doll
1956 The Fairy Doll
1958 The Story of Holly and Ivy
1960 Candy Floss
1961 Saint Jerome and the Lion (retelling of the legend in verse)
1961 Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, a children's book about Japanese dolls and the house built for them.
1963 Little Plum, the sequel to Miss Happiness and Miss Flower
1964 Home is the Sailor
1967 The Kitchen Madonna – two children make an icon for their Ukrainian housekeeper, a war refugee.
1969 Operation Sippacik
1972 The Diddakoi (also published as Gypsy Girl), a children's book and winner of the Whitbread Award. Adapted for television by the BBC as Kizzy.
1972 The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle
1975 Mr. McFadden's Hallowe'en
1977 The Rocking Horse Secret
1978 A Kindle of Kittens
1981 The Dragon of Og
1983 Four Dolls
1983 The Valiant Chatti-Maker
1984 Mouse Time: Two Stories
1992 Great Grandfather's House
1992 Listen to the Nightingale
1996 The Little Chair
1996 Premlata and the Festival of Lights
1949 In Noah's Ark
1968 A Letter to the World (written with Emily Dickinson)
1996 Cockcrow to Starlight: A Day Full of Poetry (Anthology for Children)
1996 A Pocket Book of Spiritual Poems
1963 Prayers from the Ark, a translation of a collection of poems by French author Carmen Bernos de Gasztold
1967 The Beasts' Choir, a translation of a collection of poems by French author Carmen Bernos de Gasztold