Why read Rumer Godden?
July 20, 2009
I’m closing in on the final pages of Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede (1969) and asking myself, why read more Rumer Godden?
According to the Rumer Godden Literary Trust website, she wrote “some 60 works during her life,” including novels, poetry and books for children.
Her New York Times obituary (11/10/1998) says she published “some 70 novels, children’s books, memoirs, biographies and collections of poetry and stories.” (Did her publisher lose count?)
I have The River (1946), one of her acclaimed novels based on her childhood in India, under my reading belt, thanks to a school assignment way back when. (I trudged through the book, bored stiff.) And now, also, this fictional rendering of life in a Benedictine convent.
In This House of Brede caught my attention because contemplative Benedictine life interests me. Godden lived for three years near England’s Stanbrook Abbey to research the novel.
The story concerns a successful corporate woman who enters the convent in her 40s. Aside from a few bursts of drama, Godden’s pretty heavy handed in filling the narrative with infinite details about the convent’s rituals and rules of worship, daily work and prayer. Hence, it’s not a novel I would widely recommend, except to those interested, like me, in the topic.
Perhaps to next read Godden’s novel Black Narcissus? Published in 1939, it concerns nuns setting up a convent in northern India. The New York Times review described it as “without flaw” and “not a book to miss.” (7/9/1939)
But a later reference to Black Narcissus in The New York Times (9/21/1969) describes it as an “airy and humorous thing” with a “forgiveable silliness.” Hmmm.
It’s curious that The Oxford Companion to English Literature on my shelf, edited by Margaret Drabble, 1998, doesn’t include Godden as an entry, while the trust website claims her as “one of the foremost English language authors of the 20th century.” Hmmm.
I doubt I’m going to become a devoted Rumer Godden reader, at least, this year.
The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University keeps the Rumer Godden collection.