Rumer Godden, 1907-1998

At the gentle (and brilliant) suggestion of a reader, I have decided to act upon a notion I had back in the summer, before I even opened the Bookshop at Lanier’s Books, namely, a series of proper introductions to the authors and titles you will find on my shelves.  My  books are selected with great care and intention as it has been my ambition to create a space of trust and beauty and worth wherein my readers may peruse with abandon–without having to wade through what Charlotte Mason so endearingly termed ‘twaddle’. Granted, there is plenty of lighter reading amid my tomes, but that mainly of a nineteenth or early-twentieth century variety and, consequently, wholesome in tone and moral structure. The books in my shop are there for a reason, either by first-hand experience with the title itself or by a confiding trust in the author based on previous encounters with other works.

Basically, I am always hunting and selecting the authors I love and the books I love for the sheer joy of sharing them. Many have asked how I can bear to part with them–I must confess with a blush that many I already own. Mrs. Downs always said that a real book collector is bound to become a book seller one day or another out of sheer necessity! But even the ones which don’t reside in my personal library are a literal delight to pass on as I envision (and even hear of) the delight with which they are received.

I am hoping that these social pleasantries will aid you, not only as you cast your eyes over the titles and descriptions in my shop, but in making the acquaintance of these books and their authors in your own corners of the world.

And now, without further ado, I present Rumer Godden.

My first introduction to Rumer Godden came by way of a picture of the books on a bedside table of a respected writer. I didn’t have to know more than that to send me scurrying to the library to check out The Greengage Summer. The writing was not sparkling–it was shimmering, luminescent, by times restrained and luscious, filled with beauties that hurt and honesty that was painful at times. I’m not a big fan of ‘coming-of-age’ novels as they all seem to follow a rather predictable route with a lot of predictable and usually distasteful elements. Greengage broke that mold for me, and left me wanting more of Godden’s gorgeous prose. She reminded me a little bit of Elizabeth Goudge, with her depth of perception and insistence upon prying beneath the surface of things, not to mention her obvious love of beauty. And though this particular novel did not reveal the deep spiritual vein that I was to encounter in other works, I knew, somehow, that it was there.

Rumer Godden was born in Sussex, England in 1907, and spent her childhood in Colonial India, returning to Calcutta to open a dance school in 1925. She died in 1998 in Dumfriesshire, Scotland. Much of her prose is flavored with the customs and conflicts of the British regime in India, and, later, with the devotion of Catholicism, to which she converted in 1968. She was awarded the Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1993 and she wrote more than 60 works during her lifetime.

There are a number of Godden’s books on my shelves.

Kingfishers Catch Fire is the story of a single English mother making a determined way for herself and her children in the Eden-like Vale of Kashmir–against the best counsel of her friends and advisers.

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy tells the agonizing story of Lise, a former prostitute who finds her vocation among a society of nuns in post-war Paris, and is a good example of how Godden can write of truly horrifying and heart-breaking things without being more graphic than is absolutely necessary.

China Court is a tale of an English country house in Cornwall and of the family who has lived in it for over 100 years. Drawing on the medieval Book of Hours, Godden intertwines the five generations with the ‘Hours’ of China Court, from Lauds to Matins.

The Creatures’ Choir is a lovely translation she made of the French nun Carmen Bernos de Gasztold’s Choral de Betes. An absolutely delightful collection of poems based on the prayers of 26 of God’s creatures, ranging from the swallow to the starfish, the peacock, the mother hen, the hedgehog and the flea.

In This House of Brede is personally one of my very favorite books. Here’s an excerpt from a review I wrote of it for YLCF:

From the very first pages of Brede I knew that this book was like nothing I had read before. It is the story of a wealthy and successful career woman who enters a Benedictine monastery in England in the 1950’s, and much of the detail of cloistered life was taken from Godden’s own experience of living in the gatehouse of an English Abbey for three years. Philippa Talbot’s story is woven amid that of the threads of the other nuns and novices in a tapestry as complex and beautiful as the richly-colored ceremonial vestments made with loving skill in the workrooms of Brede Abbey. It is a tale that is strangely gripping for its quiet setting of shaded cloisters and flowering parkland. But the real venue is the hearts of the women who inhabit the monastery, and the true drama lies in the choices they make whether or not to give Christ full sway in their lives. It is an absolutely gorgeous book, radiant with spiritual truth and written with a lovely starkness that only emphasizes the renunciations these courageous women have made. But it is a starkness that glows beneath with warmth and fire and godly love, and it rings with what Phyllis Tickle in her introduction calls a ‘bright sadness’.

I do hope that this helps a little if you have never met Rumer Godden. I think she’s well worth getting to know.

"The stitch of a book is its words." ~R.G.