Rumer Godden

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File:Cover of Black Narcissus (1939) by Rumer Godden.jpg
Cover of Black Narcissus (1939), Little Brown

Margaret Rumer Godden OBE (10 December 1907 – 8 November 1998) was an English author of more than 60 fiction and nonfiction books written under the name of Rumer Godden. A few of her works were co-written with her older sister, novelist Jon Godden, including Two Under the Indian Sun, a memoir of the Goddens' childhood in a region of India now part of Bangladesh.

Early life

File:Greengage summer.JPG
The Greengage Summer (1958), 1962 Pan paperback edition

Godden was born in Sussex, England. She grew up with her three sisters in Narayanganj, colonial India (now in Bangladesh), where her shipping company executive father worked for the Brahmaputra Steam Navigation Company.[1] Her parents sent the girls to England for schooling, as was the custom of the time, but brought them back to Narayanganj when the First World War began. Godden returned to the United Kingdom with her sisters to continue her interrupted schooling in 1920, spending time at Moira House Girls School and eventually training as a dance teacher. She went back to Calcutta in 1925 and opened a dance school for English and Indian children.[1] Godden ran the school for 20 years with the help of her sister Nancy. During this time she published her first best-seller, the 1939 novel Black Narcissus.

Writing career

After eight years in an unhappy marriage, entered into in 1934 because she was pregnant,[1] in 1942 she moved with her two daughters (her husband Laurence Foster had joined the army)[1] to Kashmir, living first on a houseboat, and then in a rented house where she started a 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 returned to the United Kingdom in 1945 to concentrate on her writing, moving house frequently but living mostly in Sussex and London, and was divorced in 1948.[1] After returning from America to oversee the script for the movie of her book The River, Godden married civil servant James Haynes Dixon on 26 November 1949.

In the early 1950s Godden became interested in the Catholic Church, though she did not officially convert until 1968,[2] and several of her later novels contain sympathetic portrayals of Catholic priests and nuns. Besides Black Narcissus, 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.

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, strongly convey the secret thoughts, confusions and disappointments, and aspirations of childhood. Her plots 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. She won a 1972 Whitbread award for The Diddakoi, a young adult novel about Gypsies, televised by the BBC as Kizzy.[1]

Later life and death

In 1968 she took the tenancy of Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex, where she lived until the death of her husband in 1973. She moved to Moniaive in Dumfriesshire in 1978 when she was 70 to be near her daughter Jane.[1] She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (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 on 8 November 1998 at the age of 90, after a series of strokes; her ashes were buried with her second husband's in Rye.[1]


Books for adults


  • 1936 Chinese Puzzle, her first published book-length work
  • 1937 The Lady and the Unicorn
  • 1939 Black Narcissus, a story about the disorientation of European nuns in India; the first of her books to be adapted for the screen, as the film of the same name in 1947; a radio adaptation was also broadcast in 2008.[3]
  • 1940 Gypsy, Gypsy
  • 1942 Breakfast with the Nikolides
  • 1945 Take Three Tenses: A Fugue in Time, made into the film Enchantment in 1948, starring David Niven and Teresa Wright
  • 1946 The River, made into 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 the film Innocent Sinners in 1958
  • 1957 Mooltiki, and other stories and poems of India
  • 1958 The Greengage Summer, made into a film in 1961
  • 1961 China Court: The Hours of a Country House
  • 1963 The Battle of the Villa Fiorita filmed in 1965
  • 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 television film 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
  • 1945 Bengal Journey: A story of the part played by women in the province, 1939-1945
  • 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

Children's books

  • 1947 The Doll's House, made into an animated series: Tottie: The Story of a Doll's House
  • 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 by the BBC as a radio drama of the same name starring Nisa Cole,[4] and for television 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
  • 1990 Fu-Dog
  • 1992 Great Grandfather's House
  • 1992 Listen to the Nightingale
  • 1996 The Little Chair
  • 1996 Premlata and the Festival of Lights
  • 1984 Thursdays Children


  • 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


See also

  • Paws and Whiskers – 2014 anthology – includes Godden's story about her dog Piers.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Chisholm, Anne (2004), "Godden, (Margaret) Rumer (1907–1998)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.), Oxford University Press, retrieved 11 December 2012<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (subscription required)
  2. Tickle, Phyllis (2005), Introduction to In This House of Brede, Loyola Classics<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Black Narcissus
  4. "Rumer Godden - The Diddakoi - BBC Radio 4 Extra". BBC. 16 September 2013. Retrieved 5 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Chisholm, Anne (1998), Rumer Godden: A Storyteller's Life. New York: Greenwillow.
  • Joseph, Margaret Paul. Jasmine on a String: A Survey of Women in India Writing Fiction in English. OUP, 2014.

External links