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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.
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).
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.
Books for adults
- 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
- 1990 Fu-Dog
- 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
Chisholm, Anne. Rumer Godden: A Storyteller's Life. New York: Greenwillow, 1998.