Guest Blog: Five Fascinating Facts about Rumer Godden

In this new guest blog post, Victoria Best puts the spotlight on Rumer Godden (1907-98), the prolific novelist who, among other things, gave her name to Rumer Willis, the actress daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, and to Rumer, the musician born Sarah Joyce…

1. Before she started writing, Rumer Godden ran a mixed race dancing school, the Peggy Godden School of Dance, in Calcutta. As a young woman Godden was known as ‘Peggy’ by her family, after he real first name, Margaret (Rumer was her middle name). The school was a success but considered scandalous and she received letters and phone calls from both the British and the Indian community, some outraged, others asking if they could hire the girls.

2. Her first adult novel, Black Narcissus was a bestseller, but she ended up using the money to pay off her husband’s debts. He abandoned his family to join the army, leaving them in financial trouble after making a series of bad speculative investments.

Lamb House3. Living in remote Kashmir with her children and a friend, the family suffered attempted poisoning at the hands of their homicidal cook who put ground glass and opium in their food. Fortunately only the family dog died at his hands – ‘life has been like an Agatha Christie’ she wrote to her sister, Jon (her sister’s real name was the rather marvellous Winsome Ruth Key Godden, but she wrote under the name Jon Godden).

4. With her second husband she lived for a few years at the end of the 1960s in Lamb House in Rye. This was formerly the home of Henry James, E. F. Benson and Montgomery Hyde.

5. Two books made a significant impact on Rumer Godden’s life: A Passage to India by E. M. Forster, which brought her alive to the injustices in India and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. ‘I don’t think I ever fell for any real man, not after Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice,’ she once said. ‘I’ve read the book over a dozen times and every time I fall in love with Darcy. I loved him far better than my own husbands.’

Victoria Best is one of the founders and editors of Shiny New Books: What to Read Next and Why, where this post was originally published.

Image: Lamb House, Rye (author: Stephen Craven); share-alike licence.


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  2. This has made me want to go back and give the Greengage Summer another go.

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  4. Never heard about this writer, good to know.
    91 years old, she did have long time for writing that´s for sure. Interesting as always Interesting Literature.

  5. Well, I have never ever read any Rumer Godden, though her name is familiar. I have a suspicion that for some reason I (probably totally wrongly) dismissed her as a writer of romance. My ignorance is certainly going to get dealt with, she sounds more interesting, as a person, and as a writer, than my ignorance assumed. Off to explore………..-

  6. Reblogged this on park akademi and commented:
    Beautiful garden

  7. Remembering my father reading “Miss Happiness and Miss Flower” aloud to us, his 4 daughters….

  8. I have always been fascinated by the romance of India especially early last century – she certainly led a fascinating life and I recently read her biography by Ann Chisholm published in 1998.

  9. I am a Rumer Godden fan and enjoyed this article! My favourite Rumer Godden story is, The Mousewife. It is a children’s story however I suspect that Rumer may have been writing about one of her husbands. It’s a poignant story.

  10. Much thanks for this post! Godden deserves to be better known. I loved The Doll’s House as a child and as an adult feel it to be a small masterpiece. Also big fan of Kingfisher Catch Fire and Black Narcissus. Not to be missed: her childhood memoir, co-authored with sister Jon, Two Under the Indian Sun.

  11. Godden’s novel Greengage Summer remains one of my favourite, must have on my shelf novels.

  12. Very interesting!

  13. This was quite interesting!

  14. When I was reading this post, I was trying to remember why her name is so familiar to me! After a Google search, I realised that it is because two of her children’s books (The Doll’s House and The Story of Holly and Ivy) were favourites of mine during my childhood. It is interesting to learn about her life.

    • I remember seeing The Doll’s House on the television. I was so incensed by Marchpane, but also fascinated by her. When I sought out the book I remember being really affected by the ending.

      • Oh, I didn’t know there was a TV adaptation of it.

        Yes, it is quite a dark book and Marchpane is especially horrid! I remember reading it as a child and feeling a sense of foreboding.