Written by Victoria Best
Before she started writing, Rumer Godden ran a mixed race dancing school, the Peggy Godden School of Dance, in Calcutta (as a young woman her family called her Peggy). 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.
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.
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.
With her second husband she lived for a few years at the end of the 1960s in Lamb House in Rye, formerly the home of Henry James, E. F. Benson and Montgomery Hyde.
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.’
Read Harriet’s reviews of two new Rumer Godden reprints here.
With thanks to Oliver Tearle at Interesting Literature for sharing his Five Fascinating Facts feature.