Rumer Godden wrote the kind of children’s stories that adults like to read. She wrote the kind of children’s books that I still believe in and perhaps in my sub conscious it was she who inspired me to write my own first story at the age of twelve. She moved with her parents to India at six months old in 1807 and so many of her novels both for adults as well as children describe an India that still clung to the remnants of the British Raj.
I remember seeing The Peacock Spring produced for television, catching it by miraculous chance somewhere, sometime ages ago. Suddenly, watching it I remembered having read the book during one of those endless summers of childhood when it was somehow so easy to evoke the sensuous landscape she managed to portray with so little description, the languid afternoons the idyll of childhood before innocence was shattered. Jean Renoir’s film of her book The River is considered a classic and has been re released in reconstituted version. In the central character, the young sister who writes in her diary is instantly recognizable as the young Rumer.
She was fabulously witty and excentric as I discover on coming across her Daily Telegraph obituary from 1998 the year she died. Her sister who was pretty while she considered herself plain outshone her in every way ‘The best possible thing for a writer is to be ignored’ she wrote of this. I remembered my own sister, brilliant at everything without even trying while I excelled in nothing and was patently useless at everything else. So perhaps she had a point.
Her first husband who she met in India she describes as “a dashing stockbroker who thought Omar Khayyam was a type of curry.” She lived her life as a novel going to live in a remote mountain retreat in Kashmir with her own children. The house which had no electricity or running water she described as “The most beautiful place you could imagine.” Their servant attempted to poison them by adding ground glass, opium and marijuana in the Dahl rice, her daughter remarking it was too gritty gave it to the dog who died although thankfully they survived.
I felt I not only would have liked this wonderful woman as well as her writing but that we would have been of like mind on many things when she remarks towards the end of her life that she loved Jane Austins Mr Darcy better than any of her husbands.
Another quote that I found in Carol Blake’s book on publishing brings me to the kittens.
“Nothing is as dead as a book once written. She is rather like a cat whose kittens have grown up. While they were growing she was passionately interested in them but now they have grown up they seem to hardly belong to her, and probably she is involved with another batch of kittens.”