Rumer Godden: International and Intermodern Storyteller

Rumer Godden: International and Intermodern Storyteller

Rumer Godden: International and Intermodern Storyteller

Rumer Godden: International and Intermodern Storyteller

Synopsis

From 1929 to 1997, Rumer Godden published more than 60 books, including novels, biographies, children's books, and poetry; this is the first collection devoted to this important transnational writer. Focusing on Godden's writing from the 1930s onward, the contributors uncover the breadth and variety of the literary landscape on display in works such as Black Narcissus, The Lady and the Unicorn, A Fugue in Time, and The River. Often drawing on her own experiences living in India and Britain, Godden establishes a diverse narrative topography that allows her to engage with issues related to her own uncertain position as an author representing such nomadic Others as gypsies, or taking up the displacements brought about by international conflict. Recognizing that studies of the transnational must consider the condition of enforced and elected exile within the changing political and cultural borders of postcolonial nations, the contributors position Godden with respect to different and overlapping fields of inquiry: modern literary history; colonial, postcolonial, and transnational studies; inter-media studies; and children's literature. Taken together, the essays in this volume demonstrate the richness and variety of Godden's writing and render the myriad ways in which Godden is an important critical presence in mid-twentieth-century fiction.

Excerpt

Lucy Le-Guilcher and Phyllis Lassner

It is no wonder that Rumer Godden has always attracted a wide audience. Even the most casual glance at her bibliography reveals her appeal to readers and filmgoers of all ages. She wrote 60 books in many genres, including novels, short fiction, poetry, illustrated books about Indian culture and mythology, biography, and autobiography. The Indian dance sequence she inserted in the film adaptation of her novel The River vibrantly expresses her lifelong interest in dance and performance. The film version of her novel Black Narcissus is a cult classic. Her geographical settings range from India to France, Italy, and England. Several of Godden’s children’s books are still bestsellers. Her fictional forms embrace realism and narrative experiment, satire and dramas of historical crisis. She experimented with point of view and temporal structure as well as representing such significant political and cultural issues as colonial relations, British and Indian women’s roles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and religious consciousness. Yet, despite her creative breadth and complexity, despite her continuing broad appeal, she has yet to find the critical recognition that would gain her a foothold on academic reading lists and in scholarly discussions.

Rumer Godden is not, however, alone in suffering this neglect. Her position resembles that of other marginalized women writers whose careers began in the heyday of high modernism and who continued to write decades after World War II. Such writers as Stevie Smith, Phyllis Bottome, Storm Jameson, Betty Miller, and Olivia Manning immediately come to mind. At a time when new categories of literary history and analysis proliferate, including the New Modernist Studies, the new Middlebrow, and the transnational, and after so many projects recuperating neglected women writers, Godden and too many other British women writers have still not found a literary home. Instead, however, of applying on behalf of Rumer Godden for membership in any of these new literary discourses, this volume will show how a significant achievement of her oeuvre lies in her creative contribution to each and all. In turn, as we maintain, Godden’s multiform creative production represents a pivotal critical intervention in the competition among

The protracted struggle of women writers for recognition is evident in a 1934 letter her agent at Curtis Brown wrote her in response to the reader’s report on her first novel, Chinese Puzzle, where he addressed her as “Mr Godden” and she noted, “It is odd but many people think I am a man. I should have thought the books were obviously feminine” (Time to Dance 1987, 106). For a current assessment of the project of recuperating neglected women writers, see Jane Garrity.

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