Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, a novel about children pitted against parents, demonstrates Godden’s technical mastery of character development and family dynamics. One of the author’s few novels set outside India, The Battle of the Villa Fiorita has garnered praise for its vivid evocation of the Italian landscape, as well as for an authentic representation of how families operate—even from critics who find its premise implausible.
For this work, Godden employs a single narrator but shifting points of view, primarily those of the two Clavering children and their mother, to tell a story unfolding in two places. The Italian countryside of exotic fragrances, sprawling gardens, and alluring beauty serves as the immediate battleground setting, while the backstory is set in conventional England, where the Claverings’ once-predictable life ended with divorce.
The story opens with two travel-weary children outside the locked gates of an Italian villa, the temporary lakeside abode of their adulterous English mother and the film director intent on marrying her. Like soldiers pushed to the brink, fourteen-year-old Hugh Clavering and his younger sister Caddie have arrived to derail the relationship between their mother, Fanny Clavering, and Robert Quillet, a widowed director who fell in love with the plain matron while filming in Whitcross, her middle-class neighborhood.
With Godden’s customary acuity for presenting life as children experience it, the story begins and ends with the point of view of eleven-year-old Caddie. Caddie compares the untidy physicality of the villa to the orderly decor and furniture at Stebbings, the spacious suburban home she had to leave for a cramped London flat when her father assumed custody of the three Clavering children. At Stebbings, Caddie’s world had centered on Topaz, her beloved pony, and the secure routine...
(The entire section is 776 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Chisholm, Anne. Rumer Godden: A Storyteller’s Life. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1999.
Head, Dominic, ed. The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. 3d ed. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Lassner, Phyllis. Colonial Strangers: Women Writing at the End of the British Empire. Piscataway, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2004.
Rosenthal, Lynne M. Rumer Godden Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1996.
Sage, Lorna. The Cambridge Guide to Women’s Writing in English. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999.