A House with Four Rooms (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
The title of Rumer Godden’s second autobiographical book is explained in an introductory note by the author: “There is an Indian proverb or axiom that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.
Rumer Godden’s first autobiographical book, A Time to Dance, No Time to Cry (1988), made it clear that there was never much danger of her failing to rise to the challenges which life presented to her, challenges which would indeed make her a complete person. Her determination was evident throughout this account of her early years in India. With her physical activity limited because of a back injury, she decided to teach dance. At a time when upper-class girls did not earn their own living, she shocked Calcutta by opening her own school; in addition, she had the intellectual and emotional independence to admit students of all races. When her broker husband proved to be an embezzler and fled into the service, leaving her alone in wartime India with two young children, crippling debts, and no means of support, she had the emotional fortitude to survive and the integrity to pay off debts which were not, strictly speaking, her responsibility. Furthermore, she found time and strength to write. In 1939, she had seen her novel Black Narcissus become a best-seller. During the wartime years, when other women found even survival difficult, she had retreated with her children to a lovely but primitive house in Kashmir, where she completed A Fugue in Time (1945), which on her arrival in England she learned had been sold at a good price, and The River, which she brought with her on the long voyage to England, and which would be published in
Even though good news about her writing was waiting for Rumer Godden when, with her two little girls, she disembarked in Liverpool in 1945, it is clear in the first chapters of A House with Four Rooms that the difficulties of her situation seemed more overwhelming in England than they had in Kashmir. She had to face the fact that her marriage was over, that she must bear the stigma of divorce. Furthermore, in her absence her parents, whom she remembered as such a source of strength, had aged measurably. Although her parents had unselfishly rearranged their lives in order to take in Rumer and the grandchildren, when she saw how old they were and how ill her father was, she realized that their plans would never work. Ironically, the career which brought her fulfillment and which had brought her financial rewards was one which could only be pursued in a solitude that her parents could not provide. They had their own lives, and they had their other children and grandchildren. Godden needed a place of her own. Therefore, even though her father objected, and despite the fact that she had no furnishings, having had almost everything she owned stolen from storage in India, she took a place in London. Her second decision was also difficult. Realizing that she could not devote herself to writing and still give her children the attention they needed, she placed both of them in boarding schools. Then, having incurred these financial obligations, Godden made the most difficult and courageous decision of all: She would not take a salaried job, but instead would spend full time at her writing, depending upon her craft to provide support for herself and her children.
As it turned out, Rumer Godden’s instincts were sound. As a result of those first decisions made under great pressure, she was able to succeed as a writer. More important, however, she has been able to fulfill her several roles and to develop the various aspects of her personality by arranging a balance of interests and emphases in everyday life. Even though she may not have been conscious of it at the time, this is the pattern which she sees in retrospect. Therefore, A House with Four Rooms, which covers a total of thirty-two years, is more than a story of a writer. It is a blueprint for the development of a full life.
The book is divided into three parts. Although it covers only five years, the initial section is lengthy and detailed. It takes Godden from London to Sussex and concludes with a trip to America, a hurried marriage, and a period in India working on a film. The second part, which also covers five years, is a single, fairly short chapter, called “With James.” It begins with her reunion with her new husband, James Hayne-Dixon, in 1950, takes the couple through a difficult period, including a misguided attempt at farming, and concludes with an idyll in Buckinghamshire at what proved to be the “happiest house we have had.” The final section, which comprises almost half of the book, covers twenty years. It ends with James’s death, the celebration of Rumer Godden’s seventieth...
(The entire section is 2039 words.)
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