Rumer Godden Essay - Critical Essays

Rumer Godden Long Fiction Analysis

The majority of Rumer Godden’s work—fiction and nonfiction, adult and children’s books—drew on her attachment to India as a child and young adult. From her position as an Anglo-Indian, she depicted both British and Indians empathetically and she tried to be objective. Although her thorough research allowed her to draw complex depictions of colonialism, postcolonialism, religious life, and family life, the popularity of Godden’s work weakened its reception as serious literature.

Godden must be recognized for her inventive if not brilliant storytelling, as a writer whose plots become the vehicle for the psychological revelations of characters drawn from her unique life experiences and research. Godden’s heroes are not quite heroes and her villains are not thoroughly dastardly. Their choices propel the twists of the plot and prove that they are very human. At the end of each story, readers are left with a sense of justice.

The Peacock Spring

The Peacock Spring is a coming-of-age story that delves deep into the psyche of the young female protagonist as well as the nature of love, even more so than in The Greengage Summer. Godden does not draw on a specific life experience, and her narrative is more explicit and even harsh as she describes the deceit, deception, and selfishness at the core of love. Sir Edward Gwithiam uses his daughters—Una and her sister Hal—to cover up his affair with their Eurasian “tutoress” who uses Sir Edward to escape her caste. Ravi, a young Brahman poet who is posing as a gardener to hide from the police, uses Una to feed his artistic and sexual ego and his medical-student friend Hem to take the blame for his misdeeds.

The rawness of the emotions is heightened by the realistic narration. Godden matter-of-factly describes the filth as well as the beauty of the streets and bazaars. The monkey man with his lewd monkey show becomes a metaphor for the characters’ appetites. Sir Edward tries to keep Una from watching the show, but Una lives the truth of a character’s insight. “We are all in leading-strings,” she says, finally addressing her father, “Good night, Mr. Monkey Man,” and finally seeing her lover as a vain peacock.

The differences between the British, Indian, and Eurasian worlds feeds the characters’ appetites. Each desires the idealized and unattainable Other, whom their counterparts pretend to be. The tutor represses her upbringing, and the alcoholic mother for whom she steals the embassy’s whisky lies about having attended the Sorbonne. Ravi cloaks his spoiled-child nature in his pose as a misunderstood artist. Only Una is who she claims to be, a naïve schoolgirl who falls in love with an ideal of a man and a country, and she pays the price in a loss of innocence and a miscarriage.

Coromandel Sea Change...

(The entire section is 1172 words.)