Rumer Godden is one of the last English writers to have been influenced by the British colonial experience in India. As in the case of many others before her, she loved and hated much of what she remembered from her life there. The physical beauty of the country and the graciousness of many aspects of its culture clash with the cheapness of human life amid the grim poverty of great numbers of the population. The strict divisions of class and religion and the fanatic hatreds bred between groups contrast with the decency, devotion, and wisdom of individuals. The contrast with English traditions and behavior is often described in striking paradox. Parallel construction is one of Godden’s preferred techniques, and her life in two cultures affords ample opportunity for its employment.
The autobiography also recalls the uneasy history of the period it covers, an era of two world wars which dislocated lives and too frequently caused loss of loved ones. Godden seldom baldly states her personal or political points of view, but she does recall that with many others of her generation, she had signed a peace pledge, vowing never to fight for king or country. With the suicide of her Jewish doctor, who had learned of the suffering of his people in Germany, she realized that she must renounce that pledge.
Despite her care in avoiding political stances, Godden does imprint her own vision and personality on the work. One of its greatest achievements is the illumination of her literary work. Clearly, art follows life here. Time after time Godden’s experiences are mirrored in her work; indeed, no part of her experience seems wasted.
Finally, A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep is the portrait of a remarkable woman who through the changes of her life has developed a discipline and serenity of spirit, a “willed composure” that some have found very “close to wisdom.”