The Peacock Spring

by Rumer Godden

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Themes / Characters

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Godden's attitude toward men is somewhat ambivalent in The Peacock Spring. In earlier novels — and to some degree in The Peacock Spring — they serve to rescue women and children from insurmountable obstacles. Their characters are hinted at rather than delineated. One is grateful, nonetheless, when they arrive. Sir Edward Gwithiam certainly fulfills this role in The Peacock Spring, but he is more than a rescuer. He is a noble person who, although deceived earlier by Alix's claim to a degree from the Sorbonne and by her concealment of her "raffish" Eurasian mother, nonetheless insists that his marriage to Alix will take place, chiefly one presumes because he still loves her.

Ravi, the young Brahmin poet, is dark and handsome and completely self-centered. He speedily releases Una from her troth when Sir Edward threatens him with criminal prosecution for abducting a minor. Ravi goes on to receive a coveted prize for his poetry, while Una puts together her shattered life. Hem, the young, earnest medical student and Ravi's friend, expresses his disapproval of the love affair from the beginning, but refuses to betray his friend's whereabouts when questioned.

Una and her younger sister, Hal, reflect a frequent theme of Godden's novels: the conflict between children, especially young adolescents, and the adult world around them. In this novel the battle lines are clearly drawn between Una, a gifted mathematics student preparing for university studies, and Alix, a totally inadequate governess to the girls who is appointed to this post to legitimize her presence in Sir Edward's home. Alix's position is agonizing, but the alternative — admitting her deception to Sir Edward — is unthinkable. She is relieved when the truth is finally out.

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Critical Essays