Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Peacock Spring is a poignant story of love and loss set in postcolonial India, where a rigid social system has not been markedly altered by political independence. In selecting their associates, both Indians and British residents are still very much aware of class and, when it comes to marriage, of ethnicity as well. If even so powerful a person as Sir Edward Gwithiam meets with resistance when he crosses the established lines, it is obvious that two young lovers, still financially dependent, cannot hope to marry, no matter how sincere their feelings for each other. Rumer Godden’s novel is of special interest to young Western readers because it shows them what life can be like in an exotic world very different from their own and at the same time emphasizes the fact that, wherever they live, young adults have the same problems with teachers, parents, and their own emotions.

The story begins with a mystery. Two days into the term at their expensive school in England, Una Gwithiam and her younger half sister, Halcyon (or “Hal”), are told that their father, Sir Edward, has sent for them and that they must return to India immediately. While Hal accepts the news with equanimity, Una is appalled, since she is preparing for the examinations that will ensure her admission to an English university. She is even more disturbed when, on arriving in Delhi, she finds that the girls will be taught by a beautiful Eurasian woman, Alix Lamont, who Una...

(The entire section is 587 words.)

The Peacock Spring

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

The plight of children caught in the hypocrisies of the adult world and their subsequent awakening to the painful truths of maturity and responsibility has almost always been the special subject matter of Rumer Godden’s finely wrought novels. In The Peacock Spring, the author unites this theme with the contrasting cultures of East and West and the conflict of tradition with the progress of the modern political-industrial world. In a story more strongly plotted than many of her previous tales, Godden carries her characters and the reader through a series of emotional and intellectual conflicts which ultimately conclude in a manner both dramatic and resourceful. Godden has already written some fine books about India, of which the best known is The River, a short, moving novel about two girls growing up in a big house on the banks of a river in Bengal. In The Peacock Spring, she takes up much the same theme, but the plot here is much more elaborate, and she relies less on her remarkable ability to describe character and landscape. Although The Peacock Spring is perhaps not one of the author’s best novels, it is nevertheless a wise, sensible, and finely crafted work.

Godden made her reputation with a series of exquisite novels written in a rare and gentle prose in which she seldom raised her voice above the muted note of understatement. She early proved her ability to write of sentiment and yet avoid the dangers of sentimentality, as well as her gift for portraying the pain and beauty of youth and its transition to maturity. In this, her first novel since In This House of Brede in 1969, she has produced a love story infused with both suspense and intrigue, yet has managed to maintain the evenness of tone and grace of style which are her trademark. Despite the modern trappings of the story, this is essentially an old-fashioned novel, and offers that particular satisfaction for the reader that only an old-fashioned novel can give.

Two teen-aged girls, Una and Hal Gwithiam, are withdrawn from an English boarding school and sent to India to join their diplomat father, who needs them as a respectable front for his Eurasian mistress, Alix Lamont, who is engaged as the girls’ tutor. Lonely and unhappy, especially after her father marries Alix, Una, the older daughter, drifts into a love affair with a young Indian poet and becomes pregnant, while Hal becomes involved with a deposed rajah. Una loses her lover and suffers a miscarriage, and Hal is sent to America to live with her mother. On the bones of this story, Godden has created a wise and generous fabric that transcends nationality and age. Her vivid depiction of the India of garden parties and polo matches, poverty and primitive villages makes colorful reading, but nothing is drawn in merely for the sake of “local color.” Each scene, each detail, adds to the symbolic and emotional impact of the novel.

If the British characters are somewhat stereotypical, the Indians are varied and believable: the charming, egoistic Ravi; the calculating Alix and her cheery, raffish mother; the servants with their shrewdness born of observing life from the background; and the formerly rich families now reduced to making-do in run-down palaces. The many and varied relationships are treated with sympathy and compassion. There is the affair between the girls’ father, Edward, and Alix, difficult for them both because of propriety and because of Alix’s fears and Edward’s blindness. At the other extreme, there is the...

(The entire section is 1444 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Peacock Spring is one of several books by Godden about India. It is typical of her work in its portrayal of the contrasts between...

(The entire section is 572 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Godden's childhood in India, where the British held semi-royal status, and her frequent later visits enrich her descriptions. The house made...

(The entire section is 169 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Godden enriches seven of her novels with her judicious use of her experiences in India. The Peacock Spring is the most mature of...

(The entire section is 269 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Godden has written six other novels about India: The Lady and the Unicorn (1937), Black Narcissus (1939), Breakfast with the...

(The entire section is 732 words.)


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXII, January 1, 1976, p. 613.

Contemporary Review. CCXXVIII, January, 1976, p. 45.

Library Journal. CI, July, 1976, p. 1555.

Observer. November 23, 1976, p. 31.

Publisher’s Weekly. CCIX, February 2, 1976, p. 89.

Times Literary Supplement. January 30, 1976, p. 100.