Margaret Rumer Godden was born December 10, 1907, in Eastbourne, Sussex, England. She was known as Peggie until late in life. Although born in England, she grew up in India. From 1914, the family lived in the largest house in Narayanganj, East Bengal. Godden was the second of the four daughters of Arthur Leigh Godden, an agent for a Calcutta-based shipping company, and Katherine Norah Hingley Godden, descendant of a successful iron manufacturer. Godden and her youngest sister, Rose Mary (b. 1913), were born in Eastbourne, while their oldest sister, Jon (b. 1906), and their younger sister, Nancy (b. 1910), were born in India. The girls enjoyed the lavish lifestyle of English expatriates known as Anglo-Indians. Godden’s 1946 novel, The River, draws on her childhood memories of the time and place, from the house and gardens to the noise of the nearby jute factory.
Godden was five years old whe she and Jon were sent to England to attend school and live with their paternal relatives. As World War I began they returned to India, and they resumed their schooling after the war’s end. At Moira House, Godden’s English teacher, Mona Swann, encouraged her to write. Thirty years later, Godden’s own two daughters were boarding students and studied with Swann.
In 1924, Godden’s mother, with her four daughters, set out to tour the battlefields of France, but the mother became ill, and the group remained at Chateau Thierry on the Marne. Godden’s 1958 coming-of-age novel, The Greengage Summer is based on the events of this summer. In 1925, Godden and Jon accompanied their mother to Narayanganj for the social season. After breaking off an engagement and working with her father in an agricultural college, Godden went back to London to train as a dance-school teacher.
Godden returned to India in 1929 and opened the Peggie Godden School of Dance, first in Darjeeling and then in Calcutta. She admitted English children, then opened classes to upper-caste Indians and eventually Eurasians, mixed-race children, and young women, one of whom became the actor Merle Oberon. Although the dancing school thrived, Godden’s choice of profession and clientele alienated her from the Anglo-Indian society in which she had been raised. Her sister, Nancy, took over the dancing school when Godden married British stockbroker Laurence Sinclair Foster on March 9, 1934. Their son, David, died four days after birth. The next year their daughter, Jane, was born in London.
In 1936, Godden’s first novel, Chinese Puzzle, was published to good reviews, but it did not sell well. The novel that followed, The Lady and the Unicorn, coincided with the birth the...
(The entire section is 1106 words.)