A Kindle of Kittens at Lamb House
"I have had extraordinarily good luck and extraordinarily bad, as if I had been born under crossed stars,"
This summer we'll be celebrating the work of Rumer Godden with our trail based on her book, 'A Kindle of Kittens'. When visiting Lamb House, help us find the lost kittens by picking up a trail from visitor reception. Read on to find out more about Rumer's extraordinary life.
The life of Margaret Rumer Godden was as momentous and dramatic as the plot of any of her novels or poems. Born in Eastbourne in 1907, she was raised from infancy in India during the height of the British colonial power where her father was the manager of a steamship company in East Bengal. Rumer was the second of four daughters and often felt ignored, her eldest sister Jonquil was beautiful and talented, her younger sister Nancy was her father’s favourite and Rose, the beloved baby.
" I showed off like anything."
She found it difficult being so close to Jonquil, living in her shadow. “To be ignored is the best possible thing for a writer. My writing was an effort to outdo her." Jonquil became a writer too, and they collaborated on several books. Godden always knew that she wanted to be a writer; however, following her schooling in England, Rumer Godden returned to India aged 17 and established a dance school – the Peggy Godden School of Dance, in Calcutta.
In 1934 Rumer married Laurence Sinclair Foster. They went on to have two daughters, Jane and Paula, even though, apparently, the couple had nothing in common. Her first novel, a children’s book, was published in 1935 but she already had the seed for an ‘adult’ novel, Black Narcissus.
Published in 1938, Black Narcissus became an overnight bestseller in England and America and was later made into a successful film, which Rumer disliked.
In 1941, Rumer’s husband abandoned her to join the Army; she retreated from the decadence of fading colonial Calcutta to the tea plantations of Assam and the mountains of Kashmir. She spent the war in Kashmir with her young children living as a peasant in a house without water or electricity. There, she tried to establish an herb farm with a friend, who hired an Indian cook who prepared dishes with opium, marijuana and ground glass to poison their food. The notoriety surrounding the case forced Rumer to leave Kashmir and she returned to England for good in 1949.
By the time Kingfishers Catch Fire was published, Rumer Godden was an established and successful writer. Several of her novels and children’s books were filmed or adapted for television, including The Greengage Summer, The Diddakoi, and The Peacock Spring. In 1973 she won the Whitbread Award for Children’s Literature for The Diddakoi¸ and was awarded an OBE in 1993.
Rumer and her second husband, James Haynes-Dixon, were the tenants at Lamb House from 1967 to 1973, and claimed to hear the voices of Miles and Flora, the children from the Turn of the Screw when she was writing. This prompted the joke: “Who has Lamb House now? Rumer has it”. Following her husband’s death in 1973, Rumer moved to a house in Mermaid Street and remained in the Rye area before moving to Scotland in 1978.
Rumer Godden died on the 8 November 1998 at the age of 90. Her ashes were buried with those of her second husband in Rye.