Having spent her formative years in colonial India, British novelist Rumer Godden would continue to return to that setting for inspiration throughout her career—from her best known work about five nuns in a Himalayan convent, Black Narcissus, to her final novel, Cromartie vs. the God Shiva. The four novels in this volume each reveal in their own way Godden’s “magical skill in conjuring up with a few suggestive details a veritable panorama of Indian life” (The New York Times). And, like all of Godden’s fiction, they “have one important thing in common: They are beautifully and simply wrought by a woman of depth and sensitivity” (Los Angeles Times).
Cromartie vs. the God Shiva: In Godden’s final novel, inspired by a real event, the theft of a precious statuette of the Hindu god Shiva from a hotel in India leads to love, intrigue, death, and legal complications. Even as Sydney Cromartie, the Canadian now in possession of the statue, fights to retain ownership, British barrister Michael Dean is dispatched to Patna Hall on the Coromandel Coast (previously appearing in Godden’s Coromandel Sea Change), where everyone is a suspect, including proprietress Auntie Sanni, to solve the mystery.
“A complex tale, fraught with mystery . . . Readers who enjoy far-away cultures will find this tale a treat.” —Library Journal
The Lady and the Unicorn: Battling poverty and prejudice, the three “half-caste” daughters of an Englishman and an Indian mother live with their widowed father and “Auntie” in a crumbling mansion in 1930s Calcutta. Tough-minded Belle Lemarchant is determined to improve her lot in life, while her twin, Rosa, looks for escape in romance, and their younger, darker-skinned sibling, Blanche, wanders the halls and grounds, communing with ghosts. A powerful coming-of-age story in a society blinded by caste divisions, Godden’s novel is a heartbreaking human drama.
“One of the delights of reading a Rumer Godden novel is the magnetic pull of the exotic settings, affecting readers and characters alike.” —Newsday
The Peacock Spring: When Una, fifteen, and her twelve-year-old sister, Halcyon, are summoned from their English boarding school to join their diplomat father in New Delhi, they encounter an exotic new world, racial prejudice, and a calculating Eurasian governess, whose relationship with their father seems troubling in its intimacy. When Una becomes friends with Ravi, a young Indian gardener, their forbidden attraction threatens to end in scandal and disaster.
“Ms. Godden . . . has a wonderful way with fictional children, tender and true and never sentimental.” —The New York Times
Coromandel Sea Change: With an election coming, business is brisk at Patna Hall, a resort hotel on the lush Coromandel Coast in southern India. Anglo-Indian hotel owner Auntie Sanni has her hands full with Indian politicians, British diplomats, a journalist involved in espionage, a woman of mystery, and an English couple on their honeymoon whose new marriage is strained by their conflicting responses to India. As the nearby Coromandel Sea is teeming with sharks, so is Patna Hall brimming with adultery, blackmail, and intrigue.
“[A] sense of timelessness reminiscent of E. M. Forster.” —The Times
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About the Author
Rumer Godden (1907–1998) was the author of more than sixty works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s literature, and is considered by many to be one of the foremost English language writers of the twentieth century. Born in Sussex, England, she moved with her family to Narayanganj, colonial India, now Bangladesh, when she was six months old. Godden began her writing career with Chinese Puzzle in 1936 and achieved international fame three years later with her third book, Black Narcissus. A number of her novels were inspired by her nearly four decades of life in India, including The River, Kingfishers Catch Fire, Breakfast with the Nikolides, and her final work, Cromartie vs. the God Shiva, published in 1997. She returned to the United Kingdom for good at the end of World War II and continued her prolific literary career with the acclaimed novels The Greengage Summer, In This House of Brede, and numerous others. Godden won the Whitbread Award for children’s literature in 1972, and in 1993 she was named an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Nine of her novels have been made into motion pictures. She died at the age of ninety in Dumfriesshire, UK.
Read an Excerpt
'Cromartie versus the God Shiva. No, thank you,' said Sir George. 'Walter, I really don't think I can take this case.'
Sir George Fothergill, QC, was head of one of the most prestigious sets of chambers in London's Inns of Court. Walter Johnson was its head clerk.
The Chambers, though not in Lincoln's Inn, were nearby in Lincoln's Square. In the tall old house, Sir George and his deputy head of chambers, Miss Honor Wyatt, QC, had the two panelled first-floor rooms. The rest of the barristers in the set worked two or three together while Walter was in the spacious basement, which he liked because it opened on to the narrow terrace of garden. His 'snug', as he called it, not only had his desk, filing cabinets and shelves of law books on every wall, but his armchair by the fireplace – in winter the flickering gas fire was always lit – with a fine Persian hearth rug and above, on the mantelshelf, his collection of toby jugs. Next door was a large office for the deputy clerk – Walter's son, Johnny – Johnny's own assistant, Jeffrey, and his accounts clerk, Elizabeth. Ginevra, the perky young receptionist, had her desk with its telephones above in the front hall.
'It's always the head clerks who really run chambers,' Sir George would say. 'Walter's family have been in the set longer than any of us.'
'Yes,' Walter agreed. 'John Johnson my father, then me, Walter Johnson, and now Johnny, my son, who's only been here five years, and he's just had a baby son. Perhaps he ... I like continuity,' said Walter.
Now Sir George was going on: 'I don't want to oppose you, Walter – when have I ever?' he asked. 'But this is too fantastical – a Hindu god going to law.'
'Acting through the Government of India, sir, which seems solid enough to me.'
'It can't be solid if it's a spirit, which I don't believe is active. No, I can't bring myself to do it. We should be a laughing stock.'
'Ask Miss Wyatt what she thinks.' Walter was a diplomat.
'A laughing stock? Why?' asked Honor Wyatt. 'I find it piquant.'
'Piquant?' Sir George was outraged.
'Yes. It seems to let in another air – a fresh one. It could become a sensation, which would extend us. And, George, think too of the fee.'
'Yes, indeed,' said Walter, and he was soon justified. When the Government of India heard rumours that Sir George Fothergill was hesitating, the fee was immediately doubled.
'It's a plum,' Honor said. 'We can't let it go. I wish I could take it.'
'I wish you could, Miss Wyatt, but you're on the Huntingdon case.'
The Huntingdon case was exciting wide and horrified interest. Lord Ian Huntingdon, eldest son of one of the country's oldest and richest aristocratic families, had learned he was to be disinherited for deceiving his father over the estate and an attempt would be made to strip him of his title, but before this could be implemented the old Marquess had been found dead. It might have been a heart attack but the 'young idiot', as Honor called him, had also killed his mother the Marchioness. Honor was briefed for the defence – and this case had brought a great deal of notoriety. 'There's nothing, except the royals, that can excite British public sensationalism more than the aristocracy,' she said regretfully. 'It may take weeks, even months. I wish I were free but I'm not.'
'Then who?' asked Sir George.
Walter knew he had to say what had been in his mind all along. 'Sir, I've been thinking of Mr Dean.'
That took Sir George by surprise. 'Young Michael?'
'He isn't all that young, sir, and doing remarkably well. His handling of that awkward Gibbons case was masterly – if that's not too strong a word. Old Gibbons was so crafty he'd have defeated most of us. And it seems to fit, sir. Mr Dean was born and brought up in India.'
'Only until he went to school,' Sir George cavilled. 'As far as I know he hasn't been back.'
'No,' Honor intervened, 'but if you've been in a country as a child, it is, as it were, in your bones, and I think he's still attached.'
At thirty-one Michael Dean was the senior of all the junior barristers at 2 Lincoln's Square. There were sixteen of them and Michael had recently been made a Leading Junior, able to lead another barrister in a case – 'For which normally you need ten to fifteen years' call,' Honor had told his parents, 'unless you're exceptionally able and confident, which Michael is after only seven, and we would never hold back such talent.'
Honor knew his calibre: in his early days, when he had been a pupil, she had taken him for six months' training. To repay her he had done all her paperwork, as was customary in chambers, 'And learned and learned,' he often said, 'by grace and favour and luck.'
'Not luck,' said Honor. 'Brains, hard work and determination from the very beginning.' That was true. 'It's as difficult to get into a set of chambers like Sir George Fothergill's as it is to climb Everest without oxygen,' she would say. She knew: she had had to do it. 'And I had influence. Michael did it all himself. I've often wondered how he can afford it.' Every barrister in the set had to pay his or her own way: rent, services, telephone and fax, electricity. 'His parents couldn't help him much,' Honor told Sir George now. 'They're teachers, quite ordinary – except that his father is a teacher poet. Michael has poetry in him, too, so this case may not be at all a strange idea to him. Though he's astute, there's something undoubting in him – you would call it credulous.' She smiled. 'Why not call him in and talk to him?'
Sir George opened the proceedings. 'Michael, you have undoubtedly heard of the case concerning a Mr Cromartie and the Hindu god Shiva, acting through the Government of India.'
'Of course, Sir George. "Versus the God Shiva" – that's caught people's attention. The whole of Chambers is buzzing with it.'
'And that is just what I find too fantastical. The case has been offered to us but —'
'Sir George, you're not going to refuse it?' Michael was so alarmed that he forgot to whom he was speaking.
'I think I must. A Mr Bhatacharya has just come to see me from Delhi. He's a high-ranking official if not a minister.'
'He's a minister,' said Walter.
'Obviously he wants us – hasn't his own government chosen us? – but I confess I feel out of my depth. If it were a case of a valuable antique bought or stolen and taken to another country with the idea of selling it there for profit, of course I could understand and sympathize, but this! Candidly I'm afraid of it. We could be brought to ridicule.'
'I think it might enhance us,' Honor put in. 'Don't you see, George? The inclusion of the god makes the charge more serious.'
'Mr Dean, sir,' Walter was steering skilfully, 'you remember something of India, don't you? Wouldn't you agree with that?'
'Completely,' said Michael.
'Then can you tell us why?'
'Because in India the gods are alive, living as well as sacred, so anything to do with them is sacrosanct.'
'But to go to law!'
'Well, Indians can be fanatical – just like us,' Michael admitted. 'Of course, I don't know a great deal about India now, but I do know that most Hindus live their religion. To them it's not something apart as it so often is with us, but the core of every day, so much so that to us it is almost shockingly everyday. The Hindu gods eat and drink, fall in love, marry just like us. For Hindus sex, too, is sacred. The symbol for Shiva is the lingam, the phallus, the male generative organ, while, for the various manifestations of his goddesses, it is the yoni, the vagina.'
Sir George's expression showed that this was distasteful to him, but Michael was so carried away that he had almost forgotten him. 'They're found in every Shiva temple. This bronze, I understand, is a little Nataraja Shiva, in his cosmic dance around the universe, extremely sacred. In India, to steal a Nataraja denigrates it, which is blasphemy.'
'Blasphemy!' Sir George was shocked.
'The worst crime of all, the only one that can't be forgiven,' and Honor quoted, '"He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness." It is, to some extent, in every religion.'
'In India it's law,' said Michael. 'Oh, Sir George,' he was on fire, 'I do so hope you'll take this case.'
Sir George looked from one to the other. 'Cosmic dance. Sex. You'd better tell me who or what this Shiva is. How does he fit in?'
Michael did not answer at once. He won't hurry, not even for George, thought Honor, pleased. She always liked to look at Michael: not tall, he was slim, quick in his movements; dark-haired, he had hazel eyes, which were oddly penetrating when he was fighting in court, but they could light up with fun and laughter. Although she was his senior not only in rank but by several years, Honor liked going out with him. 'And he seems to enjoy it, not just politely – he really does.'
'Hasn't he got a girl of his own age?' Sir George had not meant to cast any slur on Honor, who was not at all perturbed.
'Dozens, I should think, but nothing serious. He seems adept at avoiding that.'
'No,' said Honor. 'He's clever but not wise – and he's so consistently steady in court that it's as if nothing touches him deeply. I think Michael has a lot to learn. Perhaps India will teach him.'
Now Michael began: 'Hinduism is an old, old religion, going back to the elemental gods – Surya, the sun, Indira, god of storm and rain, Agni, fire – and they still, in a way, remain. A good orthodox Hindu wife will hold a kitchen puja – prayer. It's a holy day when all the pots and pans are scoured, cleansed and tidied. The shelves are freshly papered, marigold garlands hung along them, vases of fresh flowers brought in. Finally a new fire is lit. Anyone can recognize the elements in that simple festival, but as the Hindus became more educated, less simple, they wanted something not as abstract as the elements, close but still powerful, and deeper than themselves, mystical, and so the individual gods manifested themselves.'
'It seems to me they have hundreds of gods,' said Honor.
'Only three. Most are aspects, male and female, of the great Hindu trinity: Brahma the Creator, "who has made all things visible and invisible", as Christians say, Vishnu the Preserver, who holds all things together, and Shiva the Destroyer who, because he brings death, is also resurrection. To Hindus, death is simply a stage in the cycle of creation, so Shiva in his dance around the world is god of all movement, especially in time and all life. That is why he is so often shown as a Nataraja – nata from dance, raja meaning king or royal, a great king against whom one must not trespass.' He paused. 'He must be deeply insulted now by being stolen, which is why the Government of India is so outraged.'
There was a silence until Sir George said, 'Thank you, Michael.'
When he had gone: 'I thought Michael got by on his charm. I didn't know he could speak like that.' Sir George blew his nose.
'He usually does, but that was the real Michael. George, let Walter give him the brief.'
'I had half a mind to when he was speaking, but we have to be careful. However fantastical, this is an important case and Michael is still a junior.'
'Senior Leading Junior,' Honor reminded him.
'But, still ... will they accept him?'
'If they're told he's one of the most brilliant of the oncoming young barristers in London,' suggested Honor.
'Isn't that putting it rather high?'
'No,' said Walter, 'and he's greatly in demand. I could do with more Mr Deans.'
'Well, if you can't spare him to go to India – obviously as we are for the defence someone must go – we could send a solicitor.'
'Sir, something tells me Mr Dean should go in person.'
'It's Michael who's telling you that.' Honor was insistent. 'Michael himself.'
Sir George capitulated and picked up the telephone. 'Ginevra, please ask Mr Dean to come back.'
'Michael, the Lord God Almighty and Our Lady want you in His office.' Though Ginevra could be impertinent she was efficient and loyal – as were all the staff. As a matter of fact, 'lord' and 'lady' suited Sir George and Honor well: Sir George was imposing with his height and well-trimmed beard – 'Though not half as well tailored as Walter,' he used to say, because there were several expensive young Fothergills. Perhaps Walter, with his Savile Row suits and hand-made shoes, was trying to mitigate his own thickset stubbiness and grizzled hair. 'Well, even head clerks have their weaknesses,' said Sir George in sympathy. But no one could challenge Honor Wyatt, with her own height and imposing carriage, her fall of blonde hair – Michael remembered it drawn back into a knob, to hide it under the white barrister's wig, which seemed to make her features more clear. Her eyebrows were level, her grey eyes, too, although in court they could be as sharp as gimlets. She had an authority, a wit, that struck even Michael with awe: there could be no pretensions when he was with Honor. Now she, Sir George and Walter were waiting for him as he came in.
'You wanted me, Sir George?'
Sir George did not answer at once: he was looking at Michael as if he had never seen him before – Which he probably hasn't, thought Honor. 'Michael's made for this,' she had told Sir George, and added, as if she were thinking more deeply, 'He has hazel eyes.'
'What can that have to do with it?'
'Hazel eyes are mixed brown and grey, brown for earth and grey for —' she broke off. 'I'm only guessing but I think he can see further than we can.'
'With this case he'll need to,' said Sir George.
Michael, though he tried to restrain himself, was growing fidgety. 'You wanted me, Sir George,' he said again, and then as if he could not contain himself any longer, 'Oh, Sir George, I do so hope you've reconsidered.'
'I have reconsidered but not for myself. Michael, you'd better go and get your jabs. I gather you need a good many for India – typhoid, tetanus and I don't know what.'
'India?' Michael was almost speechless. 'You mean —'
'I mean go to your doctor at once.'
The first thing Michael wanted to do was see the Nataraja, which was still, for security reasons, in Sparkes's, the famed art dealers', strongroom. 'Of course I will get you a pass,' Mr Bhatacharya had said. 'You can use it whenever you want, because I expect you will need to study the Nataraja closely.'
'As soon as I can,' Michael told him, 'but first I need a session with our head clerk.'
'The redoubtable Johnson? I wish I had someone like him in my office.'
'There's nobody like him,' said Michael.
'I know you prefer finding things out for yourself,' Walter began, 'but you'll need a few facts. How much do you know about this Shiva?'
'I know it has at some time been taken out of India – been certified here as eleventh century. Finding it is surely a triumph after it has lain buried and undiscovered for all those years.'
'Not quite all,' said Walter. 'For some ninety years now, many people have known exactly where it was until it disappeared again. Mr Bhatacharya has told me the story as far as it goes and he had it from the woman, Mrs McIndoe – they call her Miss Sanni – who owns the hotel on the South Indian coast where the Shiva was housed.'
'An hotel?' Michael was surprised. 'How on earth – or should we say in heaven and earth? – did it get there?'
'If you'll listen,' said Walter severely, 'I'll tell you.'
'I'm coming to that, but I have to go back to the beginning as far as we know it. It may take time. I'll be as short as I can.'
'Not too short,' pleaded Michael. 'It's fascinating.'
'Very well, but I've warned you. In the early nineteen hundreds, say nineteen five or six, an Englishman, Henry Bertram, had made a fortune from indigo. All sailors' livery used to be dyed with it – all blue cloth. It grew like a weed in Bihar. But Bertram was an astute businessman. Chemical dyes were coming rapidly on the market and he sold his factory and fields just in time. He wanted to stay in India, so went to the east coast and built a luxury hotel – the only hotel in a most beautiful spot between the low hills and the beaches.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The India Novels Volume Two"
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