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Jane Jazz

I'm so intrigued by this book now... what a wonderful description of nuns having "the greatest love story in the world". I never thought of them as being dramatic, but actually I can see what drama there must have been in their initial decision alone. Thank you for sharing this, it's a definite to-be-read!


it is an intriguing book indeed. your comment on the relative strengths and weaknesses resonated, reminding me of what i did find somewhat clunky in the out of the convent settings.

what an achievement though to make the life of an enclosed order so seriously interesting without sensationalising it. The episode of the all night prayer vigil was a triumph and I was quite surprised that it was, being deeply sceptical when i realised what Godden was about to attempt.

She develops the character of Dame Catherine most convincingly and I relished any of the moments she appeared. Such an authentic portrayal.

Once again, i am reading an author of whom I was aware, but have never read, and I am so pleased to have done so . It is a joy to have Anne Chisholm's biography to refer to as well, which I lighted upon in the Library.


I so agree about the narrative seeming more forced when it is taken outside Brede, especially the episode involving Dame Philippa's small son. I admit I skim read that part.

I relish the description of abbey life, the changing seasons and their accompanying ritual. I am not a Christian but this book describes so well the value and rewards of a religious life that when reading it I understand its attraction. Maybe it isn't the religion that attracts but the deliberateness (is that a word?) of a life led with ritual and observance.

Susan in TX

I think Sue nailed it - that life led with ritual observance, and I would add, purposeful quiet seems to be the most attractive thing about life within the monastery. I really enjoyed this one as well, and like you all, the more so when she stayed inside the monastery. I especially appreciated the contrast in the complete change of lifestyle for Philippa and her internal struggle with letting go of her control/management of things around her. Like Martina, this was an author I was not aware of and am glad to have discovered. Thanks for another great selection!


Thanks a lot for selecting this book!

I had been looking for a book group for quite a while, and on your reading list I found a number of books which I had enjoyed, too.

I had not been aware of Rumer Godden before - although her books have been translated into German none of them are in print here currently. I must admit that without your recommendation I most certainly would not have chosen this book.

I would not have believed that a novel about life in a Benedictine abbey could be told in such a captivating way. The characters are developped very convincingly, with all their weaknesses, doubts and fears.

I am looking forward to discovering more of Rumer Godden's novels and have already bought "The Greengage Summer" to be read very soon.


Glad you think so, Jane!


I enjoyed Anne Chisholm's biography very much and it prompted me to choose this novel.
You're right about the character of Dame Catherine, Martina, and she is a good example of how 'human' the nuns are. We might have expected a group of paragons, so used to sublimating self that they were mere figures performing their devotions, but - as must be the case in real life - they are well-rounded individuals with the flaws and foibles the rest of us have.

kate D.

I agree with much that has been said about the merits; it is also interesting that it touches on the changes wrought by Vatican II. But I am more reistant too to some of what it offers. I was irritated by how easily problems were resolved; the worst instance was the ruby in the cross (how very convenient), and the pain of Philippa's lost child seemed to recede suspiciously quickly once that story was revealed. There were hints of intellectual and social snobbery (but treated gently, perhaps too gently, by the author) and only the most oblique take on sexuality. These no doubt reflect the period when it was written but I was left reflecting I could not imagine anyone writing a novel like this today, not because a convent might not be a good subject, but because painful and difficult material could no longer be set aside.It is a loving recreation of a largely vanished way of life (though I know Stanbrook still exists - didn't the nuns move to a new eco-freindly convent recently?)but I could have done with a bit more bite.


That's a good point, Sue. Mindfulness is a very popular practice these days, and it's perhaps akin to the nuns' 'deliberateness', as you put it, but faith, ritual and observance do provide a strong framework for living.


So glad you enjoyed it, Susan.


That's great, Ursula!
You're right, on the face of it it's an unlikely subject for a novel, but it is a captivating book, and has apparently touched many people's lives in a deep way.


I think you are right that it is of its time, Kate, and written today it would be a very different book.
Stanbrook is in a new home and for anyone interested its website is here:


Stanbrook Abbey itself is now a conference centre and just down the road from Worcester where I live.


Do the delegates occupy the nuns' cells, I wonder.


I picked up the book, unsure what to expect, a story about nuns! I found myself enjoying it, it was written at a different time and place. I really liked Dame Catherine and the atmosphere described was certainly serene. Not at all what I expected.

I remembered an interview I had read in a women's magazine, many, many years ago, with a young woman who was entering a convert. She was explaining, as best she could, the reasons for her choice. She said that it was her chance to have a different type of life, than the one society expected of her. As I finished the novel, while it is fictional I can understand her choice. With the changes brought by Vatican II I wonder if young women are attracted to such a life now, as there are many more choices and opportunities out there for them.

It was a first time I had read anything by Rumer Godden and I am open to reading a few other titles by her. A good choice Cornflower, another pleasant surprise.


I found the book to be very informative. I liked it, as it gave us an insider's look at a way of life not chosen by many, especially these days!
I have a good friend who is a modern Benedictine monk. Sr. Macrina Weiderkehr, writer, retreat leader, spiritual director and poet. Though I have spent some time visiting her in the monastery near here, it is not a cloistered order so many things are different. I enjoyed the book's explaining that the sisters live in a monastery, not a convent as well as the discussion of,the changes brought by Pope John XXIII.
The sudden change if events and resolution of the novel, caused by the sudden heart attack and death of one sister worked very well, I thought.
One thing for sure, I could never have made it to solemn profession if one has to SING responses solo!

Susie Vereker

If this is your first experience of Rumer Godden, do try some of her others books. In ‘In This House of Brede’, the subject matter, pace and length set it apart from her warm, easy-to-read India novels like, say, the Peacock Spring. These are mostly about the lush tropical atmosphere, teenage angst and sexual longing. For instance, I’ve re-read Kingfishers catch Fire several times - about an unwise young mother who rents a lonely house in Kashmir. Many of her richly described page-turning novels are told partly from the point of a view of a child or teenager who doesn’t quite know what is going on in the adult world but learns quickly enough.

While I admired the enormous amount of research and work involved in writing This House of Brede, I found myself skipping quite a bit. Still, it gave us interesting and rare insights into the workings of a contemplative order of nuns in the 1950-60s. Inevitably, given the setting, there isn’t a lot of plot (apart from the financial scandal) and I found it hard to engage with any of the characters, even Philippa, and it seemed I was siding with the dreadful Mrs Scallon, if anyone. I’ve just re-read Frost in May which gives a child’s eye view of the convent world in those days, and which I did enjoy. This too concerns class distinction as well as religious devotion but those were different times.

There are many admiring reviews of In This House of Brede on the internet from devout women, therefore I shall give my copy to a devout bookworm. Interestingly, as Cornflower says, the modern Benedictine nuns from Stanbrook have moved to an ultra-modern purpose built monastery in Yorkshire. I saw a charming video about them.

Do read Rumer Godden’s autobiography and do google 'Rosie Thomas: re-reading the India novels of Rumer Godden'.

Susie Vereker
is a link to the film about the nuns' new monastery

Susie Vereker about Rumer Godden's India books


Thanks, Anji.
It was wise of Rumer Godden to make the book span so much time and - as you mention - bring in the effects of Vatican II. We might think that life for the nuns is unchanging year on year, but clearly it's not.


Re. the singing, it's striking just how many skills and how much knowledge the nuns must acquire, according to the book, and how the periodic re-shuffle of posts means they must adapt to new areas of work and responsibility. It's by no means an easy life!


Many thanks for the links, Susie, and the film about the new monastery is very interesting - I wish it were longer.
Off to read Rosie Thomas's article now.


For anyone wanting to know more, I can recommend Anne Chisholm's biography "Rumer Godden: A Storyteller's Life".

Barbara MacLeod

I'm with Susie on this one. I didn't so much skip bits but rather fizzled out about half way through. I found it "wordy' meaning I struggled sometimes to follow who was saying what while at the same time who was thinking what.

However, I have successfully pointed a few people to this author because her tie with India.

Thanks also for the references which I think I will give me an insight to the life these women have chosen.


Sorry it wasn't a hit with you, Barbara, but perhaps you'll enjoy some of Rumer Godden's other work.

Mr Cornflower

I was intrigued by this on a number of levels. There's the dynamic of a very closed community (in this case literally) and its interaction with the outside world; there's the mystical element (though I feel like Kate D that even a book written by a devout believer should ration the deus ex machina device); and then there's a certain admiration of but at the same time recoil from the sacrifices these women made, of which I know I'm not capable. It starts rather slowly - at first I found the nuns a bit interchangeable - but it did get a grip on me as the story unfolded.

Mary Ann

In this House of Brede is one of my all time favourite books. I disagree though about events outside the monastery. Godden is a subtle writer who may appear genteel and of-another era, but this is deceptive. I found the death of her son one of the hardest to read passages of the death of a child or anyone that I have ever read. It is an unflinching look at horror and it isn't resolved neatly; rather Philippa has come to terms, as much as possible, with it, before the action of the novel starts and she must learn to let it all go. There was no deux ex machina to rescue Philippa's son and I think it challenges the charge of setting difficult material aside. Godden just isn't sex-obsessed. She also wrote another novel about nuns, ( Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy)in an order that goes into prisons and whose nuns number ex-cons. There, the protagonist nun just happens to be a sado-masochist ex-Madam. Godden is full of surprises.

Dancing Beastie

I was intrigued to learn something of the minutiae of monastic life, and I thought that Godden explained this aspect very well. It is a thoughtful, compassionate and intelligent book. I wondered how she would sustain the narrative once Philippa was settled in her new life, and did feel that were some longeurs as well as some slightly melodramatic episodes: the plot was a little contrived at times (the ruby in the crucifix set my teeth on edge).

Nevertheless, I found myself deeply involved in the lives of these women and eager to learn more. I would love it if the author had had the courage to write more about the spiritual aspect of their lives (particularly Philippa's): I felt we learned a lot about the mechanics of monastic life, but little about the divine inspiration which sustains it and provides its meaning. But perhaps this is inexpressible. Over all, I enjoyed it very much and am left with an even greater respect and admiration for the Benedictines I know.


I loved this book and was very glad of the nudge to finally read Rumer Godden, someone I have been meaning to read for a long time.

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