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In This House of Brede Paperback – February 1, 2005
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This extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life centers on Philippa Talbot, a highly successful professional woman who leaves her life among the London elite to join a cloistered Benedictine community. In This House of Brede was the basis of a 1975 made-for-television film starring Diana Rigg.
From the Back Cover
“A novel of sensitive dedication.” —The Atlantic Monthly
“Rumer Godden deals precisely with the theme of the religious life . . . as representing ‘the heart of holiness of the Church.’ It is at once a life of great peace and often equally intense struggle.” —America magazine
This extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life centers on Philippa Talbot, a highly successful professional woman who leaves her life among the London elite to join a cloistered Benedictine community. In this gripping narrative of the crises surrounding the ancient Brede abbey, Rumer Godden penetrates to the mysterious, inner heart of a religious community—a place of complexity and conflict, as well as joy and love. It is a place where Philippa, to her own surprise and her friends’ astonishment, finds her life by losing it.
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There is a surprising amount of activity in the story, but there is something about how Rumor Godden writes that conveys both the interest and intrigues that do actually exist even in convents, and weaves various story lines together, that just plain satisfies. There is some suspense of a fairly quotidien sort - nothing traditionally dramatic like a murder mystery or prime time detective story, but just about the ebb and flow of life over the course of decades in a community of women who are very interdependent and committed to one another and their religion and its ideals, as well as their interactions with the community, including their own friends and families.
I found this book even more appealing than when I read it as a young woman when it first came out for reasons I'm still trying to sort out. I think the difference in perspective that increased age and maturity have brought make a real difference. It was a pleasant story of a woman who retired from a high-powered career in London to spend the rest of her life in a convent close to half a century ago; now, as a mature adult with vast life experience that the teen lacked, it reveals many more richly layered nuances and details I am quite sure I did not fully understand well at all back then.
The story opens by following Phillippa Talbot, a middle-aged widow, on the day she resigns her high-powered career in London to join the House of Brede. We first see Philippa through the eyes of Penny, her naive and worshipful typist. Penny becomes an important beneficiary of Philppa's new vocation later in the novel. Once Philippa enters the monastery, the narrative moves deftly among the many characters connected to the House and to each other. Several conflicts arise, through which characters mature, and providence follows as surely as Prime does Lauds. We do learn that not all endings are happy, at least where deep wounds from the past are concerned. If you've ever wondered what life in an Abbey must be like, this well-researched book will provide details.
Rumer Godden had an unusual education, which in latter years involved her writing a precis of the editorial of the Times every day (A house with 4 rooms). Her choice of each word is apparent here. She says it took her 5 years to write this book, with her every-day fountain pen, and after finally writing The End, the pen split in half. It is complete. Luckily, I could just start reading from the beginning again.
During her time in the Kashmiri mountains in WWII, Rumer Godden found a way to write where past and present are overlaid and inter-twined. She uses this here, writing in themes and circles as well as events and personality. Save this book for an absorbing deep read.
A simplified version of the novel was "made for tv" with Diana Rigg as Phillippa, and it is fine too