In This House of Brede

Rumer Godden


I wonder why its so hard to write a good novel about nuns? This is a highly romanticized and dramatized novel about contemplative nuns that shows its age, and not in a good way. Written in 1969, it tries to be modern, but just like the nuns in polyester pantsuits, it tries too hard to be modern and doesn’t succeed.

Philippa Talbot, holder of high office and much responsibility, leaves her life to try her vocation as a nun of Brede Abbey, a contemplative order. At her age, mid-40s, she’s old to be a nun and struggles with the life. Eventually she perseveres and takes solemn vows just as the Vatican II changes are coming in. She eventually goes on to become the superior of a daughter foundation in Japan. The nuns of Stanbrook Abbey, upon which the book is based, were reluctant to cooperate with Ms Godden, an oblate of the Abbey, in the making of the book.The result is a superficial look at religious life.

If you, as I do, don’t understand the attraction of the lifestyle, this book won’t help you. It’s very unrealistic. Rumer Godden seemed besotted with religious life, writing also Black Narcissus, a novel about Irish nuns in India, and Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, a book about French sisters.

All in all, I think Margaret Fraser came closer to understanding the religious life in her Dame Frevisse novels. They’re just ordinary women trying to get along.