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In this house of Brede by Rumer Godden

In this house of Brede (original 1969; edition 1969)

by Rumer Godden

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8102311,256 (4.34)162
Title:In this house of Brede
Authors:Rumer Godden
Info:New York, Viking Press [1969]
Collections:Your library
Tags:box 36

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In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden (1969)

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Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
Read during Winter 2002

It took me three tries to get this book started but it was well worth it once I figured out which character was which. A helpful table in the front was very important. Phillippa enters a convent in middle age, after a marriage, death of her son and career in government. Her spiritual voyage is most of the story but the changes in the abbey during the 50's and 60's are also part of it. I wouldn't expect to read two books about cloistered life in one year but this was just as good as the last.
  amyem58 | Jul 11, 2014 |
Rumer Godden converted to Catholicism in 1968. Before she did, she took up residence in a gate house of an English abbey in preparation for writing her novel [In This House of Brede]. About a decade later, she wrote another novel that examined the cloistered life, [Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy]. The Catholic Church has not had many positive examinations of late. With the scandals, it seems that the floodgates opened on seething and bitter critics. I am not, and have never been, a Catholic, so I’m probably not in a good position to comment on the fairness of it all. But I do consider myself a spiritual person. I believe in God, and I believe in a pursuing a way of life that is godly. From that standpoint, I do find it unfair that an entire religious group has been painted in such broad strokes. Every religion is at the mercy of its followers, because its followers are all human beings with weaknesses and failings. Personally, I believe the Catholic Church gets a lot of things wrong, but that doesn’t alter the fact that there are sincere and earnest believers in their ranks. Godden understood the struggle to live godly, and gave it life with [In This House of Brede].

Philippa Talbot, a widow, leaves her successful career in British Civil Service to enter a Benedictine monastery. In the Benedictine tradition, it takes at least five years before the nun enters into her solemn profession. During that time, Philippa strips away layer after layer of her old life, exposing her barest and most fundamental soul in service to others. Godden provides a window into the daily and yearly routine in the monastery. She also provides a window into the lives of the other members of the monastery during their journey. The most provocative element of Godden’s story is the daily struggle for these women as they try to live a more godly life.

So many books relegate religion and faith to extremists and crazies, to obsessed and hateful characters, full of bitterness and self-loathing so grand that it becomes a loathing for all humanity. When the Bible is mentioned in a story it is so commonly associated with a zealot or a fundamentalist, someone with a skewed perspective of God. But the nuns and priests of Godden’s [In This House of Brede] are common people, with common problems. They are not problems familiar to you or me because their lives have been boiled down to the very bone, boiled down to the point of basic morality. These problems lost in our frantic, sensory-overloaded lives. But here, in the midst of a life stripped bare, the inner battles of morality and goodness are important again. It is important to learn how to interact with others out of basic kindness and selfless service. When’s the last time kindness factored into our daily lives? How often do we calculate the best way to be fundamentally kind to someone at work or at the grocery store or on the road? We are all too caught up in our selfish calculation of what’s right or what we deserve or what we need. Such a thing as what’s the kind thing rarely blips on our radar.

Some see the monastic life as a retreat or an escape, and there is an element of those things present in it. In a bustling world, full of raw emotion and blatant temptation, it is harder to focus on inner morality, more of a battle. But there is nobility in people who seek to boil life down to basic goodness and service. I’m convinced that such people exist in every faith, every religion. Stories about these people can be just as provocative and valuable as any other kind of story about the human condition.

Bottom Line: A tale of simple spirituality, which is rarely simple and rarely indulged.

5 bones!!!!!

A favorite for the year. ( )
3 vote blackdogbooks | Jan 19, 2014 |
Advice for future readers:
1. I do not recommend this as the first book by Rumer Godden to read.
2. read the preface
3. read the publisher's note at the end before starting the book. This is glossary/description of the Benedictine Life. I didn't notice it until I'd finished, instead I just read the wikipedia page about Benedictines which isn't as informative.
4. mark the page with the list of characters, you might find it helpful to keep biographical notes, too.

Now, my review:

Another Rumer Godden novel about nuns, this time the story revolves around cloistered Benedictine abbey in England. The House of Brede is fictional but based on stories that nuns in a similar abbey in London told to her.

I wouldn't say that the book has a normal plot/structure(at least not like Rumer's other book about nuns that I've read, Five for Sorrow Ten for Joy). Each chapter unfolds like a little subplot and usually focuses on the character development of one nun; sometimes the subject carries over into another chapter, sometimes the subject is hardly mentioned at all later on. The over-arcing character development of Dame Philippa keeps the book cohesive - the necessary thread that makes In This House of Brede a novel rather than a collection of short stories. As a novel I'd give this book 3 stars, the stories in it get 4 stars (I'm rating it on goodreads as a 4 because I love Rumer Godden). I never really took to Philippa, I spent a good part of the book not understanding her, I guess I was a bit like her fellow Sisters. Her growth as a person and depth as a character wasn't as obvious as that of the other nuns (perhaps because it was drawn out over the course of 400 pages, stopping and starting, rather than condensed/in-your-face like the minor characters).

There are a lot of characters which I at first found hard to keep track of. Because of the way she tells a story - having the characters help tell the story by adding their voice to the narration from time to time (if you've ever read Rumer Godden you will know what I mean) - I feel like I missed a lot of the early nuances. For the first couple chapters these guest narrators are just names, not characters with traits and history. By the end of the book, however, I found myself thinking, "Haha, that comment is so like Dame Agnes" because Rumer really, knows her characters, like they're real people. Perhaps they are, since the book is based in fact and in the preface Rumer mentions how a committee of 3 nuns helped her edit the story, and so I like to think that these little quotes in the book are sort of snippets from the real life nuns. While this method of storytelling and character development is quintessential Rumer Godden, I felt like in this case it gave the impression that the nuns were always talking to each other. This is not true: they spend most of their day in silence.

Rumer is a very descriptive writer but I wish there had been a bit more explanation about the Benedictine order (after finishing the book I found out that there is, to some extent, in the form of a publisher's note at the very end). (Side note: I am an atheist and I have never been to church, yet I enjoyed this book because it is not at all preachy. It is a very honest portrait of a house of nuns.) The book covers many years, including a very important moment in modern Catholic history: Vatican II, which I wish she had spent more time discussing. Granted, the book is long enough as it is, and any pages devoted to the Catholic Church (and especially anything of the world outside the cloister's walls) would have distracted from the true subject of In This House of Brede, which is, of course, the nuns ("nuns as they really are," as Dame Felicitas says in the Preface).
( )
  allisonneke | Dec 17, 2013 |
Read this before converting, I remember thinking that nuns were actually human beings. A beautiful read full of doubts and fulfillment. ( )
  Elpaca | Jul 21, 2013 |
This is, in my opinion, a most enchanting book. It is the story of a number of years in the life of Brede Abbey, a fictional English Catholic woman’s monastery, and the nuns who live there. The book opens very simply with Penny Stevens, the juniorest typist in a government office run by a Mrs. Philippa Talbot, who Penny adores. On this particular day Penny can tell that something is going to happen—namely that Mrs. Talbot has been given a promotion. She is called into Mrs. Talbot’s office where, quite to her surprise, she is told that Mrs. Talbot is going to be a nun and is leaving, for good.

The story then switches perspectives and goes to Philippa Talbot as she prepares to make her entrance to Brede. For a large portion of the book the narration continues to focus on Philippa as she enters the monastic life but it occasionally switches to another character.

The pace of the story is gentle and slow, like monastic life itself. A fast-paced adventure story this is not. However, I would not call it boring. There are major troubles within the monastery and the conflict surrounding them was very gripping. Rumer Godden’s nuns live and breathe: sweet Dame Emily Lovell, stately Dame Maura, vivid Dame Colette, and steady Dame Catherine. A few of them will naturally become most dear, just as real people. Philippa herself, Hilary, and Dame Catherine were my favorites.

Godden’s descriptions of the monastic year are very striking and could be applied to any Christian liturgical tradition. “The Church is like a wise mother and has given us this great cycle of the liturgical ear with its different words and colours. You’ll see how you will learn to welcome the feast days and the saints’ days as they come round, each with a different story, and, as it were, a different aspect; they grow very dear, though still exacting.” (p. 60). As an Orthodox Christian, I nodded in agreement with every word of that sentence, not excluding the last bit (“though still exacting”).

My experience of monasticism has been different than the experience of Catholic monasticism that I gained from this book. Orthodox monasticism has developed differently than its Western counterpart, and there was much that was unfamiliar or that I disagreed with. Still, the desire to serve God and the world by retiring from the world is one that I can understand and respect. And again, the characters became so real with their struggles and triumphs that I felt I could count them as friends.

“If a place has been filled with prayer, though it is empty something remains; a quiet, a steadiness.” (p. 195) ( )
  maureene87 | Apr 4, 2013 |
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For J. L. H. D., who has endured us for five years.
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The motto was "Pax," but the word was set in a circle of thorns.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
'The motto was Pax but the word was set in a circle of thorns. Peace, but what a strange peace, made of unremitting toil and effort.'

Bruised by tragedy, Philippa Talbot leaves behind a successful career with the civil service for a new calling: to join an enclosed order of Benedictine nuns. In this small community of fewer than one hundred women, she soon discovers all the human frailties: jealousy, love, despair. But each crisis of heart and conscience is guided by the compassion and intelligence of the Abbess and by the Sisters' shared bond of faith and ritual. Away from the world, and yet at one with it, Philippa must learn to forgive and forget her past . . .
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0829421289, Paperback)

“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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:12 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

This extraodinarily senstitive and insightful portrait of religious life centers on Phillippa 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.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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