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In this house of Brede by Rumer Godden
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In this house of Brede (original 1969; edition 1969)

by Rumer Godden

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8132411,203 (4.33)171
Member:richardderus
Title:In this house of Brede
Authors:Rumer Godden
Info:New York, Viking Press [1969]
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:box 36

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In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden (1969)

  1. 00
    All We Know of Heaven: A Novel by Rémy Rougeau (Yervant)
    Yervant: Both of these works offer realistic windows into religious life with its joys and hard work and the realities of humans living in community together.
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Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden; (5+*)

Only 376 pages in this book and it took me more than a week to read it. More than a week to read the beauty that is this novel for I savored every word.

Philippa, who has been a wife and mother but is no longer either, is called at the age of 42 to a life serving Christ. She suffers the sadness of solitary existence, exhaustion that is mental, emotional and physical, the learning of new ways; all of the things a novice must go through on the journey to becoming a nun.

The enclosed order which Philippa enters is Brede Abbey and she enters to attempt her "vocation as a Benedictine" Sister. The House of Brede is located in the English countryside near the sea above the village of Brede. It has lovely gardens and pathways for the nuns to walk in their hour of recreation.

Shortly after she entered Brede Abbey, the Reverend Mother Lady Abbess Hester Cunningham Proctor, who was eighty five years of age and had served as Abbess of Brede for thirty two years, became ill and lay dying. As she lay on her death bed she tried repeatedly to tell the Sisters something and they knew that she was tormented by whatever it was but she died unable to speak the truths to them.

Abbesses of Brede Abbey were elected for life and after they put Abbess Hester to rest and mourned her the elder Sisters of the House met to elect a new Abbess and as one can imagine there were a great many comments from the Sisters on who would be best able to meet the needs of the community in the Abbey. Simply because one is a nun doesn't negate the humanity of the Sister and there were many a squabble and snapping that went on but eventually they elected their new Abbess and in all of the remainder of Philippa's time in this House, she served under the Lady Abbess Catherine Ismay.

In time as the accounting Sisters & the new Abbess went over the books and accounts of the Abbey, they came to realize that what the previous Abbess, Lady Abbess Hester, had been trying to tell them as she lay dying was that she had basically indebted the House of Brede to it's breaking point by too freely spending and mortgaging it's properties in order to have some much needed maintenance done to the buildings and in addition she met with and engaged a major sculptor to make for the Abbey new alter, crucifix, 2 side panels and a large sculpture of St. Benedict at huge expense. And so dealing with the financial strain of the Abbey is how the new Abbess is broken in to her new role within the monastery.

Philippa learns and grows so much in her novice years and after. She learns and becomes as one of the House as she never thought she could.

"To Philippa the chant was the nearest thing to birdsong she had ever heard, now solo, now in chorus, rising, blending, each nun knowing exactly when she had to do her part. On feast days, it took four chantresses to sing the Gradual in the Mass, four more for the Alleluias, rising up and up, until it seemed no human voice could sustain it."

"Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline; seven times a day--and the long office of Matins, not, as its name suggests, a morning prayer but rather, with its nocturns and lessons, its twelve psalms, the great night vigil of the Church. 'Yes, one suffers for the Office,' Dame Clare said. 'The getting up, and staying up; the continual interruption to ordinary work, singing no matter how one feels, day after day. Nuns have no holidays.'"

And so Philippa led this life of a nun in the House of Brede. As she learns so does the reader. As she sees the beauty of a life stripped down to nothing but being and giving of oneself as the need of the Abbey extends to each nun so does the reader. Rumer Godden has written a perfect and perfectly lovely novel of monastic life with In This House of Brede and I envy anyone their first reading of the novel. Godden's character developments are pitch on and though there are ever so many plot lines within this novel the reader never gets lost in the going from one to another. Likewise the reader never becomes confused with the ever so many characters. I think this novel pure brilliance.

"The life of the great monastery flowed as steadily as a river, no matter what rocks and cross-currents there were; Philippa often thought of the river Rother that wound through the marshes of Kent and Sussex, oldest Christendom in England, watering the meadows whose grass fed the famous marsh sheep, then winding below the town to the estuary that flowed to the sea. Brede Abbey was like that, thought Philippa, coming from far sources to flow through days, weeks, years, towards eternity." ( )
2 vote rainpebble | Aug 9, 2014 |
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 |
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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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'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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