Black Narcissus: A torrid story of sexual obsession, homicide and Hollywood royalty | Books | Entertainment

One critic dubbed the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger-directed double-Oscar successful film, starring Deborah Kerr because the senior sister, “an erotic English film about the fantasies of nuns”. Now the psycho-drama is returning to the small display in a lavish, all-star BBC manufacturing subsequent month starring Gemma Arterton as Sister Clodagh (the position made well-known by Kerr), the late Diana Rigg, in considered one of her final roles, and Jim Broadbent. But as fevered as the brand new three-part adaptation guarantees to be, it’ll have its work lower out to match the life story of Black Narcissus creator Rumer Godden, who made a fortune out of her fictional dramas.

A daughter of the Raj, Godden led a rare life, rising up in unalloyed colonial luxurious in distant Bengal. 

Trapped in a shotgun marriage to a feckless charmer, her writing expertise earned her a fortune and propelled her into the circle of Hollywood royalty which included Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and James Mason.

But her husband saddled her with monumental money owed and he or she survived poisoning by an obsessed Kashmiri cook dinner who hoped, it was claimed, to drug and seduce her.

Perhaps it ought to come as no shock then that she had twin identities, typically signing letters underneath her married identify Peggie Foster, the long-suffering spouse and mom, and typically because the well-known and rebellious author Rumer Godden.

Born to Arthur, an agent for the British Steamer Company, and his Katherine in Eastbourne, East Sussex, in 1907, Godden grew up in India, which could possibly be a harmful place then regardless of all of the wealth and privilege it offered. 

As a toddler, Godden and her father travelled for days to hunt life-saving remedy after they have been bitten by a rabid canine.Then she fell off a swing and badly broken her backbone, leaving her with an harm that may plague her for the remainder of her life.

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Scottish actress Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh (Image: Getty)

Along together with her sister Winsome (who wrote underneath the identify Jon Godden) she was despatched again to an English convent college in 1913, which she loathed, earlier than the outbreak of the First World War noticed the women return to India. 

There they discovered to hunt, shoot and fish. Both wrote tales to alleviate the isolation and document their unique life and seeing crocodiles, eagles and storks, but additionally the cruelties and poverty of India.

After the struggle, the sisters returned to England however the rebellious streak they shared noticed them undergo 5 colleges in simply two years.

When Godden returned to India in 1925, aged 18, she was shocked to grasp the idyllic childhood residence of her reminiscence was really shabby, remoted and provided little mental stimulation.

Moving to Calcutta in 1929, Godden threw herself into the expat nightlife with enthusiasm. There she met stockbroker Lawrence Sinclair Foster and fell pregnant.

In order to retain her respectability, Godden was pressured to turn into his spouse in 1934, with Foster telling her: “You’ll have to marry me and pretend you like it.” 


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Ms Godden, photographed for Radio Times in 1975 (Image: Getty)

It was a prescient comment. What began as a wedding of comfort shortly turned considered one of inconvenience as Godden branded Foster a “cheerful philistine”.

Their son died simply 4 days after start, leaving her devastated.

As her writing developed, Godden started to despise her colonial class, noting they believed they “were still in Britain”. Her writing would mirror poorly on Calcutta society and uncovered British racism.

When Black Narcissus was printed it was a crucial success and, extra importantly, successful within the US, the place readers soaked up the ebook’s febrile passions and sexual tensions.

The novel focuses on the British and Irish nuns of St Faiths, led by Sister Clodagh, who’re invited to arrange a convent, college and clinic in a abandoned palace within the foothills of the Himalayas north of Darjeeling within the 1930s.

Tensions rise because the nuns are unable to bridge the cultural divide with the locals and between one another and the mission is beset by jealousy.

Ex-Bond Girl Arterton’s Sister Clodagh is “increasingly attracted” to the smug land agent, Mr Dean, performed by US actor Alessandro Nivola – as is the unstable Sister Ruth (Irish actor Aisling Franciosi).

Dame Diana Rigg, who died aged 82 in September, performs Mother Dorothea, Jim Broadbent is Father Roberts, and Bodyguard’s Gina McKee is Sister Adela.


One of the celebs of ‘Black Narcissus’ Kathleen Byron was greeted by movie followers in 1947 (Image: Media Wales)

By the time Black Narcissus made her a literary star, Godden and Foster had two daughters,

Jane and Paula, however one other world struggle was imminent and monetary tensions have been constructing together with her debt-ridden husband.

In June 1940, after an extended keep in England, she travelled again to India together with her daughters to affix Foster, who had been known as up.

A resentful Godden wrote: “It is my choice then it ought to feel like choice, but it doesn’t.” Foster left for army service in 1941 earlier than Godden found she was on the hook for his substantial money owed. The proceeds from Black Narcissus saved her from destroy, however not from scandal.

As Calcutta society tried to work out whether or not Foster was incompetent or a criminal, Godden was preoccupied with arranging a discreet divorce. She retreated to Kashmir together with her daughters and settled into the newly-built Dove House.

She wrote: “At present none of us like Kashmir one little bit. All of them [the locals] would cheat you out of your skin if they could”.

In 1942, a quick residence depart for Foster noticed Godden fall pregnant once more however she practically died resulting from a miscarriage and was solely saved by an emergency operation in very primary circumstances. 

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Rumer Godden despised her colonial class (Image: Getty)

As a lone girl in distant Kashmir, surrounded by servants, Godden was dogged by gossip from either side of the racial divide, not helped by suspicion surrounding a lady author.

Increasingly estranged from Foster, her lack of a intercourse life started to harass. She wrote: “For one thing I need a man? For years I haven’t felt the need, now I suddenly do.”

In 1944, Godden fired all her servants, calling them “devils incarnate” however a lot worse was to come back when she appointed their replacements.

In a letter to Jon, she wrote that she and artist Helen Arberry, who had moved into Dove House in a bid to share the prices, each “had a curious, sleepy stupidity”. Her well being started to undergo.

She wrote: “On Friday 23, while I was giving the children their lunch, Jane bit into a piece of glass. I looked through the food and found several bits more.”

An area British physician advised Godden to go to the police and exams confirmed her daughters had been fed massive portions of finely-ground glass.

The foremost cook dinner, Siddika, was away, however his deputy, Subhana, was arrested and Godden started to suspect that she and her home visitor had been drugged.

After a sequence of police interviews, Godden wrote to her sister: “It seems that they assume Siddika had fallen for me and was attempting to get me underneath his thumb – that is why the medicine.


Gemma Arterton as Sister Clodagh within the BBC’s lavish new adaptation of Black Narcissus (Image: BBC)

“When he noticed this was going to be interrupted all of it turned to revenge and being an unbalanced man of prison kind he did this? I’m afraid that is most likely true.”

The revelation that Siddika had been behind the sustained marketing campaign and had, presumably, used his deputy to cowl his tracks, shocked Godden but it surely was to worsen.

She found to her horror that Siddika, now out on bail, had taken a job near her residence. Then she acquired a letter from an unnamed girl warning her he was an arsonist and prison.

Worried she can be drawn right into a scandalous courtroom case, Godden fled Kashmir and didn’t return for many years.

With no foremost witness, Siddika was cleared within the ensuing trial.

In 1953, Godden fictionalised the episode in her novel Kingfishers Catch Fire, and her thinly-veiled alter ego would have erotic desires as two servants battled for her favour.

She moved again to England in 1945 and, two years later, attended the premier of Black Narcissus, now thought of a traditional of British cinema.

Godden, nonetheless, by no means favored it. She subsequently spent two years working with the revered French director Jean Renoir on an adaptation of her autobiographical ebook The River.


When Black Narcissus was printed, it was a crucial success (Image: BBC)

When she visited Renoir in Hollywood she met a roll-call of the nice and good together with Chaplin, Mason and Charles Laughton. She had tea with Elizabeth Taylor and chatted with Greta Garbo.

Chaplin even provided up an impromptu sketch lampooning Godden and Renoir’s combative working relationship.

In 1949 and now lastly divorced, Godden married civil servant James Haynes-Dixon and all through the 1950s and 60s wrote a sequence of profitable novels.

She would return to India in 1994 for a BBC documentary about her life and work. By her personal admission, it was not a simple expertise.

Memorably the author stated of the go to: “Nice outdated girls ought to actually keep at residence. But then, I’m not a pleasant outdated woman.”

Godden died in 1998 in Dumfries however in an irony the nuns of Black Narcissus would possibly respect, she had by then transformed to Catholicism after an opportunity assembly with a Benedictine nun.

She defined: “I believe nuns are irresistibly dramatic. Theirs is the best love story on earth.”

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