Stanbrook and Brede

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June 3, 2018 by lucieromarin

Fans of Rumer Godden’s incomparable novel, In this House of Brede, know that the monastic house of the novel and the lives of its inhabitants are based on the author’s visits to the real monastic house of Stanbrook and interviews with its Benedictine nuns.

Just how based it is, I’m now discovering. A friend told me that the nuns were, apparently, not entirely gratified by the publication of the novel. He thought it was because the author, in his words, ‘made them too real’. I think it might have been for another reason.

A few months ago, I visited a library and saw a book lying neglected on the free-books trolley there. The book was entitled In a Great Tradition. The authors were the nuns of Stanbrook Abbey. The book was published ten years before In this House of Brede.

Well, I’ve just read the following line, on page 59 of In a Great Tradition: “’They comes and they goes,” as a famous old portress at Stanbrook in the nineteenth century once remarked, “but mostly they goes.’”

I recognised this. I checked Brede, and found, “’They comes and they goes,’ Sister Priscilla Pawsey, Brede’s old kitchener said, “but mostly they goes.’”

I’ve also read the history of Dame Laurentia’s decision to enter Stanbrook:

“It was at this time that she went to a ball at which she proved an immediate success…She returned home outwardly radiant and flushed with excitement. “Have you enjoyed yourself?” asked her [priest] brother James. Words came tumbling out as she eagerly recounted her adventures… “That was no place for you,” was his only comment – and she realised that those very words had been beating upon her brain the whole evening.”

In Brede, the story is reproduced this way, when the future Dame Catherine returns from a ball to find her monk-brother Mark at home:

“He thought I looked radiant…’Was it wonderful?’ he had asked, and Catherine had answered ‘Yes’  and then said what she knew had been beating in her brain all evening, all night, and all the months before, months she had spent running round and round and round, ‘It was wonderful, but no place for me.’”

I’m only half way through the book. How much more will there be? This has ruined Brede! Seriously, Rumer, it’s one thing to take the stories the nuns give you in interview, but did you have to lift the exact words and lines from their published work? Couldn’t you at least have found your own adjectives?

Please note that I’m scolding a deceased author, which is as pointless watching a football match on television and then yelling at the players, but this is the sort of thing that happens when you care about books.

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