Thursday’s Children by Rumer Godden

thursdays children

I received an Amazon gift card for Epiphany and used it to buy a whole lot of Rumer Godden books. So far I’ve read The Peacock Spring, A Candle for St. Jude, and Thursday’s Children.

I liked the first one quite a bit, a haunting story that I can’t quite write about because I’m still thinking about it. The second had moments I really liked, but it felt choppy and unfinished, like the rough draft of a novel that couldn’t quite find it’s focus. The last might take its place among my favorites.

Thursday’s Children is about a brother and sister, Doone and Crystal Penny, who are both gifted dancers. Crystal is the beloved only daughter of a mother who used to be a dancer and who wants her daughter to have the chances she never had. Her mother’s lowbrow taste and pushy need to control everything almost ruin Crystal for dance. She’s terribly spoiled and is a very unpleasant, disagreeable person. And yet, somehow you can’t quite hate her because you understand too well where she’s coming from. Doone, is the unwanted and barely loved youngest child. Neglected as a baby, he was raised more by the shop assistant who lived in the storeroom of the parents’ greengrocer’s shop than by his own mother. Beppo, the assistant, used to be a clown and teaches Doone tumbling and trapeze and showers him with the love and kindness his parents are unable to give him. Then Beppo is sent away and Doone is left on his own until he begins to accompany Crystal to her dance classes and falls in love with music and ballet and begins to discover his own talents.

Mrs Penny wants nothing to do with Doone’s talent, but he manages to find teachers who believe in him and nurture his talent. But over and over again there are clashes between his need to dance and Crystal’s need to have the spotlight. The story is poignant and heartbreaking at times, but ultimately hopeful.

Godden is at her best when writing about outsiders, especially children who are unwanted or neglected. She trained as a dance teacher in England and with her sister ran a dance school in Calcutta for twenty years so she knows the dance world from the inside and writes about it with passion. I really didn’t expect much of this novel and was surprised and delighted by how much I enjoyed it.

4 Responses to Thursday’s Children by Rumer Godden

  1. MrsDarwin March 11, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

    I bought Thursday’s Child at a library book sale years ago. It’s fascinating, but I haven’t given it to my girls to read yet because it’s i ambiguous territory , thematically and plotwise, and I didn’t think they were ready to process some of the behaviors and characters, especially Crystal. But a very good, honest book.

  2. Robin Rule September 3, 2018 at 1:15 am #

    I disagree with readers who think that children should be “protected” from certain books like in the assessment of Thursday Child by Rumer Godden. You don’t say how old yr children are, so I don’t know what advice would be appropriate to offer you. You worry about Crystal’s very narcissistic personality and how it will effect yr children. I grew up with many girls in my classes like Crystal and in reading this book, I found reasonable explanations about why she was the way she was and it helped me to NOT take it personal and this book even gave me some methods of of dealing with these kind of people, which is very hard thing, especially for children and children who have been raised to be polite and classy as I like to call it. Crystal was a bit of a bully and underhanded and I needed to know that adults recognized these traits in some children and I needed to know there were ways to deal with children like this. Bullies can devastate a young child without even touching them physically. This book is about children and for children. In the past I lived for many years in the ballet world and there were both Doones and Crystals in many of my classes. I corresponded through part of the nineties with Ms. Godden and we talked a bit about the book. These are real experiences and the sooner a child who is under the thumb of a bully confronts her peers and finds a way to confront the harshness of the bullying personality, the faster that dancer will be able to focus solidly on their dancing and not their hurt feelings. Bullies WANT to undermine the better dancers so that there is no competition. It’s a very delicate situation and I was glad to have Ms. Godden teach me methods of dealing with bullies. Thank you for reading. Robin Rule

    • Melanie Bettinelli September 3, 2018 at 5:35 pm #

      Hi Robin, thanks so much for the comment.

      If you read my blog and my discussions about homeschooling, you’ll see that I’m not in general an overprotective parent, but that I do evaluate each book’s appropriateness for each child. Note that Mrs Darwin questioned whether *her children* were ready to process certain thematic elements. Speaking as a friend and knowing her children and her parenting style, I felt pretty safe in saying that this is a novel that neither of us would give to one of our children without some strong parental guidance for dealing with the themes of bullying and emotional violence. That said, were I writing this comment today as a parent of older children, I’d probably amend my comment and say “not for young children” instead of saying it’s not a children’s book at all.

      My children have read and enjoyed many of Ms Godden’s books: The Story of Holly and Ivy, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, The Kitchen Madonna, The Diddakoi, all of her doll books, I believe. But my children are all homeschooled and none of them are in an environment where they are dealing with bullies nor are they involved in the ballet world. At the time I wrote this post my oldest child was 8 and definitely this was not a book she was at all ready to process emotionally, being a highly sensitive child who did not do well with any kind of emotional tension (she also couldn’t handle most Disney animated films like Sleeping Beauty and Brave– even Cars made her leave the room). I might reconsider the appropriateness of this novel differently now that she is 12, but I still think the themes in this novel are probably more mature than my younger children are ready to handle.

      Now, if I had a child who was being bullied or being thrown into the high stakes world of the ballet, especially pre-professional ballet, then perhaps this book and Godden’s other books about the subject might be relevant to them, but I don’t think they have the life experience to make them especially relevant. Note that it’s also been three years since I read Tuesday’s Child so I really don’t remember all the details, I might also have a different take on the novel now that I’ve got three more years of parenting under my belt.

      In sum, I think we very much agree about how wonderful Godden’s books are, but maybe have different experiences of parenting small children. You don’t actually say whether you have children or not, or are coming at the novel as a parent or teacher, but seem to be speaking primarily from personal experience as a reader. I think it’s wonderful that this novel spoke so powerfully to you and helped to give you the tools to deal with your particular situation. That’s one of the great uses of fiction, isn’t it?

      Also, I’m rather jealous of your correspondence with Ms. Godden. She’s one of my favorite writers of all time and I’ve read all of her books that I can get my hands on. Sadly, she died before I’d discovered any of her books, so that opportunity will not be afforded me this side of the beatific vision.

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