August

A few days ago the weather here changed quite dramatically. June and most of July had given us a summer  with high temperatures and clear blue skies. Sometimes oppressively hot although it seemed churlish to complain. However, gardens and fields were scorched, animals searched in vain for shelter from the unfamiliar, seemingly endless, heat. Earth was crazed with cracks and fissures or reduced to dust that clung to feet and shoes. Each day we searched and scoured the weather forecast for signs of rain. Then in August the rain came. Thunderstorms and beating showers pounded the ground and brought back to life our lawns, plants and crops. This weather, we are told is not unique. Rather the summer of 1976 was similar and I remember being told by my grandfather that the summer of 1920 was equally hot and dry. So much so that on Romney Marsh the ditches (dykes) dried up and sheep wandered into adjoining land making the work of the Lookers (shepherds) much more difficult.

The rain came as a welcome relief to many of us but for the farmers trying to gather in the harvest it is, perhaps, not quite so pleasing. With this in mind I have centred my August acrostic on the change in the weather.

August

At last the rain has come.
Unrelenting heat banished beneath
Grey pewter blanket of cloud.
Urgent torrential showers pour,
Soaking and quenching parched land.
Tonight sun’s arrow rays pierce through.

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New Venture

I have had an idea for a new series of posts – the first is posted below. Using artifacts, that are in my possession, and that have some relevance to members of my family I hope to write a series of factually based pieces. The first – below – focuses on my very much younger self and is inspired by a few photographs that I discovered in an old album I inherited from my mother. For those of you who are kind enough to read this post please let me know what you think and if you think I should carry on. You can message to this blog or to theruralwriter@outlook.com directly or on Twitter @theruralwriter to let me know – is it a Yes or a No? Don’t be afraid to be critical or offer advice – feed back is always welcome.

 

The House Where I Was Born

My father died in May, ten years ago. My mother died twenty six years ago. I am an orphan, albeit one who is also a pensioner. There is nobody alive, except me, who can recall those years of my earliest childhood that seem so elusive yet which made me what I am. As I rummage away in the attic of my memory, with the aid of a battered, dog-eared, photo album, that appears to have been lovingly put together by my mother, fragments of remembrance are retrieved from the dusty, cobwebby corners.
Amongst the “snaps”, taken with a Box Brownie, there are a couple of real photographs that show me as a pupil at the village school. I stare at one of them. There I sit at an old wooden desk, wayward hair, homemade skirt and jumper, open smile with a tooth missing. A chink in the darkness of memory allows me to travel back in time to hear the voice of a small boy, with the name of a famous Field Marshall, reassuring my mother that he would look after me, on this my first day, in an alien environment. Monty was as good as his word and for that day at least, he proved to be a trusty friend who took care of me and protected me from the ever nasty Paine twins; rough big boys who ruled the playground. Schools proved to be places that would figure large in my life but my first introduction to such institutions was not to my liking. I hated the noise, the other children, the overbearing adults, the food and the lack of freedom to do as I pleased. I managed, on at least one occasion, to dally at the end of the line of children as the teacher led them through the yawning door of the lofty brick building. I stole out of the gate, on to the path, along the main road, down the lane and away home. Never fearful of the empty fields, towering trees, empty road and lack of human company I resolutely plodded along to regain my lost freedom.
That journey of a couple of miles is hazy in my mind today. Bright, glowing but elusive sparks of place, people, sights, smells and sounds flash in a gloom of recognition. In an endeavour to regain those long lost times for just a little while I am determined to make that journey. Just once more. On foot, as I did then, from the village school to what was my childhood home.
I began that journey at the school gate on a blustery spring day. Blue sky, fat scudding clouds and the main road stretching ahead of me. A brief glance at the little changed school building and long forgotten characters sprang into my head. Mrs Pierce, kindly infant class teacher and wife of a local farmer, Mrs Sorenson, must have been married to a Scandinavian I guess, rather fierce and a middle aged woman who would tolerate no nonsense. Last but not least, as far as I was concerned, a nameless lady with rigid dark hair and the sort of make up my mother would never have dreamed of wearing. Overbearing, dominating and frightening she was a woman who can still make me fear for my immortal soul.
The unmitigated terror that a Monday morning brought still sends a cold shiver running down my spine as I recall the cross questioning of members of the class about church attendance on the previous Sunday. If any class member admitted non- attendance they were roundly condemned to the ghastly graphic crackling fires of hell. For those who seemed to her to be the most pious there was the award of a small card with a mawkish picture of the sacred heart or the suffering Christ. These iconic religious images were also given, in a ceremony each week, to those who had achieved some academic excellence. My wish for the approbation these images conferred was eventually rewarded but not for my personal piety. Once I reached home with my prize I hid it away; a talisman but a truly fearful one.
With that woman’s words ringing in my ears, sending me to burn for eternity because I didn’t have the sense or guile to lie, I began to walk with purposeful stride up the slight hill. Past a few houses, a yard that had been used for the local bus and eventually to what once had been the village shop. Today the bus yard has gone – replaced by modern housing. The shop is still there with the same few steps to the door and the windows on either side. It looks sadly neglected now and appears to be empty. I am loathed to go and push my nose against the window for fear of destroying the past but more especially because I have remembered the shop keeper, Mr Duffus, who might come out and castigate me for loitering. As I stand and stare at the shop I recall that Wendy Duffus, a girl of about my age, lived over the shop. She was a pretty, delicate girl, not a great galumphing thing like me, but a girl who liked playing with dolls and who didn’t like to get dirty or play in the garden.
Across the road from the shop is Rectory Lane. As I start on this part of my time travel I am struck by the narrowness of the lane. Flanked by tall hedges the way rises before me up a steep hill. At the top of the hill a field to the right sits firmly in my memory as a place that grew mangol wurzels. As I cross the lane to stand and stare at the entrance to the field I am transported back to childhood. I see my father bent double, vigorously pulling the turnips from the cold ground and throwing them into a small trailer to be carted and piled high in a wurzel clamp ready for winter animal feed. A cold late autumn wind scours the field whilst he works his relentless way along the row, leaving a furrow of bright glistening leaves and bloody stems in his wake. The rose red roots land with a thumping thud in the metal trailer. His rhythmic progress is uninterrupted by sight or sound or change in the weather. Pull, chop, throw, thud. Pull, chop, throw, thud. Slowly the image fades and he has gone. Silence returns only interrupted by a distant skylark.
The road descends past a tall brick house. I have no recollection of this house but I do recall a bank of beautiful blue, shy, twinkling periwinkles peeping from beneath their viridian, luxuriant, leather leaves. In the hollow at the bottom of the hill stands a majestic ancient oak, gnarled and ravaged by time but to my delight still growing strong. As a child I picked wild garlic from under its sheltering shade to present to my mother. She was less than impressed with the gift but I thought the delicate starry white globes of flowers were truly magical even if they did smell a bit odd.
Set away from the road, surrounded by immaculate lawns, I can now see a huge rather magnificent house. It took me a while to remember that this must be the old vicarage. Long ago, empty and derelict, only glimpsed in its crumbling chaos, with the garden overgrown, windows smashed and trees groaning in the wind. Once, but only once, I had plucked up enough courage to cross into the drive entrance and peep through the trees, bushes and brambles. I was put to flight, as if the devil himself had appeared, when a flock of ghostly white pigeons had furiously flapped overhead.
With a sense of urgency and impatience that I imagine I didn’t have as a child I strode on past Hooper’s Court. Out of the silence I thought I heard again the snapping yaps of the four or five Pekinese dogs that used to live there. The desire to run past the gate to safety almost overwhelmed me. I saw in my mind’s eye those tiny sharp teeth in the squashed aggressive faces that looked as though they in their fury had run headlong into the garden wall.
The tiny bungalow a little further down the lane seemed captured in the amber of a bygone age. The doll’s house with a bridge across the ditch and oversized columns at the front door had always aroused my curiosity. Here had lived Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood’s granny or some wicked witch who might at any time lure me in with the promise of lemonade or sweet tasty morsels. If I stopped I knew I would never see my mother ever again
I walk past fields, gates, hedges and ditches whose banks sparkle still with primroses in profusion. Nearly home now and I can just see the pond that was once surrounded by trees, black and dark, hiding monsters and unidentified dangers in equal measure. A place of mystery and adventure for a child with a fiction fuelled imagination. By the side of the lane is the house where I was born. It stands much smaller now as though, in some strange reverse of Wonderland, it has shrunk over time. The garden with its pear tree and sand pit that once was my huge world is now tiny and tatty, overgrown and full of weeds. The outside toilet, once surrounded by Grimm’s fairytale conifers, is still there but now it seems to be a garden shed. The porch, where I played with imaginary friends, has disappeared and the iron railing fence has been replaced.
My bedroom window still looks out towards the barn across a beaten circle of earth that provided a bicycle race track but is now barely big enough to park a car. The barn is now a house. Long gone are the sweet smell of hay and the tub of molasses in the corner that tasted so much sweeter for being furtively licked from sticky, dirty fingers. Here stood the huge grindstone with its water trough and cast iron handle that we would wind as hard as we could and then jump back to let it spin out of control. In retrospect, a dangerous game that could have resulted in serious injury but never did. The sound of cattle in the yard jostling each other and chomping on cattle cake, the bull, securely tethered in the pens rattling the metal gate and the ducks quacking and beating their wings on the pond as they skid into land have all long since been swept away. A new neatness and order prevails and silence invades the air.
As I awake from my foray into the sounds and smells of the past to glance down the lane to the oast I see what is not there. Double wooden doors, a gravel yard, a farm pond and a small stable block. Stairs that come down to the road from the roundel and on them stands a tired looking young man with a huge mop of tousled black hair. His boots are ingrained with an acid yellow stardust; soaked in oily resinous phosphorescence that reeks with the nostalgic bitterness of hops. His trousers, held up by binder twine, are equally dirty and stained and his open necked shirt is covered, in part, by a hand knitted sleeveless pullover.
His massive hands, full of strength and power, rest gently on the stair rails as he looks down on me as I approach. He calls out and asks the little girl in faded blue pyjamas if she has come to say good night. She has. I stand in pyjamas on the dusty road for him to give me my night night kiss. He walks down the last few steps and with those sinewy calloused hands he picks me up, gives me a hop smelling cuddle, a wet sloppy kiss and tells me to sleep tight. Gently he lowers me to the ground and watches as I turn and run back up the road to my mother, who waits at the gate, and my safe snugly bed. He must return to his work of drying the hops throughout the night and snatching a little sleep when he can on a makeshift bed. That bed in the oast was so fantastic to the little girl in the pyjamas. It was an old iron bedstead mattressed with hop pockets full of warm sweet smelling hay, blanketed with one old army blanket and sheltered from the ever present draft of the big open double doors by curtains of sacking. It provided an exciting place to play, a place to hide, a place to feel safe.
The stairs are not there now. He is not there now. The silence is palpable. I slowly walk on down the lane, loath to lose the images of the past. I am almost frantic in my desire to capture more but my memory has mysteriously shut down. Past gates and hedges the road meanders like a twisted ribbon skirting the edge of the wood and grassy fields that once grew hops. The entrance to the wood stands empty and overgrown reminding me of Kipling’s The Way Through the Wood. There had never been a road through this wood but there had been a sort of clearing at the entrance where the gypsies would park their van, tether their horse, light their fire and according to my father, roast their hedgehogs. My mother had been wary of them and if she saw the thin wisp of smoke from their fire or spotted their lurcher dogs we would instantly change the route of our walk and head home.
For a short while I have retrieved a little of past lives, heard silent voices, seen my childhood self and made fleeting contact with my lost parents. The creeping coldness of a sharp spring breeze jolts me back to the here and now. I must return to my life and home of the present.
Once home, I return to the photo album that in black, white and shades of grey shows me sitting in a sun lit garden with my mother, stroking a dog, standing on the first rung of an iron fence smiling at the camera, riding my bicycle, feeding the chickens in their wire mesh run and snuggling up to my father on the oast steps. I am confined forever in a carefree, sunny, smiling world of safety and security. My world was full of the outdoors, growing things, living things, a clichéd childhood of love and happiness. Sadness and misery have no part in my memory of those early years. Either I was unaware of such elements of life or what sadness I might have felt has long since been consigned to the outer darkness, irretrievable and lost for eternity.

Summer Poems

Although I made a New Year resolution to write at least one poem a month, in the last few months regular readers of this blog will have noticed that I have fallen by the wayside recently. A catching up has had to be done and below you will find the poems for May, June and July as well as a sonnet that is written more in anticipation and hope than based on events to date! The Summer Storm is the latest in the series of four sonnets that aim to encapsulate each of the seasons of the year.

 

Summer poems

May

May snow encrusted quickthorn,
Along the lane Queen Anne’s lace,
Yellow gold buttercups glow in grass.

Last Days of May

Hot and humid hanging air,
Thunder crash, lightening tear,
As sky is rent with forked fire.
Leaden clouds oppressively heavy
Drench meadow, pasture and crops
With torrential downpours.
Ditches fast full, paths puddled,
Sheep shelter beside hedgerows,
Until the sun pierces the gloom.

June

Just too hot
Unrelentingly hot
No drops of rain
Early and hot again!

Flaming June

Flaming June at last
Lives up to its name.
Cracked earth dusts
Beneath my feet
As I walk the fields.

Wheat and barley golden
Glowing in undulating waves
Stands proud dry sentinel.
Green ditch edges relieve
Shades of baked brown land.
Unrelenting heat beats up from earth
And down from clear azure skies.
Sheep huddle beneath hedgerow
And tree searching for shade.

July

July heat bakes solid the earth
Until cracks and fissures appear.
Lawns and fields brown from rain’s dearth
Yield to the searing brazen sun.
Summer Storm

Oppressive ponderous heat of summer
From a glassy azure vaulted dome beats down.
The dusty earth hard with crack and fissure
Languishes exposed to August sun.
Pewter-black dragon clouds spread pinion wing
And breath sheets of forked ferocious flame
Rumble, roar and rage in their thundering.
Clawing the heavens ragged, onward come
Steel nails of rain pounding, piercing, stabbing,
Hammering deep into parched arid land.
Refreshed softer warmth returns again,
Busy buzzing bees and butterflies abound,
Until dusk when fiery sunset glow forsakes
The world to the silent, silken, swoop of bats.

The End of the House of Alard – Sheila Kaye-Smith

I haven’t posted any articles or poems for a while but I am now back on track so shall be posting a little more regularly I hope. The article below is an expanded and more detailed version of a paper I presented on 16th July 2018 at the ICVWW Conference in Canterbury. Kaye-Smith wrote a sequel to The End of the House of Alard, entitled A Ploughman’s Progress. I shall be posting an article on this novel in the near future.

The End of the House of Alard is set in the immediate aftermath of the First World War and opens “A few days before Christmas in the year 1918” (EHA 4). Unlike previous novels The End of the House of Alard focuses on the lives of a gentry family of ancient lineage and the management of their extensive estate. Kaye-Smith adapted a technique she had used in Sussex Gorse and Joanna Godden for the start of this novel. Instead of having a landscape setting focusing the reader on a locality, this novel begins by giving an ‘expanded’ panorama of the Alard family history from medieval times to the eighteenth century when they amassed considerable wealth and purchased land in Sussex. This expansive vista is reduced to a microscopic focus on the Alards of the present day, with a brief description of Sir John, his wife, Lucy, his four sons and three daughters. Ever aware of her readership, and with a clear understanding of the need to write a commercially viable novel, Kaye-Smith has threaded the narrative with strands of romance. The epigraph to the novel – “We only know that the last sad squires ride slowly towards the sea/And a new people takes the land.” – acts as a guide to Kaye-Smith’s intentions and became the focus for much of the review comment. The politicised message of Kaye-Smith’s novel was uniformly praised in the The Bookman, where the novel was considered a significant “contribution to the social history of post-War England”, “a real life record”, and a “masterly picture of the post-War passing of the old-style, landholding county family”. While Henry Fuzler, in The Nation, and the reviewer in The Outlook, similarly note that at the core of the novel is “the break-up of an established social system”, and a “picture of new social conditions in England”. While The Bookman recognises that this novel is not just about change, it does acknowledge that in The End of the House of Alard change is shown to be inevitable and that the acceptance of such change brings hope for the future. The novel was Kaye-Smith’s most successful work in terms of sales, and the novel – first published in August 1923 – was reprinted five times between September and November 1923.
It is recognised here that The End of the House of Alard is concerned to show the changes that have taken place in the social ordering of the countryside and is, therefore, a ‘Condition of England’ novel, but the remit of the novel ranges beyond this consideration. Through her characterisations Kaye-Smith has addressed the plight of women, the socio-economic legacy of the First World War, and the consequent changes in societal attitudes to class, marriage, the rural economy and religion. The narrative addresses these changes while alleging that those who have survived the war must embrace the new ways of thinking and behaving if they are to survive. To demonstrate this proposition, Kaye-Smith has used the imminent disintegration of a gentry-owned country estate, overburdened with taxation and debt, as her chosen subject. Kaye-Smith’s unequivocal but disconcerting assertion that “In Alard I was definitely challenging and proclaiming” (TWH 154) ideas on Anglo-Catholicism, and thus placing religion at the core of the novel, will be challenged in this chapter.
Kaye-Smith felt that, as soon as the war had ended she, and society in general, wanted “to get back to normal life – to dig a deep grave for the past, build a comfortable house for the present and blow an idealistic bubble for the future”(TWH 124). In common with many of the writers of the 1920s, however, she was unable to ignore the immediate past. The End of the House of Alard is overshadowed by the war. Although Kaye-Smith makes no real mention of the war aside from starting her narrative at the very end of 1918, and making a scant reference to the oldest son’s death in the war, the aftermath of war affects all of her characters. In her construction of the discourse, Kaye-Smith has chosen to present a triptychally-based permutation of war writing where the Before/During/After generations provide the three differing attitudes to the enduring legacy of the war. The strength of this structuring and plotting of the novel lies in the realisations of the clearly delineated characters. The differing attitudes and behaviours of three generational groups – the Victorian parents, their children born in the 1880s, and the youngest children, Jenny and Gervase, born at the turn of the century, define the triptych.
The values and attitudes of a bygone age, of expanding Empire and Victorianism, are fully realised in the person of Sir John Alard. Kaye-Smith is meticulous in her painting of him as a stereotypical Victorian patriarch who rules his family with an iron discipline. Using an imperialistically authoritative vocabulary to describe Sir John’s relationship to his family, she characterised it as a ‘reign’, an ‘absolute monarchy’, a ‘tyranny’, with him holding ‘dominion’ over them. Devoted to a hereditary land-based materialism, at the age of thirty he had married as a matter of duty, “begat sons and daughters” (EHA 3) to guarantee the continuance of the estate, and for the same reason had bought more land. Irascible and controlling he has little time for those who do not put the land first, but is thwarted in his ambitions; as with most estates in England at this time, the Alards “found themselves in possession of a huge ramshackle estate, heavily mortgaged, crushingly taxed” (EHA 3). This same divergence between material wealth and ‘ready cash’ poverty is evident in the day-to-day running of Sir John’s household. The dinner table is resplendent with silver, antique cut glass and fine china but as “Good cooks were hard to find and ruinously expensive” (EHA 13) the food that is served is barely edible. To Sir John the war had been a nuisance, it had depleted his monetary resources, made it impossible to sell land, and “swept away the little of the Alard substance that was left” (EHA 3) after he had paid pre-war land taxes. In the case of his heir, Peter, Sir John is insistent that his marriage must provide a badly-needed injection of cash, and therefore he should “marry where money is” (EHA 17). The greatest example of Sir John’s old-fashioned Victorianism, is his attitude to women. He ‘snarls’ at his wife, makes his daughter Doris “a convenient butt” (EHA 12) for his anger and sarcasm, treats his daughter-in-law, Rose, with disdain while describing her to Peter “in terms most unsuitable to a clergyman’s wife” (EHA 16); he labels Mary a fool, and refuses to see Jenny when she marries a farmer. Sir John is unwilling to relinquish any control over his land as he grows older, while his belligerence, and an insistence on following the age-old custom of retaining land at all costs, means that he sees selling land to raise urgently needed cash as a shameful practice. He is proud to boast that when he dies his son “‘may not get a penny, but [he] ‘ll get the biggest estate in East Sussex'” (EHA 275). Sir John must die before lasting change can be achieved. Firstly as the representative of an age that is dead and gone he cannot and will not change, and secondly to uphold the integrity of Kaye-Smith’s hypothesis that change is necessary and inevitable he must be removed from the narrative.
Lady Alard, likewise, is characterised as a representative of a bygone age. Initially described as “vacant”, for most of the novel she is concerned with maintaining appearances of gentility and the trivia of appropriate behaviour, or horrified by the conduct of her children. Through the depiction of the Alard parents, Kaye-Smith is critical of Victorian upper-class hypocrisy, particularly in matters of religion. Sir John objects to the Anglo-Catholic priest, Luce, because “‘when it comes to letting religion interfere with your private life, then I say it’s time it was stopped'”, while Lady Alard thinks Luce is “‘a perfectly dreadful man'” because “‘He came to tea once, and talked about God – in the drawing room'” (EHA 129). However, although she is portrayed as a stereotypical Victorian for much of the novel, when Lady Alard is presented with the necessity for change she adopts a decisive accepting attitude. Her ability and willingness to adapt to changed circumstances allows her to embrace her new-found freedom. As a widow she is used to portray the indomitable assured spirit of nineteenth-century imperialism. The announcement that the heir to the estate has decided to sell up allows her to liberate herself from the restraints imposed by tradition as she plans to enjoy her new-found freedom to “‘go to Worthing'” because “‘it’s more bracing than the coast here'” (EHA 355). Her upbringing has equipped her with a toughness that means that in “times of adversity her spirit seemed to stiffen in proportion to the attacks upon it” (EHA 317). By 1928 she is enjoying her freedom to the full and according to gossip, “she’s taken to gambling now – won eight thousand francs at Monte Carlo” (PP 109) and is considered “irresponsible”.
Where the oldest generation have an assurance in themselves and the decisions they make, and appear to have been unaffected by the war, the generation represented by the older children, Peter, George, Mary and Doris, is lacking in such confidence. They are the group that stands between the certainties of a pre-war Victorian and Edwardian ‘golden age’ and the bold surety of the modern era, exemplified in the positivity of Stella Mount, Jenny and Gervase. They are used to illustrate the difficulties endured by those who had grown up accepting the values of Victorian society, but who had had those values destroyed by their experience in the war, and were now searching for a moral and spiritual compass to guide them. These individuals are characterised by uncertainty in all that they do.
Kaye-Smith’s novel supports Fussell’s assertion that the generation that fought in the war had grown up and entered the war years assured in their assumption that after the war they would have “a future whose moral and social pressures [would be] identical with those of the past” (Fussell 21). As Fussell states this generation believed that their world was one “where the values appeared stable and where the meanings of abstractions seemed permanent and reliable” (Fussell 21). The language of that generation was that of duty, personal control, self-abnegation, chivalric romance and established Anglicanism. Once the war was over this same generation found themselves in a world where such values no longer pertained. In The End of the House of Alard this war generation is represented by Peter, Mary, George and Doris. Kaye-Smith, who belonged to this generation, has chosen to concentrate her narrative on the Alards that make up this group. For this war generation the fighting may be over but the peacetime world presents them with dilemmas in which they are forced to question the meaning of life and their individual purpose because the world they are living in is irrevocably different from that of the pre-war years. As Baldick suggests for them “the War is now over, except it is not” (Baldick 7) because they now have to fight personal battles to find their place in the post-war world. To simplify her presentation of the dilemmas faced by this generation, Kaye-Smith has chosen to invest each of them with a different problem. Peter, the heir, is torn between his duty to the family estate, and his love for Stella Mount; he must choose between marrying for love or money. Mary has all the material wealth anyone could wish for, but is unhappy in her marriage to Julian; she must do her duty and quietly acquiesce, or follow the path of a modern woman and divorce her husband. Doris, the spinster daughter, represents that army of unmarried women who were either dependent on their parents, lived in genteel poverty, or tried to establish themselves in some form of employment. Her dilemma is represented in her inability to cope with the change of life-style that the sale of the estate will necessitate. George, the Anglican clergyman, follows the path and life-style expected of a low church incumbent from the gentry, but finds that his life lacks spirituality and is unrewarding and meaningless. He must choose between carrying on as usual or following a spiritual path dictated by his conscience. Throughout the narrative Kaye-Smith documents each character’s uncertainties, soul-searching, and resolutions, while showing that those who change with the times gain and those who stay stuck in the past are doomed.
Peter is haunted by the need to fulfil the duty imposed upon him as heir to the estate. Kaye-Smith characterises this duty in the lexical imagery of chivalric warfare, religious obligation and historic family loyalty, combined with a need to uphold some form of stability in times that are uncertain. The collective family metaphorically wave the banners of Family, imbuing the word with chivalric and religious significance by using it as “a war-cry, a consecration” (EHA 42).The Alards “who slept in Leasan churchyard and in the south aisle at Winchelsea” are raised up to become “a whole communion of saints” (EHA 42) which he will have “dishonoured” if he chooses to ‘sacrifice’ the estate for the sake of marrying for love. The religious referencing continues with the equating of the Alards with “the First and Last Things” and as “the very rock on which” (EHA 44) his life is based. The first appearance of Peter establishes him as a dutiful son who, having survived the war, has returned home to accept his place as the heir. Consistent with this portrait of Peter it is no surprise that he eventually adheres to the pre-war values of sacrifice, duty and loyalty, rather than looking for personal happiness. The pull of family tradition is such that he feels he has no choice, but “must stand by [his] family”, “all the Alards – all that ever were” (EHA 67). In keeping with the central premise of the novel that those who do not change with the times, and accept the decline and demise of great landed estates, are destined to fail, Peter’s decision seals his fate. His marriage to a wealthy woman brings unhappiness, with a belated understanding that love is more important than wealth or tradition, which leads to his suicide. While much of the plotting has followed a Victorian family-saga tradition, albeit one that has at its heart a twentieth century problem, the resolution of this character’s dilemma hints at a more modern approach.
Through Mary the text explores a similar predicament, that of “family duty against personal inclination” (EHA 81). Here the focus is on the divorce laws and position of women in post-war society. While the law only allowed for divorce on the grounds of adultery, Kaye-Smith recognises in her depiction of Mary that incompatibility in a marriage can be equally devastating. Consistent with the socio-historic nature of the novel, there is a clear picture of the prejudice meted out to women in the male-dominated society of the 1920s. To illustrate this, lawyers consider it impossible for a woman to leave her husband “except for another”, and that a woman will not remain chaste if “in the constant society of a male friend” (EHA 104). Unlike Peter, Mary is shown to have great strength of character and is determined, once she is divorced, to stand alone despite the pressure of family and society. She is not willing to do “her duty”, and make a “sacrifice of her personal inclinations” (EHA 109) by marrying again. Her emancipation as an embodiment of the modern independent woman speaks to the desire for women to attain a freedom that “means more to me than perhaps you can realise”, that allows her to “enjoy life as a spectator” (EHA 287). Because Mary has grasped the opportunity for personal change in her life she can survive, largely indifferent to the fate of the family.
Where Peter and Mary are used by Kaye-Smith to draw attention to the divergence of attitude on worldly matters in the post-war era, George becomes a symbol of the spiritual and religious questioning of those who survived the war. During the war when “We were all trying desperately to forget the shadow of death lying over us” (TWH 107), Kaye-Smith, like so many others, was drawn back to faith from “perfunctory religious observance” (TWH 116). Her experience in a random attendance at a service, and subsequent visit to an Anglo-Catholic church where she joined “people at prayer, mostly business girls like myself, kneeling at the back with their attaché cases” (TWH 116-7), gave her a feeling of returning home. This experience is reflected in the depiction of George Alard’s crisis of faith. George Alard is emblematic of the typical Anglican clergyman of a low church persuasion who, similarly to Kaye-Smith, finds himself taking a superficial attitude to his own beliefs. He wants to retain the hierarchical system of pre-war society in which the village clergyman is afforded the same respect as the Squirarchy. He believes that religion should be restricted to Sunday observance and selective acts of organised charity, while his sister Mary categorises Alard’s brand of Anglicanism as chiefly consisting of “giving people soup tickets and coal tickets, and having rummage sales” (EHA 101). Reflecting the spiritual uncertainties of the time and a disillusionment with the age-old ways, George Alard’s questioning of his own faith is captured in his realisation that in his own church he feels that there is “something curiously unprayerful”, there is “an emptiness of prayer” (EHA 102). In contrast the Anglo-Catholic ministry of Luce is depicted as living and meaningful and relevant. His “religion at least means an attempt at worship” (EHA 101) and his church is used on a daily basis: “a young man in working clothes . . . kneeling there . . . and an immensely stout old woman in an apron . . . sitting not far off” (EHA 120). George, like Mary, rejects the restrictive strait-jacket of Victorianism that dictated modes of expected behaviour, asserts an individualism that is symptomatic of the 1920s, and on his death bed asks for Luce to administer the last rites.
Doris, on the other hand, is representative of those who find it almost impossible to contemplate change. She is one of those individuals who needs the anchor of known and enduring social norms. She is not able to “build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes” she cannot “go round or scramble over the obstacles”. Constantly the focus of her father’s anger, and described as having “accepted the position of idle daughter, and who was bound by all the ropes of a convention which had no substance in fact” (EHA 112), Doris had lost a sense of her own individualism and “had been sacrificed” (EHA 187) to the family. Kaye-Smith’s picture of Doris is harsh and unsympathetic. Condemned as “a dreary middle-aged spinster, trodden on by both the parents, and always regretting the lovers she turned down” (EHA 234), she is the only member of the surviving family who cannot come to terms with the sale of the estate. In keeping with this summation of Doris as an overly-emotional stereotypical spinster, Kaye-Smith caricatures Doris’s reaction, to the sale of the estate, with the language of melodramatic hysteria. Doris “look[s] wild”, claims that she “gave up [her] happiness for Alard”, believes that now her “sacrifice is worthless” (EHA 352), falls to her knees in supplication, and in a final dramatic gesture announces “I wish I was dead” (EHA 354). While the others look on at her “frenzy” and “humiliation” the last words of the novel are ascribed to her. They are used to encapsulate the impact of the cataclysmic destruction of a way of life in rural Britain, swept away by the legacy of the First World War, upon those who could not, or would not, embrace the new moral landscape that lacked signposts and direction: “Oh, father – oh Peter! . . . What would you have done if you had known how it was going to end?” (EHA 355).
If the parental generation of Alards is used to represent the spirit and certainty of Victorianism, and the older generation of children feel cut adrift from the past, and having lost their fixed points of certainty are uncertain how to respond to the present, the younger generation is assured in the belief that it must break from the past to create a more equitable future. Jenny and Gervase Alard’s vision of the future matches that of Lawrence’s Lilly. This young generation must “face the world as we’ve made it, and our own souls as we find them, and take responsibility. We’ll never get anywhere till we stand up man to man and face everything out, and break the old forms”. Kaye-Smith maintains, through her depictions of Jenny and Gervase, that the only way to face the new world and break the hold of the old is through love. The stranglehold exerted by the class system and the tradition of the family is subverted by acts of love – Jenny’s for a yeoman farmer and Gervase’s, through a complete surrender of self, to a love of God. Jenny is recognised by her father as unlike any of his other daughters in that she is “emancipated and a great deal older” (EHA 80), in her understanding of the world. She is from the generation that Baldick notes were “precociously absorbing more knowledge than they could digest, meanwhile affecting a world-weariness beyond their years” (Literature of the 1920s 100). Although she is not presented as utterly reckless and irresponsible in her behaviour and attitudes, she does come to feel that the ideas of Family as evinced by her parents proved that “Alard was suffering from arterial sclerosis” (EHA 168). Unwilling to allow herself to be a sacrifice to this dying breed, and aware that the class system is doomed, she is determined to marry for love. In her decision to marry Ben Godfrey, a yeoman farmer from Icklesham, Jenny rebels against the social mores of her class. Recognition that the war had changed the class structure for those of her generation is not only apparent in her decision, but also in Ben’s belief that it is appropriate for him to marry her. This generation’s self-assurance and confidence in an equitable future is recognised in Jenny’s belief that the war was “responsible for his (Ben’s) failure to see the barriers between them” (EHA 205). Kaye-Smith’s use of Jenny to highlight the generational antagonisms of the 1920s is made most apparent in her dispute with Peter over his determination to maintain the status quo of the landed gentry. Jenny espouses a socialist conviction when she claims to be “ashamed” of the family, feels that the family have “no right” to own the land, and believes that it is time “the land went back to the people it used to belong to” (EHA 152). The gulf between the two generational attitudes is summed up in Peter’s belief that Jenny and Gervase are “Socialists, Anarchists, Bolsheviks, and he heartily disapproved” (EHA 152).
For Gervase the rebellion of his generation is manifested in his desire to believe in something that will give his life meaning. His rejection of the old values is more dramatic than his sister’s and is presented as both worldly and spiritual. If the 1920s was, as Elizabeth Drew suggests, the ‘Age of Disillusion’ (Drew 31), and ‘disillusionment’ was “a defining topic of 1920s” (Baldick Literature of the 1920s 101) writing then Kaye-Smith has fully realised that spirit of the age in her portrayal of Gervase Alard. A lexicon of restriction and conformity is used to express his generation’s perception of the falsity and futility of the older generation. In his desire for independence he wants to break away from the “patterns” and “conventions”, he no longer wants to be “shut-up”, or be a member of a “cult”, a “class” or a “tradition” or “a slave of circumstance” (EHA 52). His character speaks to the establishment of a more socially-equal society in which he can meet, mix and work with “all sorts of men, rough and smooth” (EHA 39), as he trains as an engineer. Through Gervase, Kaye-Smith pulls down the edifice of upper class values and exposes them as counterfeit. The reality of a worthwhile post-war life is “the dirt, the din, the grease . . . his filthy overalls, his fellow-workmen” (EHA 52) and a pride in earning his five shillings a week. Although Gervase illustrates a new and more liberal socialist attitude to class he is also seeking a spiritual meaning in his life. Although Kaye-Smith does address the issue of religion in this novel, and despite her protestations that religion is at the centre of the narrative, issues of faith are only realised in the persons of Gervase and Stella. This consideration of religion in post-war society is overshadowed, and in the novel as a whole is of secondary importance. However, unlike many novels of the day, this work puts “specific religious assurances in place of the decay of Victorian dogma” (Drew 34) to address the uncertainties of life. Gervase follows Kaye-Smith’s own path in matters of faith and illustrates Drew’s unequivocal summing up of the 1920s when she states that it was an age that had
“its own doctrine of the right of every soul to find its own salvation: it claims a rational tolerance for all who strive with passion to follow the promptings of heart, mind or spirit in an effort to elucidate this piece of work which is man” (Drew 48-49).
Gervase’s search for salvation and spiritual meaning for his life leads to the Anglo-Catholic church at Vinehall and the ministry of Father Luce. In the presentation of Anglo-Catholicism throughout the novel, Kaye-Smith argues for the universality, inclusivity, reality and rightness for the individual, that can be found in that faith. She is not concerned to evangelise but rather to explain the experience of finding a faith that is all-encompassing of life. Just as Mary is critical of her brother’s ministry at Leasan, so Gervase voices the criticism of many after the war, when he complains about the mediocrity of established Anglicanism. His experiences with low church Anglicanism have led him to believe that he would never have “bothered about it much” (EHA 131), whereas in contrast when he experienced “‘Catholic Christianity I saw that it pointed to a life which simply couldn’t be lived without its help – that it wasn’t just an aid to good behaviour, but something which demanded your whole life ‘” (EHA 131). In keeping with the notion that the post-war period saw the breaking down of class barriers and the destruction of hypocrisy, Anglo-Catholicism is presented as “the religion of the whole world” (EHA 131). Above all it presents a demanding certainty in an uncertain time when all the moral and spiritual signposts have been rejected, swept away or discredited.
The portrayal of Gervase, particularly by the end of the novel, speaks to the assertion by Virginia Woolf that “Every day we find ourselves doing, saying, or thinking things that would have been impossible to our fathers” (Woolf. Selected Essays 27). His decision to become a monk, his altruistic action in rejecting his legacy of the estate, and his recognition of the outmoded way of life it represents, is illustrative of a societal change of attitude from the shackles of tradition to one of selflessness, social justice and freedom. Woolf in her comment on the changes in society after the war made plain that there had been a seismic “shift in the scale – the war, the sudden slip of the masses held in position for ages – [had] shaken the fabric from top to bottom” (Woolf Selected Essays 27). Kaye-Smith has adopted a similar view and sees the changes in rural society as equally earth shattering. Uncompromising in her political statement, Kaye-Smith makes plain that the age-old model of a patriarchal squirearchy that worked in the past is, in the present, an “encumbrance”, keeping those who should be farming the land “out of their rights”, and representative of “continual sacrifices – of the land, of the tenants, of its own children” (EHA 353). The spectre of the War is invoked with the use of the imagery of sacrifice – the estate can only be “kept alive by sacrifices – human sacrifices” (EHA 353) just as Britain and the Empire could only remain intact if men were willing to sacrifice themselves in the war. Gervase’s justification for his decision combines the Christian selflessness of love for others before oneself with a fairness to the land – he is doing this “‘for the sake of the land and the people it ought to belong to'” (EHA 355). Anglo-Catholicism is presented as a faith that provides the assurances and stability that are shown to be lacking in much of everyday life in the immediate post-war years.
“It stands fast because it belongs to an order of things that doesn’t change. It’s made of the same stuff as our hearts. It’s the supernatural satisfaction of all our natural instincts. It doesn’t deal with abstractions, but with everyday life . . . It’s traditional in the sense that nature and life are traditional” (EHA 231-232).
This faith as a firm tether, that would provide security in times that have few fixed points, is equally important to Stella Mount. Her religion is one of “good outward forms for its inward graces” (EHA 247). This timeless age-old faith, the unchanging cycle of the natural world, and the slow steady traditional methods of farming provide a comfortable stability. She finds solace in a small area of woodland where the burgeoning spring growth gives hope for the future. The writing is lyrical, evocatively idyllic, appeals to the senses, and speaks of a timeless comforting peace that metaphorically promises a better future:
“The oaks were scattered in an underwood of hazel, beech and ash; the ground was thick with dead leaves, sodden together into a soft, sweet-smelling mast, out of which, here and there, rose trails of the creeping ivy, with starry beds of wood anemones; the primrose plants were set, with the first occasional violets. A faint budding of green was on the branches of the underwood, so backward yet as to appear scarcely more than a mist, but on the oaks above the first leaves were already uncurling in bunches of rose and brown” (EHA 332).
Whereas, in previous novels, Kaye-Smith had often laboriously and blatantly repeated her own belief in humanity gaining an understanding of God through communion with nature, in this novel the presentation of such a belief is implied rather than stated. Always associated with Stella, the descriptions of countryside invariably suggest an eternal permanence. With her adopting an almost reverential tone in these sections, the countryside becomes a mystical, spiritual place that requires the same veneration of silent contemplation and reverence as is normally associated with a place of worship. Just as it would be inappropriate to laugh in church, so Stella believes it “was a dreadful thing to have laughed out loud in a wood” (EHA 335). Echoes of Edward Thomas’s As the Teams Head Brass (1916) in the imagery of the ploughing of the land, and W. H. Davies’ Leisure (1911) that extols the virtue of contemplative observation, can be seen in Kaye-Smith’s description of Stella watching the horses ploughing: “The plough came to the furrow’s end and halted there, while men and horses seemed equally deep sunk in meditation. Whole minutes later the whip would crack and the team turn slowly for the backward furrow” (EHA 248). Stella’s contemplation of the scene echoes the necessity of taking time to ‘stand and stare’ like the man who “gazing down at the earth feels more than he can think” (TWH 242). The image of the furrow’s end, cessation of action, and resumption of ploughing acts as an extended metaphor for the change that has taken place in society. Like the plough the war has run its course, society has taken time to adjust and contemplate the future, and after due reflection a new direction must be taken and new ground needs to be prepared.
Stella’s primary function is as a promotional propagandist for Anglo-Catholicism. The episodes that recount her religious experience are redolent with images of comfort – the church has the “homely sounds” of the farmyard outside, it is a place where there is no ‘loneliness’ or ‘fear’, it provides a “living quiet, of glowing peace” (EHA 58) for the soul. Stella’s religion is a lived faith in action – unlike the established Anglicanism of the Alards she did not keep her religion “in its proper place; she let it interfere with her daily life” (EHA 28). In those sections of the novel that recount Stella’s religious observance – her private prayer and her observance of Tenebrae for example – Kaye-Smith like Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh assumes that her readership has a familiarity with such religious observance. However, where Greene and Waugh often manage to integrate the Catholicism of their characters into the narrative Kaye-Smith’s quotation from the liturgy only serves to temporarily disrupt the narrative while adding nothing to it. The vocabulary and symbolism of these sections is narrowly Christian with its referencing of the ‘Passion’, the ‘Presence’, the ‘Deep Heart’, and the ‘tabernacle’, while the lengthy quotation from scripture, and the Tenebrae service, appear to be an extraneous indulgence that adds nothing to the characterisation of Stella. She exemplifies the certainty of that sector of society that was able, with a strong religious faith, to combat the “sense of transitoriness of existence, and the unreality of matter” (The Letters of Virginia Woolf 58). Some are discomforted by her modern assurance and “‘can’t understand'” Stella’s “‘way of looking at life and things'” (EHA 68).
Anglo-Catholicism became pre-eminent in the 1920s, particularly in London and the South East. Parodying the name of the railway that served Sussex and Kent it was dubbed the London, Brighton and South Coast Religion, and it was at the forefront of what Woolf identified as a “religious revival”. Among its high profile adherents, apart from Kaye-Smith, were the modernist T. S. Eliot, and the middlebrow writers G. K. Chesterton, Ronald Knox and Dorothy L. Sayers. In the war, serving priests had moved towards the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence and when they returned home they incorporated this doctrine into Anglo-Catholic worship. In the post-war era this ritualised worship offered sacramental comfort in its provision of prayers for the dead, reservation of the Host for use with the sick and dying, and daily Communion. With this in mind The End of the House of Alard is a text that reflects the spirit of the age, as well as the writer’s own religious inclinations. Kaye-Smith recognised that the novel’s major fault was that she had “been too personal and exuberant” (TWH 157) in writing from “actual fact and experience – much of it my own” (TWH 157). The Rev. C. Martindale identified this personal aspect as her writing the “conscious self” into the novel particularly in her portrayals of the religious experiences of Gervase and Stella where they echo her own Anglo-Catholic beliefs. W. Gore Allen commented that, in 1923, “the Anglo-Catholic movement was at its zenith, it [The End of the House of Alard] was welcomed by the friends of that movement as a telling tract, and by the enemies as a piece of highly dangerous propaganda”. The Journal of Social Forces considered the emphasis on religion was “to the point of propaganda”. It is unsurprising, in the light of Gore Allen’s observation, that a lengthy review in The Tablet praised the novel as “one of the most skilfully wrought and beautifully imagined” in its “mystical turn of thought which vitalizes and illuminates”. Condemning those Modernists who suggest that “a novel suffused with Christian ideas must necessarily be negligible as literature”, The Tablet reviewer designated Kaye-Smith’s work ‘The Novel of the Season’.
The success of The End of the House of Alard, along with an increasing public profile, meant that the 1920s and the early 1930s proved to be the time of Kaye-Smith’s greatest popularity. Articles and features about her continually praised her work. Compared favourably with Hardy, described with superlatives such as ‘genius’, and ranking with the “greatest women novelists of the day”, she was identified as a writer whose fiction would stand the test of time. A Saturday Review poll, listed Joanna Godden as the seventh best novel published since 1918. A number of articles on reading habits indicate that she commanded a readership that included working-class women, teenagers and a wide spectrum of library users. Against this background, and as a married woman settled in the countryside, Kaye-Smith wrote The Ploughman’s Progress, “a novel dealing with the agricultural slump through which we were passing at the time” (TWH 249). While recognising the possible accuracy of the factual aspects of the novel, The Saturday Review was damning in its condemnation, seeing it as “a tale of the slump that has the air of complete fabrication”, merely a “topical commentary” that was in “the last analysis, completely inconsequential”. This review has missed the relevance and importance of the debate within the novel concerning the plight of the countryside, urbanisation, and the lasting effects of the war. Likewise there is no recognition of the author’s strength of feeling as she argues her case.

Writers of Romney Marsh

Writers of Romney Marsh

To begin with I felt I had to decide if Rye and Winchelsea constituted Romney Marsh – of course in a strictly geographical context they don’t but many people do associate both with the Marsh eg TV programmes on the Marsh invariably feature Rye. Secondly I felt, that due to the sheer volume of material, I would restrict myself to writers of fiction although you will see that the list also has poets and children’s writers listed. Within this restriction I decided that writers associated with Romney Marsh fall into a number of categories. There are those who lived for part of their lives on the Marsh but didn’t write about the Marsh eg Noel Coward at St Mary’s in the Marsh, Edith Nesbit in Dymchurch and St Mary’s, others who lived in Rye or its environs, visited the Marsh and who commented on the Marsh in letters etc but who never set any of their work on the Marsh eg Henry James, Coventry Patmore, Ford Maddox Ford and Conrad Aiken. Thirdly those who primarily set their works in Rye but who made reference to the Marsh eg E F Benson, Radclyffe Hall and Rumer Godden. Lastly, those that this article is about – those who set their fiction securely on the Marsh. Whenever and whatever they were writing, all of the writers who wrote about the Marsh concentrated on the history and/or the unique environment.
The first work of fiction that mentions the Romney Marsh is Richard Barham’s “Ingoldsby Legends”, first published in serial form in 1837, it is from this collection of short stories, poems etc that we first find the much quoted suggestion that Romney Marsh is the fifth continent. But Barham also mentions Dymchurch, Ivychurch and Dungeness.
“The World, according to the best geographers, is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Romney Marsh. In this, and fifth, quarter of the globe, a Witch may still be
occasionally discovered in favourable, i. e. stormy, seasons, weathering Dungeness Point in an eggshell, or careering on her broomstick over Dymchurch wall.”

Barham had been the vicar of Snargate and Warehorne from 1814-1821. He disliked the Marsh but had often encountered smugglers when he was going about his duties and he recorded that once they recognised him they were courteous – although that was perhaps because he allowed them to hid tobacco and gin etc in the church. It was and is smuggling that often acts as the focus for much of the popular fiction that is set on the Marsh.
It was in 1845 that the first story of smuggling on Romney Marsh appeared – entitled “The Smuggler; a Tale” by George Payne Rainsford James – he seems to have had no links with Romney Marsh but his subject matter was to dominate much of the fiction writing that featured the Marsh, that was to follow right up to this day. In this 3 volume work James blended elements of several actual smuggling stories – one of his characters is named Ramsley, presumably a not very well disguised Ransley who was the leader of the Aldington Gang in the 1810s. Kipling made reference to the Marsh and smuggling in his “Puck of Pook’s Hill” in 1906 and of course those most famous novels by Russell Thorndike that tell of the adventures of Dr. Syn relate the smuggling activities of the Dymchurch vicar turned smuggler’s leader. The first of the Dr. Syn novels was published in 1915. Pure fiction but utilising a rather romantic popular image of the smuggler whilst eschewing the more violent elements of the activities of the smugglers these novels are a combination of adventure and romance in the sense that they romanticise the “free trade’. In the golden age of murder mystery/detective fiction of the 1920s and 1930s a now little known popular writer, Edgar Jepson, set his “Murder in Romney Marsh” in his present of 1929. It is, as the blurb states, “a very clever detective story” and although it is primarily a crime novel, Jepson couldn’t resist mixing his murder investigation with smuggling. The theme of smuggling and murder mysteries appeared again in 1998 in “Death on the Romney Marsh” by Deryn Lake. This was one in a series set in the Georgian period of the 1750s featuring a named detective – John Rawlings an apothecary from London who works with the famous blind magistrate John Fielding (brother of the novelist Henry Fielding of “Tom Jones” fame). Securely set in a Marsh environment and primarily concerned with smuggling the novelist introduces the additional sub theme of continental spies that would be used in later “smuggling” related novels. A similar format for a combination of historically based detective/crime fiction and smuggling/spy novels has been continued by A J Mackenzie in the three novels – “Body on the Doorstep”, “Body in the Ice” and “Body in the Boat” – published in 2016/17/18. Mackenzie has a Rev. Hardcastle, the Vicar of St. Mary’s in the Marsh, as the detective who is aided and abetted by a rather racy somewhat feminist young widow, Mrs Chaytor. Promoted as historical murder mysteries all of the novels succeed in not only presenting the reader with a fascinating and exciting unputdownable read they also give a picture of this unique environment as it might have been in the last years of the 1700s. Before I move on to consider the novels that concentrate their narratives on the environment of Romney Marsh I must make mention of one more “smuggling” novel. Marian Newell’s “The Devil’s Dozen” – first published in 2012 – is a fictional telling of the smuggling activities of the Aldington Gang who were most active on Romney Marsh from 1820 to 1827 when the gang was arrested, tried and transported.

While the smuggling/mystery novels are very much popular fiction the novels that depict the Marsh as a unique backdrop to their narrative tend to be of a rather more literary nature. They often deal with issues and themes that were relevant at the time of publication but which continue to have a relevance for the modern reader.
A number of writers have recorded their lasting love of the Marsh by noting the effects that this place has had upon them:
William Camden in 1607 was the first to describe the marsh as “the Gift of the Sea”, while in the early 20th century Coventry Patmore looked upon the Marsh “always with new delight” for it was “the ground of the truest beauty in landscape”. Ford Madox Ford (wrote the First World War based novel “Parade’s End”) lived in Winchelsea for a while and described the Marsh as “an infectious and holding neighbourhood… Once you go there you are apt to stay”.
In essence Romney Marsh has a unique spirit of place that captures those who come to know it.
Edward Hutton wrote in “England of my Heart” (1911), “It was at Rye I lingered a little to say farewell to the Marsh. As one looks at evening across that vast loneliness, so desolate and yet so beautiful and infinitely subject to the sky, lying between the hills and sinking so imperceptibly into the sea”.
H G Wells crossed the Marsh several times not least in his visits to Henry James and other writers of his acquaintance in Rye. In “Kipps” (1905) he recognised the unique environment of the Marsh and implies the unchanging nature of the landscape when Kipps sees the Marsh from Lympne. He notes that “the Marsh begins and spreads and spreads in a mighty crescent that sweeps about the sea, the Marsh dotted with the church towers of forgotten medieval towns … breaking at last into the low blue hills by Winchelsea” (Kipps 142).
When Kipps is crossing the Marsh from Folkestone to New Romney he notices that “the atmosphere of New Romney and the Marsh had … some difference, some faint impalpable quality” …”there was a homeliness and familiarity” (Kipps 180).
The same spirit of place that H G Wells recognised that set Romney Marsh apart from other places also appears in Radclyffe Hall’s “The Sixth Beatitude” (1936). That same constancy of landscape and the magic of the Marsh appears when a character is walking back to Rye on a summer evening. “The moon had risen over the Marsh…an August moon that silvered the quiet water of the dykes. In the distance a patch of pale marsh mist lay like a ghost of the vanished sea” (TSB 100).
Not all referencing of the atmosphere and landscape of the Marsh in fiction dates back to the 20th Century. A S Byatt set part of her novel “The Children’s Book” (2009) in and around Dungeness and the Marsh between Lydd and Rye. Byatt’s writing is of a literary nature and she concentrates on character development rather than landscape description. Byatt describes the area from the perspective of an outsider to whom this is an alien environment. Her character notes that “there were wide views across the Marsh” and “once they came to the marshes the air changed – it was cooler, and salty …There were all sorts of small canals and cuts and runnels to be crossed. There were tress that had been shaped by steady blasts of wind, stunted and reaching sideways” (TCB 103). While another character is drawn to the church of St. Thomas, Fairfield – “Philip made his way from tuft to tuft of the marsh grass for it was sodden underfoot and water welled up between tussocks. When he got to the church, he looked around at the endless sky, the flat horizon, the apparently endless sheep-studded meadows, a felt peaceful”. Although Byatt makes the Marsh an alien landscape for her characters she also makes plain, just as Ford Madox Ford had commented, that it exercises an extraordinary effect on those who come to know it. Tom is drawn to the landscape of Dungeness and it is here that he decides to end his life. Byatt describes the haunting uniqueness of this environment. “The surface of the earth was huge flat ripples and ridges of pebbled shingle, with strip of grey-greenness lichen clinging to the sides protected from the wind”, there are “black wooden huts, rusty boat machinery, upturned beached fishing boats…and Open Pits on which seabirds floated and called” (TCB 532).
The writer, that for me, captures the essence of Romney Marsh in a variety of seasons and weathers is Sheila Kaye-Smith. In her early novel, “Starbrace” (1909) the Marsh is a threatening desolate place for her central character who comes from the ‘uplands’. It is a place where “The marsh- fowl croak and mourn among the reeds, which bowed as the dawn-wind wailed through them” (S 215).
The ‘spirit of place’ is at its most evident in the vivid descriptions of a land that are the backbone of “Joanna Godden” (1921). The Marsh is a “wilderness of straight dykes”, where storms manifest themselves in a “great wail of wind and slash of rain” (JG 145), where there is “a light mist over the watercourses, veiling the pollards and thorn trees” (JG 53) and where in summer,

“The buttercups were thick both on the grazing lands and on the innings where the hay stood still green; the watercourses were marked with the thick clumping of the may, walls of green-teased white streaking here and there across the pasture, while under the boughs the thick green water lay scummed with white ranunculus, and edged with gaudy splashing of yellow irises, torches among the never silent reeds. Above it all the sky was misty and full of shadows, a low soft cloud, occasionally pierced with sunlight” (JG 106-7).
Those who are of the land, and who work the land, “the old folk who had been born on the Marsh, who had grown wrinkled with its sun and reddened with its wind and bent with their labours in its damp soil” (JG 86) live by a wisdom that defines them as part of the natural world. This ‘oneness’ with, and understanding of, nature, allows Joanna to predict “‘It’ll rain before night'” as she reads “The way of the wind, and those clouds moving low . . . and the way the sheep are grazing with their heads to leeward” (JG 106). The natural world of the Marsh is associated with all that is good, safe, wholesome and secure and is given ultimate expression in Joanna’s consideration of the landscape as she returns from London to the Marsh.
“The day was very sunny and still. The blue sky was slightly misted – a yellow haze which smelt of chaff and corn smudged together the sky and the marsh and the distant sea. The farms with their red and yellow roofs were like ripe apples lying in the grass. Yes, the Marsh was the best place to live on, and the Marsh ways were the best ways” (JG 300).
In Kaye-Smith’s last novel “The View From the Parsonage” (1954) she has her central character identify with the Marsh and its people as it provides him with contentment, and a sense of belonging that again echoes the words of Ford Madox Ford. The novel is told in the first person by the vicar of a village on the Isle of Oxney. From his parsonage he can look across the Marsh. He recounts the story of his life in the village and as an ‘incomer”, he has taken care not to offend the sensibilities of his parishioners but rather to learn their ways and then act as their shepherd in all things spiritual. However he continues to recognise the nature of their faith and its relationship to the rural world. At the end of his life lived on the Marsh he is happy to live out his remaining days among “the men of the Marsh, who are still his men” (TVP 267-268). Although wars come and go even in “less comfortable days” the landscape soothes with “glimpses of beauty that does not change”. This is the land of “green pastures and shallow waters and long dreaming days” (TVP 10). Days where there is nothing like “sitting by the White Kemp Sewer through all the long, hot, drowsy afternoon, with the marsh sun-hazed behind (me) and the hawthorn brakes like ghosts beyond the buttercups” (TVP 267).
Romney Marsh writers

Writers who lived on the Marsh or nearby.

Henry James – lived in Rye and loved Rye and the Marsh – 1843-1916.
Noel Coward – lived at St. Mary’s in the Marsh – 1899-1973
Edith Nesbit – lived at Dymchurch, buried at St. Mary’s in the Marsh – 1858-1924
Conrad Aiken – lived in Rye – 1889-1973
Coventry Patmore – visited Rye frequently – poet – 1823-1896
Daphne du Maurier – lived in Hythe for a short while – 1907-1989
Ford Madox Ford – lived in Winchelsea – 1873-1939

Writers who wrote about the Marsh

Russell Thorndike – Dr. Syn novels – all set in and around the Marsh – 1885-1972
H. G. Wells – lived at Sandgate – “Kipps” set in New Romney and the Marsh 1866-1946
Joseph Conrad – lived near the Marsh – short story “Amy Foster” set on Marsh 1857-1924
George Payne Rainsford James – “The Smuggler: a Tale” set in the Marsh 1799-1860
Richard Barham – vicar of Snargate “Ingoldsby Legends” references the Marsh 1788-1845
Edgar Jepson – “Murder in Romney Marsh” 1863-1938
A S Byatt – “The Children’s Book” – features the Marsh and Dungeness
A J Mackenzie – “The Body on the Doorstep” “The Body in the Ice” – historical smuggling crime novels set on the Marsh
Marian Newell – “The Devil’s Dozen” tells of Aldington Gang of smugglers.
Deryn Lake – “Death on the Romney Marsh” in the John Rawlings mystery series.
Sheila Kaye-Smith – “Joanna Godden” set on Romney Marsh – 1887-1956
Alice Parkes – “Ermengarde: A Story of Romney Marsh in the Thirteenth Century” (1893)
Catherine Gaskin – “Blake’s Reach” – historical romance (1958)

Novels mainly set in Rye

Rumer Godden – lived in Rye/ Northiam featured Rye in “In this House of Brede” 1907-1998
E. F. Benson – lived in Rye, featured Rye in his “Mapp and Lucia” novels – 1867-1940
Richard Church – lived in Kent, featured Rye in “The Bells of Rye” – 1893-1972
Radclyffe Hall – lived in Rye – “The Sixth Beatitude” set in Rye and the Marsh 1880-1943
W.P. Thackeray – featured Rye and Winchelsea in “Denis Duval” – 1811-1863
Helen Simonson – “The Summer Before the War” – set in Rye in 1914

Poets that have written about Romney Marsh

Rudyard Kipling – “A Smuggler’s Song” 1865-1936
John Davidson – “In Romney Marsh” 1857-1909
U A Fanthorpe – “A Major Road for Romney Marsh” 1929-2009
Patric Dickinson – lived in Rye – several poems including “Poems from Rye” !914-1994

Children’s novels set on Romney Marsh/Rye

Monica Edwards – lived at Rye Harbour – Romney Marsh series including “Wish for Pony”, “The White Riders”, “No Entry” 1912-1998
Malcolm Saville – set many of his Lone Pine series in Rye and the Marsh including “Rye Royal” and “The Gay Dolphin” 1901-1982
Rosemary Sutcliff – “Outcasts” Roman based novel telling of the building of the sea wall. 1920-1992
Rudyard Kipling – Referenced Romney Marsh in “Puck of Pook’s Hill” and “Rewards and Fairies” 1865-1936
Rumer Godden – “A Kindle of Kittens” – picture book set in Rye
John Ryan – “Captain Pugwash” series – comic strip and TV series

Modern Romance/Thriller Novels

Oliver Tidy – Crime novels.
Kasey Michaels – Historical Romances.
James Collins – “The Saddling” – mystery thriller.
Emma Batten – Historical mysteries

 

Below is the link to this blog site that contains articles on local history, literary comment on Kent and Sussex writers, research material on rural history and examples of the bloggers own creative writing.
https://theruralwriterblog.wordpress.com/
Please feel free to access the site, share the site, and leave comments on the articles etc.

 

The Loves of Joanna Godden

The Loves of Joanna Godden

The novel Joanna Godden by Sheila Kaye-Smith, first published in 1921, was adapted for a feature film by H. E. Bates. The Ealing Studios began filming the adaptation entitled The Loves of Joanna Godden on location on Romney Marsh in the spring of 1947. The female star of the film was Googie Withers who was filming in Hollywood when she was offered the part. To persuade her to take the part she was told that her male co-star would be John McCallum. Unimpressed by this fact she responded by asking “Who the hell is John McCallum”. She had a point – he certainly wasn’t the household name that she was – he was an Australian actor who had fought with the Australian forces in the Second World War and was little known in Britain. Other stars of the film were Jean Kent and Chips Rafferty, but the producers stated after the filming on location that the “people of Romney Marsh were the life blood of the film”. In recognition of this in the opening credits the film is dedicated to the “People of Romney Marsh” and in the end credits they are listed among the Cast.
Many local people worked as ‘extras’ on the film but most notable among them was a “Looker” or shepherd and farm worker  Ernie Fisher. His role in the film required him to admonish Googie Withers for bad farming practice and when asked how he felt about ‘telling off’ a great film star he replied “That’ll be easy after dealing with those Land Girls in the War”. Not only did Ernie have a part in the film he was also employed to teach Chips Rafferty, who took the part of a Looker, how to deal with the sheep. Ernie’s wife was not impressed with his film “career”and when he had finished filming she brought him back down to earth by telling him that there would be “No more film acting for you . . . Coming home all hours full of beer and conceit and talking about Googie Boogie Withers”. Once the film company had left Ernie returned to his job as a Looker.
Various locations in and around the Romney Marsh feature in the film. The beach at Dungeness is the location for a love scene between Joanna and Martin and is relatively true to the novel. The novel is set in an area of the Marsh close to Brookland and the pub scenes were filmed in and around The Woolpack at Brookland. A Fair scene was filmed on the Rype (village green) at Lydd and the sheep market and Farmer’s Club scenes that are set in the novel in New Romney were filmed in New Romney High Street outside the New Inn. The Christmas church scene was filmed at Old Romney Church and other more general Marsh scenes were filmed across the Marsh to the north of Lydd with some scenes taking place at Stone-in-Oxney.
The stars of the film were accommodated at a large country house on the outskirts of Peasmarsh, called Pelham, and transported each day the fifteen or so miles to the Marsh. The owners of the house had fallen on hard times after the War and had decided to try and increase their income by taking in Paying Guests. They still employed a Cook and a Butler who, much to the amusement of the actors, were blessed with the names of Neat and Tidy respectively. The weather was less than kind to the film makers with rain and wind interrupting filming. Nevertheless they managed to capture the unique character of the Marsh environment. The film is true to the text in its portrayal of farming life, country dwellers, the depiction of the rural environment in a variety of weathers and the strong emotional and spiritual ties that bind those who live and work on the land. The film music, written by Vaughan Williams, enhances these perceptions of the unique rural environment Although the film does not follow the original story line in its entirety much of the action is true to Kaye-Smith’s novel. However, perhaps with a nod to the box office and the fact that the majority of cinema goers were female, the ending was changed so that there should be a romantic happy ending. The overwhelmingly feminist view of Joanna that Kaye-Smith had presented in her novel that had argued for women to have equal rights and for women’s suffrage had either been addressed by 1947 or was less of an issue than it had been directly after the First World War. It could also be argued that the alteration of the ending was influenced by the predominance of male input into the production – notably male producers, a male writer and a male composer.
The producers wanted to pay tribute to the friendliness and kindness of the people of Romney Marsh and therefore decided that the premier of the film should take place in Lydd village hall where it was attended by the stars of the film, Sheila Kaye-Smith and many local people.

April Poems

Here are my “offerings” for my April poems. Each month this is becoming a harder task and I constantly wonder why I was foolish enough to set myself this task for the year! I have tried to give an impression of the countryside and the rural environment in this particular April in the south east of England. However, the pressure of writing to a self imposed deadline means that spontaneity rather than skill often predominates. For this I apologise to my readers.

April

All across the verdant Marsh
Patchwork fields in shades of green,
Rape gold and sheep festooned,
Inlaid with drainage dykes
Edged with new grown reeds.

Heatwave in April

March was snow, ice, biting cold.
April heatwave assaults the senses
With sights, sounds, and scents
Bright, vibrant, cacophonous, bold.

Fields verdant, trees leafage dressed
From acid lime to sage willow grey.
Peerless blue dyke reflected sky
Above rape, yellow sulphured.

 

Pigeons coo and flutter endlessly,
Gulls wheel harshly arguing.
Cock pheasant struts screeching
While robin continues his garden scurry.

Blackthorn snow promises sloes.
As bees pollen frantic bumble.
Damp earthy primroses tumble
Across banks and verges

 

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