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.