Joanna Godden – Sheila Kaye-Smith

I am afraid this post on Kaye-Smith’s Joanna Godden is rather long, nevertheless I do hope readers find it interesting. Copies of the novel are available secondhand or print on demand. It is well worth a read.

Starting with the name of Joanna Godden for this wilful, strong, warm-hearted but reckless woman, Kaye-Smith returned to the theme of ambition that she had explored in Sussex Gorse. Despite her protestations that she had never “made a woman central character” (TWH 146), she had created a number of carefully conceived, pivotal female characters, notably Sally Odiarne in Isle of Thorns, the Beatup women and Thyrza Honey in Little England, and Hannah Iden and Polly Ebony in Green Apple Harvest.
With Joanna Godden, Kaye-Smith turns to the consideration of a woman’s place in society, filtered through a complicatedly-characterised individual with an ambition to succeed, but who is searching for a meaningful loving relationship. Tangentially the novel touches on matters of religion, peripherally comparing Anglo-Catholicism with established Anglicanism. Joanna Godden is a rural, regional, socio-political, modern-woman novel with a female protagonist endeavouring to make her way in the male dominated world of farming. Through the portrait of Joanna the narrative explores the nature of human love, tentatively probes the issue of religion by comparing established Anglicanism with Anglo-Catholicism, and explores the urban/rural dichotomy from the biased view of a country dweller. Although Joanna Godden secured Kaye-Smith’s place as a popular novelist of Sussex/Kent she felt that its acclaim made it “at first my greatest success and later my heaviest burden” (TWH 149). The novel remained in print throughout the author’s life time, and was re-printed as a Virago Modern Classic in 1983. A cinematic adaptation, The Loves of Joanna Godden, was released by Ealing Studios in 1947 with the screenplay written by H. E. Bates. Although essentially presented as a love story, the film version alters the ending so that Joanna eventually marries her girlhood sweetheart, Arthur Alce. A prevailing feminist stance is delivered through the strong and forceful portrayal of Joanna by Googie Withers.
In essence Joanna Godden is a romance set in a distinctive geographical location, with a compelling heroine cast in the role of a modern woman, seeking to assert her independence while searching for a loving relationship. In applying her formulaic and familiar episodic structure, of Parts sub-divided into chapters, with each Part the focus of a particular love interest, Kaye-Smith has effectively labelled this novel as a romance novel with a rural setting. The first of those that Joanna is attracted to is her ‘looker’ (shepherd) Socknersh, the second, her only real love Martin Trevor, the local squire’s son, who dies before the wedding. In the third section the concentration is on the love affairs of Joanna’s sister, Ellen, her marriage to Joanna’s former admirer Arthur Alce and Ellen’s temporary liaison with Sir Henry Trevor. The final section concentrates on the nature of selfless true love for both Joanna and Ellen. It tells of Joanna’s affair with Albert Hill, a suburban clerk from London, her desertion of him just before the wedding, her realization that she is pregnant with his child, and a lasting relationship for Ellen.
The novel gains its rural regionality from the setting of Romney Marsh as the locality in which Joanna pursues her farming ambitions and conducts her love affairs. In this setting Kaye-Smith portrays a whole community of Marsh farmers, the clergy, farm labourers, and the local squirearchy as they work the land. As Cavaliero argues this “world of the farm is the world of honesty, of work as a source of life and not simply as a means towards it” (Cavaliero 76). In this novel, as in Green Apple Harvest and Little England, Kaye-Smith’s characters are working people, farmers and their families, and her locale is the place in which these people work, and one in which they find a contentment that allows them to cope with the vicissitudes of their everyday lives.
In Kaye-Smith’s early novels it is possible to see a variety of literary influences, but in Joanna Godden the greatest discernible influence seems to come from Thomas Hardy, and most specifically, Far From the Madding Crowd (1874). The somewhat superficial and generalised likenesses in the text of a woman running a farm, the lambing and shearing scenes, the relationship between Joanna and Martha that is similar to that between Bathsheba and Liddy, and the Hardyesque chorus of farm workers who speak in dialect, do echo Hardy, but the plotting and characterisation reflect a natural progression from Kaye-Smith’s earlier novels. The realisation of the farm and some of the characters may owe a debt to Mrs Henry Dudeney’s Folly Corner (1899) which is set on a Sussex farm, with a male protagonist who has no understanding of the complicated nature of women, and a central female character who is not only complex but is, like Joanna, full of contradiction.
Secure as a regional novel with a setting that is predominantly a small area of Romney Marsh and its immediate environs, and fulfilling one of Bentley’s ‘tests’ of a regional novel, Joanna Godden shows “a particular strength in the depiction of character” where “characters are shown in their native environment, and surrounded by their families” (Bentley 45). Keith, likewise, identifies Joanna Godden as a regional novel because it presents “a locality distinctive in its character and related to a corresponding countryside identifiable on a map” (Keith 10). Because of its location the novel is essentially rural and as with earlier novels, Kaye-Smith builds a relationship between character and landscape so that a “sense of oneness between man and his physical environment brings about a revival of the plot of physical pilgrimage built upon ‘spirit of place’ ” (Alcorn 23). This ‘spirit of place’ is at its most evident in the vivid descriptions of a land that 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), or where “the buttercups were thick . . . on the grazing”, and “the watercourses were marked with the clumpings of may” (JG 105). The atmospheric and lyrical writing is used to convey the essence of a unique environment and its emotional connection to those who live and work the land. Those who live on Romney Marsh are part of the natural world whatever the season. The descriptions of the land in all seasons and all weathers are tightly packed with an authenticity of ‘foggy skies’, ‘sea mists’ and the ‘winds and waters’ that characterise the Marsh. The sensual evocations of landscape define the spirit of place with a sensitive substantiveness laced with an ethereal quality as “light mists over the watercourses, [are] veiling the pollards and thorn trees” (JG 53), or of the air ” moving slowly up from the sea, heavy with mist and salt and the scent of haws and blackberries, of dew soaked grass and fleeces” (JG 55). 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).
Similar to D.H. Lawrence’s opening to The Rainbow (1915) and like her own Sussex Gorse, the novel begins with a topographical description of the setting for the novel, in this case an area of Romney Marsh. Not only is Kaye-Smith specific about place but that specificity extends to the particular time and date of “a dim afternoon towards the middle of October in the year 1897” (JG 2). To reinforce the regionality of the work, Kaye-Smith presents the reader with a series of authentic and geographically accurate descriptions of the landscape. The opening description is of the wide vista of
Three marshes spread across the triangle made by the Royal Military Canal and the coasts of Sussex and Kent. The Military Canal runs from Hythe to Rye, beside the Military Road; between it and the flat, white beaches of the Channel lie Romney Marsh, Dunge Marsh and Walland Marsh, from east to west (JG 1).
From this expansive perspective the focus narrows to Little Ansdore Farm on Walland Marsh. The positioning of the farm “three miles from Rye, and about midway between the villages of Brodnyx and Pedlinge” (JG 2) makes it identifiable as Lamb Farm with the villages recognizable as East Guldeford and Brookland.
Using this recognisable environment as a framework, Kaye-Smith makes her eponymous protagonist the focus of the narrative. As a representative of the post-war single woman, Joanna is caught between a determination to succeed in the traditionally male dominated world of farming, and wanting a fulfilling, loving relationship. As Rachel Anderson suggests in the Introduction to the Virago Edition (1983) of Joanna Godden, in common with many romantic heroines of the twenties, Joanna is “uncertain whether [she] wished to be liberated from man or dominated by him” (JG xv). In a role that places her as a woman of high spirits with ambition, but who is impulsive in the bestowal of her affections, Joanna is presented as a capable, strong, feminine personality in a man’s world. As the daughter of a farmer, within this specific rural community, Joanna is middle-class and as such she can be categorised as a ruralised representative of those young women of the post-war years that Baldick suggests were seeking “release from the self-sacrificing imprisonment of ‘Victorian’ domestic duty” (Baldick The Modern Movement 179). The exploration of this predicament for the modern woman of the 1920s forms the basis of the narration of Joanna’s life from her inheritance of Little Ansdore farm, as a young woman, until she makes a momentous decision to leave in early middle-age. To achieve her ends of becoming a creditable farmer, Joanna is in competition with her male counterparts and must prove that she is better than them. To this end, she is determined and ambitious to carry out improvements on the farm. Kaye-Smith utilises the rustics that gather at the Woolpack to comment, and to voice the prejudices of tradition in a similar way to Hardy’s use of those that gather at Warren’s Malthouse. In this case these bigoted views are those that exist against women in the work place when that environment is predominantly male. The prevailing traditional stereotypical view of women as expressed by the male community is that Joanna is “‘a mare that’s never been praaperly broken in'” (JG 5), that “‘it ain’t safe or seemly for a woman to come alone and deal with men'” (JG 20) and that she should be “‘making puddings and stuffing mattresses ‘” (JG 21). Challenged by the threat to tradition, when Joanna proposes to change working practices, these men adopt a defensive stance by suggesting that “‘ wud some of the notions she has. . . She’ll have our plaace sold up in a twelve-month surelye'” (JG 10).
To fully explore the dilemma of the modern woman and the difficulty of women in a male dominated environment, Joanna’s early failures to modernise the farm are used to show that women need to exhibit strength and resilience. Her attempt to breed giant sheep brings her to the brink of ruin when the ewes are unable to deliver the oversized lambs but with gritty determination, and a refusal to give in to failure, she eventually succeeds in creating a prosperous farm. Through the narration of Joanna’s successes and failures, Kaye-Smith promotes a feminist agenda by showing that women can offer a new perspective, less bound by convention, on the age-old male ways of working, and can act as role models in traditional male preserves such as farming. Equally she suggests that women should not be ashamed of their success. Joanna’s innovative farming methods, including the ploughing up of pasture land for wheat production, gain her the grudging admiration of her more conservative male competitors when they realise that
on the whole, her big ideas had succeeded where the smaller, more cautious ones of her neighbours had failed. Of course she had been lucky – luckier than she deserved – but she was beginning to make men wonder if after all there wasn’t policy in paying a big price for a good thing, rather than in obeying the rules of haggle which maintained on other farms (JG 175).
This novel is somewhat different to Sussex Gorse in its exploration of ambition, not just because the ambitious human being is a woman, but because Kaye-Smith has considered it necessary to inextricably link ambition with a realisation that human loving relationships are equally important. She has created, therefore, a more believable and realistic character than Reuben Backfield. The complexity of Joanna is illustrated in her dichotomous nature as a character who is both robust and strong in her working of the land, while displaying her femininity in her concerns with her appearance, her home, her public persona and the search for love. A review in The Outlook highlights this composite characterisation when it notes that Joanna “illuminates life both from the feminine and masculine side”. Juxtaposed with her masculine management of the farm and knowledge that “grass here is worth a field of roots”, or that if you “stick to grazing . . . you’ll keep your money in your pocket and never send coarse mutton to the butcher” (JG 104), her showy, flaunting femininity involves extravagant display and self-advertisement. She repaints her house in yellow “tastefully picked out with green” (JG 30); she changes the traditional shape and colour of her farm wagons, paints them yellow, and inscribes them with “a rich, scrolled design, and her name in large ornate lettering” (JG 30). Her ambitious dreams, crystallized in these outward appearances, extend to dressing her farm-labourer, Stuppeney, in a “mulberry coat and brass buttons” (JG 79) in an attempt to bolster her social standing when he drives her to market. This apparent complex and contradictory characterisation is exemplified in Kaye-Smith’s representation of Joanna as young woman who “Under her loud voice, her almost barbaric appearance, her queerly truculent manner” was at times “a naive mixture of child and woman – soft, simple, eager to please” (JG 78).
The vulnerability of women in a man’s world, “the intuitive, involuntary fatal sensitivity of women” (Showalter 250), in contrast with the rational unemotional engagement of men, is illustrated in Joanna’s purely emotional response to the death of one of her lambs. When she saw “a ewe despairingly licking” (JG 42) its dead lamb, she “burst suddenly and stormily into tears. Sinking to her knees on the dirty floor, she covered her face, and rocked herself to and fro” (JG 42). In contrast, Socknersh, her shepherd, “sat on his three-legged stool, staring at her in silence” (JG 42) and total incomprehension. Kaye-Smith shows a consciousness of her middle-class predominantly female readership with the feminism depicted in Joanna Godden. It is a feminism “in the tradition of the ‘Old’ feminism, being concerned less with the stark realities of either male or political oppression than with women’s chances for self-fulfilment in a still unequal society.” (Beauman 70). As with many of the middlebrow novels produced in the 1920s, Kaye-Smith is not ultimately concerned to show her heroine as a success in a male environment, but for her to find fulfilment as a woman. Kaye-Smith comments on contemporary society’s constraints as Joanna muses on the fact that “Women were always different from men, even if they did the same things” (JG 73). Ultimately Joanna Godden is a romance, as the title and focus of the film adaptation suggests, and the major concern of the heroine and the novel becomes Joanna’s search for a lover upon whom she can depend. Fitting the middlebrow criteria of a satisfactory, acceptable solution to the dilemma of the independent single woman the narrative shows “the heroine deferring gratefully to the protection of a male lover” (Beauman 70) when Joanna determines to find a man to love.
Having determined that romance is at the centre of the narrative, Kaye-Smith uses Joanna as a vehicle to explore various concepts and manifestations of love. Much like a series of experiments, Joanna and her sister, Ellen, are depicted in a series of relationships that are variously based on physical attraction, practical considerations, fear of loneliness, the desire to escape, avarice, and true selfless devotion. The first of these is a naive fantasy in which Joanna “knew she ought not to think of her looker so” (JG 53), when she finds herself physically attracted to her shepherd. Described, in purely physical terms, with simile and metaphor that reference the landscape making him an intrinsic part of the natural world, Socknersh has
hands, big and heavy and brown, with the earth worked into the skin . . . his neck when he lifted his head, brown as his hands, and like a trunk of an oak roots of firm, beautiful muscle in the field of his broad chest (JG 53).
While Joanna is shown to realise that purely physical attraction is no basis for a stable relationship, her reaction to her dismissal of Socknersh highlights an emotional vulnerability as “his face swam into the sky on a mist of tears, which welled up in her eyes” (JG 57). Echoing an article that Kaye-Smith wrote stating that to be a spinster was to lead “an unnatural life”, Joanna expresses a similar sentiment when she acknowledges that “if you were alone inside your room – with no husband or child to keep you company . . . then it was terrible” (JG 73).
Reflective of Kaye-Smith’s view that, “If I was not to end up utterly withered as a human being I must marry, and I had better be quick about it, for I was no longer so very young” (ABML 159), the next planned romance is treated in a businesslike way: “She thought of taking a husband as she thought of taking a farm hand – as a matter of bargaining, of offering substantial benefits in exchange for substantial services” (JG 74). In the reasoning that Martin Trevor would be willing to marry Joanna for “her prosperity and her experience” (JG 74), Kaye-Smith has referenced the dilemma that was facing landowners after the war, namely that they were only able to look down on yeoman farmers “from the point of view of birth and breeding but not from any advantage more concrete” (JG 74), for punitive land taxes meant that they were ‘cash poor’.
With a female readership that had taken several writers of romantic fiction into the bestsellers, Kaye-Smith is consistent in the portrayal of Joanna’s feminine, romantic susceptibilities. She had an acute awareness that her readers were to be found among women, who like a friend of hers, saw in Elinor Glyn’s romantic fiction a “‘woman who knows life . . . It’s real life you meet in her books'” (ABML 131). In keeping with the romantic popular novels of the time, Kaye-Smith makes both Joanna and Martin conform to the stereotypes of the romantic fiction genre.
The typical female protagonist in romantic fiction of this time was perceived to want, “Somewhat surprisingly, in view of her supposed emancipation and her career and her independence, . . . to feel small, petite even, and cherished and feminine. She wanted a big strong he-man literally to sweep her off her feet, hold her tightly in his strong arms” (Anderson 202). The depiction of Joanna as robust and self-sufficient, belies the fact that Joanna is in “matters of life and love . . . a child” (JG 97). She becomes the classic female heroine who “loved [Martin’s] kisses, the clasp of his strong arms, the stability of his chest and shoulders” (JG 99). Similarly Martin conforms to the clichéd image of a handsome man with an underlying gentleness and vulnerability when he is described as “dark, tall, well-born, comely and strong of frame, and yet with hidden delicacy” (JG 74).
The narration of the courtship scenes illustrates the adage, attributed to Elinor Glyn, that “Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze”. The settings for the couple’s courtship, the Marsh and the coast, are described with the heavily-weighted romantic imagery of popular fiction that transforms the mundane countryside into a picturesque backdrop of verdant Spring. The Marsh loses the reality of “green rainy skies”, “flooded pasture”, “bleakness”, and the monotony of “its eternal flatness” (JG 201), to become the idyllic landscape of golden glowing light and purity, with drainage ditches that “lay scummed with white ranunculus, and edged with a gaudy splashing of yellow irises”. There are fields where “The buttercups were thick both on the grazing land and on the innings” (JG 105), while on the shingle of the shore “little white sea-campions . . . filled the furrows of the road ” (JG 107) and “the yellow-horned poppy put little spots of colour into a landscape of pinkish grey” (JG 108).
Because Kaye-Smith wishes to explore other forms of love than that between a man and a woman, she sets love of place against the love between Joanna and Martin. Joanna’s love of Little Ansdore is a material love that provides a certain stability but does not provide companionship or emotional affection. Kaye-Smith uses Martin’s illness to make plain the insignificance of worldly material desire if it is set against true love for another human being. In her distress and desire for him to recover Joanna finds that her priorities have changed and admits “‘I [have] found that Ansdore doesn’t matter to me what it used. It’s only you that matters now'” (JG 119). However, in an exploration of human reaction to the bereavement of a loved one, solace is seen to come from the love of place, characterised as eternal and unchanging, and therefore, a sustaining force. The imagery of fire reflecting from dawn sunlight across the fields in “fiery slats”, illuminating the willows so that they appear “full of fire”, making the roofs of Ansdore “a fiery yellow” and the windows as “squares of amber and flame” (JG 128), symbolises the warmth and welcome of that which is familiar in a time of distress. In keeping with her many-faceted characterisation as an unorthodox, somewhat masculine heroine, Joanna “expressed her grief in terms of fierce activity instead of in the lackadaisical ways of tradition” (JG 130). In her guise of a strong, modern young woman she is unwilling to admit that “not merely her heart but her whole self was broken, and that she was flying and rattling about like a broken thing” (JG 130).
The final love affair is born out of the longing and loneliness of a single woman approaching middle-age and as such is depicted in terms of desperation, escapism and ill-judgement. Predictably, Albert Hill, a London clerk who knows nothing of the countryside, becomes a ‘holiday romance’ for Joanna when she escapes from the farm to Marlingate for “a change of air” (JG 236). The urban environment is represented as alien, lonely, tormenting and overwhelming. The “loneliness and dullness” (JG 241) of spinsterhood that afflicted many in the post-war years is illustrated in Joanna’s desperation. In her remaining time in Marlingate she felt that she “could not bear to lose him (Albert) – she must bind him somehow in the short time she had left” (JG 249). The telling of the progress of the romance adopts the conventions of decency of earlier romantic fiction: a chapter ends as, “With a sudden chill at her heart, she realized that it was a door opening. ‘Who’s there?’ she cried in a hoarse angry whisper. ‘Don’t be frightened, dear – don’t be frightened, my sweet Jo -‘ said Bertie Hill” (JG 269). Readers are given no further hint of the night’s proceedings, but are left to draw their own conclusions. A new chapter begins the following morning when Joanna “could not think . . . she could only feel” (JG 269).
Kaye-Smith gives her conclusion to the novel a surprisingly modern twist that takes the narrative beyond the bounds of a popular rural romance when she invests her heroine with the courage to follow her instincts rather than the conventions of society. In this contemporary view of the modern woman the pregnant Joanna makes the courageous decision to reject marriage to a man who she realises
don’t love me – [and] I don’t love him. He don’t want to marry me – [and] I don’t want to marry him. He’ll never forgive me, and all our lives he’ll be throwing it up at me – and he’ll be hating the child, seeing as it’s only because of it we’re married, and he’ll make it miserable (JG 314).
In Joanna’s pragmatic view her determination to give her child “every chance [she] can” (JG 314), means that she must sacrifice her love of Ansdore and the Marsh and move away to make a fresh start in life: “she stood, nearly forty years old, on the threshold of an entirely new life – her lover, her sister, her farm, her home, her good name, all lost. But the past and the future still were hers” (JG 316). The voicing of this decision speaks to the assertion that Virginia Woolf made in “Women and Fiction” when she suggested that women’s fiction of the 1920s “is courageous; it is sincere; it keeps closely to what women feel”.
In contrast to the narration of Joanna’s relationships, those of Ellen are those of a discontented young woman and they are afforded little space in the narrative as a whole. Ellen’s first two romances are based purely on materialistic grounds and as such are doomed to fail. Only when she experiences the love of a ‘good’ man in Tip Earnley, the son of a country family, is there a firm basis for the relationship to succeed. The loves that are lasting are those based on selflessness; in the case of Joanna this is her love for her unborn child and in the case of Ellen it is her love for Tip.
Cavaliero rightly asserts that the text focuses on human relationships and ambition, and that Kaye-Smith shows that the countryside and farming “represents the positive in the author’s scale of values” (Cavaliero 76). In Joanna Godden, Kaye-Smith has extended and expanded her comparative analysis of the relative merits of rural or urban surroundings and their effect on human beings. As with Green Apple Harvest, the urban environment, and those associated with it, are depicted as superficial, false and threatening, but whereas Mabel suffers alienation in the countryside, Joanna’s experience of an urban locale in both Marlingate (Hastings) and London is alien and discomforting. While the countryside is safe, tranquil and quiet the townscapes are envisaged as ‘dangerous’, and ‘disturbing’, full of ‘strangeness’, ‘dissipation’ and ‘depression’. The artificiality of street lights, and man-made sounds dominate the townscape and make the streets “dangerous and indecorous” (JG 241). This environment with its hustle, bustle, and mechanised noises which ‘rattle’, ‘ hum’ and are like a “broken machine” (JG 279), along with the theatrical entertainment that is incomprehensible, reduces Joanna to “tears [that] ran on and on” (JG 251). Just as Mabel acts as a representative of town dwellers in Green Apple Harvest, so Albert Hill is used to illustrate the cold and selfish artifice of the urbanite. His shallowness of outlook is characterised by his enjoyment of musical comedies which become, to Joanna, “synonymous with fluffy heads and whirling legs and jokes she could not understand” (JG 281) and which she finds “inexpressibly vulgar” (JG 288). His treatment of his sister, mother and Joanna is “cruel and selfish” (JG 289), “selfish and small-minded”, and like that of “a spoilt selfish child” (JG 281). Albert is, like Mabel, concerned with outward appearances; he judges Joanna by her clothes which he considers “too much on the showy side” (JG 287), and he wishes she would “take out a powder-puff and flick it over her face” (JG 287). Above all the countryside is associated with freedom, comfort and selflessness, while the town is where Joanna would be “shutting up herself” in a “prison” (JG 299). It is a loveless place of misery that had none of the reliability of the countryside where Ansdore in the “haze of the August afternoon . . . stewed like an apple in the sunshine” (JG 304) or where the “far distances of the Marsh . . . wore its strange, occasional look of being under the sea” (JG 316).
While critics failed to recognise any religious content in this novel, Kaye -Smith believes that “Joanna Godden is full of clues to the author’s religious position” (TWH 150), and although this may be true, any religious content is peripheral to the narrative as whole. Her depiction of the village priest, Mr Pratt, re-visits the criticism of low church Anglicanism that had been implied in her pre-war novels. Pratt is obsequious, ineffectual, harassed, uninspiring and down-trodden so that “He felt that one day he would be crushed between his parishioners’ hatred of change and his fellow-priests’ insistence on it” (JG 63). In Joanna’s eyes “his poverty, his inefficiency and self-depreciation” outweighed any other attributes he may have had. His lack of impact on Joanna, and the community, is highlighted when Pratt did nothing “so dramatic as to die” but rather “faded out” (JG 220). Kaye-Smith’s own religious viewpoint is thinly disguised in her sympathetic characterisation of Father Lawrence. An Anglo-Catholic priest, Lawrence is first introduced as a humble figure whose religious faith is based on the Christian teaching of love. Unlike some of the priest that feature in the Catholic novels of Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh his attitude is presented as tolerant and non-judgemental when he views Joanna’s relationship with Martin as “a thing at once simple and adventurous, homely and splendid – which was how religion appeared to Father Lawrence” (JG 100). His gentle assurance when Martin dies is a comfort to Joanna, and his sympathetic understanding, exhibited in a “gaze as serene as ever” (JG 297), as he listens to Joanna’s confession of her fall from grace, establishes his Christianity as kind and compassionate. His wisdom, and awareness of Joanna’s need, are illustrated in his measured and practical response to her sorrow, when he tells her “there’s only one thing you can do, and that is to go home and take up your life where you left it, with a humble heart” (JG 298). His advice is used to illustrate the efficacy of confession and absolution as Joanna recognises that “she was certainly feeling better. She would never have thought that merely telling her story to Lawrence would have made such a difference” (JG 299). At the end of the novel the concepts of selfless love and personal faith are united as Joanna seeks forgiveness and help from a loving God in her commitment to her unborn child. The text illustrates Kaye-Smith’s belief in the healing power that ensues from the confession of sins, acceptance of fate and trust in the love of God, when at the end of her prayers, Joanna “seemed to wondrously heal” and “her heart was full of thankfulness” (JG 309). The inclusion of these two priestly characters, and the preaching of a particular religious viewpoint through their words and actions, adds little to the text as an effective work of fiction, and to a twenty-first century audience their presence may seem unnecessary.
Reviews of the novel in Britain and America focused on the characterisation of Joanna with only the merest hint of her final dilemma. They note that Kaye-Smith’s feminist agenda, at the centre of this novel, is the universal predicament of women who set out to succeed in a masculine world. The ‘brand’ of feminism that is referenced in the text is that which is concerned with “the practice rather than the theory of women’s rights that is important”. While Joanna’s “struggles, those of a fiercely and dangerously repressed woman, are common to city and country alike”, Joanna is an “intensely modern woman in an era when such creatures were but rare” (Braybrooke 197). Her difficulties are “the difficulties that confront a woman who has to stand alone” (Braybrooke 198). The originality of the realisation of Joanna, combined with the evocation of a rural scene infused with an emotive importance, gives the text a universality that raises this rural regional novel above the parochial and provincial. Kaye-Smith’s story of Joanna is full of “power and intensity; it reveals pity and understanding”.
Few contemporary appraisals of the novel make mention of its rural regionality but Gerald Gould believes that the depiction of the “strong rich life of the countryside “, with its “primitive ardour and unrelenting tragedy of the very earth”, makes it a work that can “scarcely be over-praised” (Gould 142). Although Kaye-Smith claimed that she was only a rural regional novelist because “The country-side of my childhood is, with all its limitations, a part of my literary equipment” (TWH 145), her writing of life in a rural setting was reflective of the zeitgeist for many middlebrow readers and spoke to the growing identification of Englishness with an idyllic rurality. The lyrically rendered timelessness of the Marsh descriptions provided the middle class readership with a safe haven from modernity, mechanisation and urbanisation. The “identification of England with a timeless countryside was a deeply reassuring” (Burchardt 76) concept, in a country that was suffering from mass unemployment, the aftermath of a devastating war, and unresolved social conflict. The same sentiment and concentration on an Englishness that is synonymous with the English landscape and countryside is referenced in “The Land” when Sackville-West urges her readers to “Now be thankful , who in England dwell”(Sackville-West 55). While abroad she yearns for “the smell of English rains” (Sackville-West 56) and “One winter coppice feathery with rime,/ One shred of dawn in spring” for that is “That which [she] love(s)”. (Sackville-West 56). As a result of a growing interest in the countryside, Kaye-Smith and other “minor writers of rural life . . . obtained the wider readership” (Burchardt 76) for their work, and as K. D. M. Snell records, the publication of regional (and mainly rural) fiction rose to unprecedented levels after the First World War.
While Sussex Gorse had been popular enough for Kaye-Smith to feel that she had ‘arrived’ and that attitudes had changed towards her “in literary places” (TWH 103), with the publication of Joanna Godden and sales of “ten thousand copies” (TWH 150) she felt she had her “biggest success” (TWH 149). Her characterisation of a strong woman who asserts her independence and has the courage to ‘go it alone’ resonates with a universal timelessness that is as relevant to the twenty-first century as it was to its original readership. The publication of Joanna Godden marked a high point in Kaye-Smith’s career and engendered praise for her writing. Frank Swinnerton felt that her literary work had brought her to “a high place among her male and female professional contemporaries” and that she was “superior to all the other equally industrious traditional novelists of about her own age” (Swinnerton 215). Reviews declared that she “towers above her sister novelists”, that she was a “sincere and conscientious artist, intent on achieving the highest possibilities in the novel”, and she was dubbed “the foremost woman writer in England” in an article headed “A Feminine Hardy”.
With the publication of Green Apple Harvest and Joanna Godden, Kaye-Smith gained recognition as a popular novelist and cemented her reputation as a rural regional writer. Within her oeuvre, Green Apple Harvest and Joanna Godden are significant as transitional novels. They mark a change in her popularity by making her a household name among the readership of the day. They were instrumental in clarifying a direction for future works, they show a working out of her own thinking on a number of issues, most notably religion, and above all they demonstrate a greater confidence in her own ability. Kaye-Smith believed that Joanna Godden was the last of her novels that came from the “same web of day-dream and fantasy that had made The Tramping Methodist” (TWH 161), and that future novels were to be inspired by “external happening in the world of facts” (TWH 161). However, throughout Green Apple Harvest and Joanna Godden she had established a number of thematic strands that were to become the main focus of her subsequent fiction. Although religion was not to disappear from her work, later novels are more concerned with social issues. Most particularly these are a concern for the role of women, an increasing concern to highlight the legacy of war and its economic and socio-political impact on the countryside, and the rural/urban divide.

 

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Spring Day

It has been a month since I posted anything here and it has been a real challenge to complete my March poems. Just as I posted a poem for Winter I have written a sonnet to try and depict a Spring day.

Spring Day

Blustery breezes, sunshine and sudden shower
Banish hoary-handed winter from the land.
Burgeoning buds and lancing leaves appear,
With stark trees gowned in gossamer green.
Deep snowflake drifts of blackthorn bridal lace
Burden tangled twigs and naked branches.
Below the hedgerow, among the grasses,
Tapestries of violets and primroses,
Cascading stars in vivid verdant sky.
Magical, mystical hares box together
As strutting pheasant with loud screeching cry
Levers high aloft with flapping feather.
The silent, dark, descending cloak of night
Takes from the earth its sparkling sapphire light.

 

Here, too, are my efforts that try to capture the essence of two different days in March.

March Poems

Early March

Might winds beat the branches
As snow whirls, eddies into drifts,
Raging, lion like, March begins.
Cold frosty fingers reach out making
Hard steel of water and earth.

 

The End of March

Crackling twigs, curling smoke,
Flames consume all they touch.
Wide skies bright, sparkling,
Air cut by circling gulls.
Bonfire blazing reducing
Branches to white dust.

In the garden yellow prevails.
Sunshine a welcome sight,
But blanketing cloud lurks
On the far horizon.
But, for today, bumble bees
Buzz, first butterflies appear
And Spring is truly here.

 

 

Snow

In the south east of England we have grown used to experiencing mild winters without snow. In the past few days this has all changed. When I posted my February poems I was looking forward to Spring and already had hellebores, snowdrops and daffodils blooming in my garden. Today they are blanketed with snow and a ferocious easterly wind has reduced the temperature to far below zero. Although conditions are nowhere near those that this area of Britain experienced in 1947 the snow did remind me of Sheila Kaye-Smith’s novel “Treasures of the Snow” which tells of the 1947 winter and the effect the weather had on a rural community.

Kaye-Smith gives a context to longevity of the snow in 1947 for it had been “many years since the snow had lain so long”. The central male character has to “break the ice on his jog of water before he can wash”. So pervasive was the white landscape that it seemed that there “was nothing but snow in the world”, it piles up against walls and is “hanging over the top like the crest of a wave”. Similarly to the narrator, this morning I found myself following the tracks of birds and a fox in the snow. Mercifully we have not had to experience the frozen rain that Kaye-Smith documents. The ice that had adhered to trees and hedges transformed the landscape into glass. A tree stands as “a glass skeleton” the hedge was “sprays of glass, glass spines rising with the ash or bunching on the thorn”. This ice torn marked the beginning of the end of the “great freeze” in 1947 so that at evening  “White trees and white woods shone out of the dusk and gleamed faintly through the darkness before the moon”. As the thaw began the “icicles cracked and clinked, and every gust of wind brought a musical fall from the trees” the ice did not drip “it fell tinkling to the ground” and lay like “broken glass” on the still frozen ground.

“Treasures of the Snow” is not one of Kaye-Smith’s best novels but it does document the ferocity and lengthy duration of the snowy frosty winter of 1947 and the effect that such severe conditions had on the rural farming community of south east England.

February Poems

Here are my February poems.  The task I set myself at the beginning of the year, to write a poem or two for each month of 2018,  has proved to be arduous and we are only two months into the year! These February poems try to capture the fleeting promise of Spring that is elusive at this time of the year when the weather can be so dull, cold and wet.

My inspiration comes from the wider landscape and my garden here in this corner of the south country.

February

Fragile flakes of February snow
Encrust ploughed frozen furrow.
Bleak skies cloud heavy grey,
Riven by single sharp piercing ray.
Unrelenting knife keen wind
Attacks with a stabbing icy cold.
Raven wing carves circles in the gloom
Yet catkins speak of spring to come.

February – through the kitchen window

Colour is returning to the garden beneath the window.
Nodding daffodils silently unfurl petals of gold
While snowdrops dangle above the mossy wall.
February fill dyke is dripping and damp
As hellebores hang shy water beaded heads.

Twigs and branches silver teardrop shimmering.
Earth squelching, sucking at the drizzling rain.
Undeterred the birds swing on feeders and fat balls.
Blue tits, great tits, robin and sparrow fight for food,
While rotund pigeons and blackbirds scavenge
Among the sodden, rotting, rusty leaf litter.

While I complain about the cold, wet, clinging
Grey grim clouds and dank drenched land,
Nature prepares and promises
The growth of another Spring.

 

Green Apple Harvest Sheila Kaye-Smith

The war had a profound effect on Kaye-Smith, as with many of her generation. Looking back with hindsight in 1937, she notes that she had never felt such “fundamental relief than that which came to me when the bells rang out on the signing of the Armistice. The world seemed to have begun again” (TWH 124-125). For her, the overwhelming intrusion of the war into daily life had been like having “a picnic on the edge of an abyss” (TWH 125). The novels Kaye-Smith had written during the War had brought her professional success with complimentary reviews in several publications, and her private life was happier than it had been for a long time, but she maintained this was the very reason why she felt the need to turn back to religion, and why she became an Anglo-Catholic at Christmas 1918.
In Green Apple Harvest the setting acts as a backdrop to the central concern of the novel: the nature of salvation and religious faith. Kaye-Smith utilises images of the natural world, most notably light and water, as well as descriptions of the countryside, as evidence in her development of a religious philosophy that links humanity, nature and God. Through her central character, Bob Fuller, Kaye-Smith presents the uncertainties of the immediate post-war society that, haunted by the frailty of life, lived for the moment but was searching for something to believe in, and for a meaning to life. Katherine Mansfield noted in her review for The Athenaeum that “It is a novel divided against itself, written with two hands – one is the country hand, scoring the dialect, and the other is the town hand, hovering over the wild flowers” (Mansfield 252). This comment highlights the bifurcated nature of Green Apple Harvest as Kaye-Smith attempts to present a rural regional narrative that tries to wed reality with lyrical descriptions of nature while preaching a particular religious polemic. These elements of division and disorder in the novel make for a muddled narrative. These confusions in the story reflect the difficulty of post-war society’s efforts to come to terms with the disorientation, uncertainty, and changes that were to be part of the 1920s. Green Apple Harvest is set in the present and follows the life of Bob Fuller, the son of a Sussex Methodist farmer, on his redemptive journey to salvation. Bob is something of a rebel and is easily led astray by women, alcohol and the persuasive words of others. In his search for a sense of identity he becomes infatuated by a gypsy girl, Hannah Iden, and when rejected by her, he turns to drink and gambling. In an effort to redeem himself he undergoes a number of conversions to faith which he later regrets when they prove false and unsatisfactory. Similarly, his marriage to a town girl is doomed to failure, primarily because the couple are incompatible, and Bob feels a compulsion to continue his search for a meaningful religious creed. This persistent quest for salvation leads Bob to become an itinerant preacher, and he is eventually fatally injured by villagers who duck him in a pond for what they believe is his hypocrisy. The characterisation of Bob Fuller as a passionate, fervid, fanatic in matters of love and religion is set in opposition to the characterisation of his brother Clem. Unlike Bob, Clem is depicted as a steady, simple and charming country boy/man. He falls in love and marries Polly, a straightforward country girl, who is used as the voice of wisdom and common sense. Clem and Polly are satisfied with a life that is uncomplicated and stable and they have no sympathy with any organised or proselytising faith. Their world is one in which “everything lovely and homely” (GAH 15) and meaningful is to be found in the natural world around them.
Kaye-Smith gradually builds the justification for her eventual assertion, that the bond between God, the natural world, and humanity is not “pantheism or nature worship; it is Catholicism – God in all things . . . It is the ground of the sacramental system, through which by the operation of the Holy Ghost nature gives birth to that which the whole world cannot contain” (TWH 139). To prove this proposition Bob must undertake a spiritual journey in which he frequently strays from the path of acceptable conduct, and in which he must learn, by experience, that salvation must come from within. His first attempt at achieving salvation leaves him disappointed as he feels “no more saäved [sic] than a potato-trug” (GAH 19).
Kaye-Smith contrasts the severe doctrine of Calvinism with her own interpretation of Catholic Anglicanism that is based on the concept of the loving God of the New Testament. To highlight the difference between these two forms of Christianity, Kaye-Smith invests her depiction of a Calvinist Christianity with a terrifying harshness, that uses imagery of a wrathful Old Testament God who condemns those who are not of the Elect, and therefore cannot find redemption, not being predestined for salvation. This hellfire form of faith is illustrated in the person of Mr Beeman, a “Peculiar Baptist” (GAH 146). Beeman persuades Bob that he is “outside the mercies of God” (GAH 150), that “If God sends [him] to hell, it’s because it’s right” (GAH 155), that he is ” in fur the Wrath to Come” (GAH 145), that there is no “sign that he had put on Salvation” or that he has any “token of the Lord’s favour” (GAH 148). Set against this condemnation is the comfort provided by the natural world and a philosophy of a loving God. To illustrate this and accentuate a stark contrast, Kaye-Smith presents the loving God through the first-person narration of Bob as he describes how,
I climbed over into the field, fur I felt mazed and tired, and I laid down on the grass among the dead leaves that had come from the wood . . . All I cud think on wur God, and I thought ‘He’s wonderful. He’s the wonderfullest thing thur is, and if I cud feel I wur Chosen of Him, thur be naun else I’d want beside’. . . . then it all happened. It wur lik a shining, silver light, and it seemed to come all over me, and my heart went light wud peace and gladness, and summat in me seemed to say, ‘I have loved thee wud an everlasting love’ (GAH 164-165).
Initially, under the influence of the Calvinist doctrine of The Chosen, Bob “distrusted a yearning for the beauty of the fields” (GAH 181) believing it to be the work of the devil. The peaceful contentment that can be found for a troubled soul in communion with creation is illustrated in Kaye-Smith’s utilisation of a traditional imagery of heaven as a starlit night sky. When Bob is rejected by those he had chosen to preach to, he finds solace and comfort from a perceived closeness to God. When looking at the night sky it was “as if he could touch it with the swing of his sleepy arm, and rake down the shimmering stars of the Lamb of God into the field beside him. Drowsily content, he turned over” (GAH 201).
Unlike the early pre-war novels, Green Apple Harvest displays a coherent and fully developed religious ideology in which a mystical evocation of the land is given a sacramental significance. In the immediate post-war world, Kaye-Smith suggests stability and a meaning to life can only be found in a spiritual attachment to the countryside. In the narration of Bob’s attempted suicide, the text speaks in a variety of potentially oppositional voices, as Kaye-Smith combines, and juxtaposes, lyrically-idealised descriptions of the countryside with dialectically expressed thoughts, references to Christian theology and biblical imagery. The description of Bob’s eventual revelatory experience that brings him to a true understanding of his unity with God is told by refracting his experience through a combined lexicon of the Christian symbolism, and imagery of water and light. The light of dawn is used as a symbolic metaphor for the spiritual enlightenment that is to come. In an idealised country scene, the gleams of dawn “swept up the fields in a soaring light – the water courses gleamed, the windows of farmhouses burned, the wood seemed to change colour, and the subdued chatter of birds among the trees swelled into a song” (GAH 271). Bob suddenly and unexpectedly recognises that it would be a wrench for him to leave “this quiet country of the Rother Valley, which all his life had been so much to him” (GAH 271). In describing the revelatory experience of God, that leads to Bob discover that “He’s love . . . and He’s beauty . . . He’s in the fields mäaking the flowers grow and the birds sing and the ponds have that lovely liddle white flower growing on ’em” (GAH 275), the text references the most mystical and spiritual of the Gospels, that of St John, as it speaks to the symbolism and imagery of God being love, and Christ as the light of the world.
The imagery of breaking dawn and the advent of sunrise knits together Bob’s memories of the countryside with descriptions of the immediate natural world as he walks towards the pond. In a continuation of the symbolic use of light motifs, Kaye-Smith links a series of light images with remembrance of the past that is centred on the countryside and the illumination of that natural world with “fields tilted to the sunset”, “ponds like moons”, “villages in a twilight thickened and yellowed by the chaffy mist of harvest” and the “glory of big solemn stars” (GAH 272). Each of these images is of muted or reflected light, indicative of Bob’s lack of understanding of the nature of God. As he comes near to the pond, however, the quality of light is more intense, dramatic and immediate and is used to herald the actual presence of the Almighty rather than a manifestation of him in his creation. The intensity of this light is such that the surface of the water “gleamed from the sunrise”, “was lit up and aflame” as the whole scene became part of “the fanning, flooding sunrise” (GAH 272). Kaye-Smith uses language that resonates with biblical allusion, but is also somewhat clichéd, and once Bob had recognised and accepted the loving nature of God, his face “shone in the sunrise”, he was “transfigured and gleaming” (GAH 273) in the light of God’s countenance as it poured from the sky.
The use of water imagery in this section of the text is less intrusive and more subtle. The water images centred on the pond form a symbol that signifies purity, the washing away of sin and initiation into a new life. The prosaic water of the pond is transformed by the reflective light of the sunrise, so that a “yellow light gleamed” from its surface, it appeared to be “aflame” (GAH 272), and the sunrise caught by the water “striking up from the broken ripples of the pond” (GAH 273). In an echo of Christ’s baptism God speaks to Bob with the voice of a Sussex yeoman, to remind him that
I am your God – doan’t you know me? Did you think I was away up in heaven, watching you from a gurt way off? Didn’t you know that I’ve bin with you all the time? – that every time you looked out on the fields or into your kind brother’s eyes or at your baby asleep in his bed you looked on Me? (GAH 273).
Like Graham Greene’s Scobie in The Heart of the Matter who hears God telling him that “I made you with love. I’ve wept your tears. I’ve saved you from more than you will ever know” (Greene 258) the God that speaks to Bob is the loving God of the New Testament, who loves with the unconditional love of a parent. In the fields at sunrise God questions, “‘Why woan’t you look and see how beautiful and homely and faithful and loving I am'” and “‘How could I ever cast you out? I’m plighted to you wud the troth of a mother to her child'” (GAH 273). The presentation of the all-encompassing nature of this loving God comes to dominate the end of the novel. Set in contrast to the ‘conversions’ to faith that had come to Bob through fear, this conversion is presented as genuine and inspired by a realisation that “‘God aun’t shut away from us in heaven, but He’s down here – He’s in the fields wud the young corn and wud the animals caring for their young, and He’s in you and me'” (GAH 276). This direct and individual, unmediated contact between humanity and God, through contact with the natural world, and universally available to all humanity, Kaye-Smith states, “expresses a belief which was fundamental to my religion then, [at the time of writing Green Apple Harvest] as it is to it now” [in 1937 when she had converted to Roman Catholicism] (TWH 139).
Having alluded to Christ’s baptism, Kaye-Smith continues the tangential and tentative referencing of the New Testament in her telling of Bob’s death. Convinced of his own salvation, Bob, like Humphrey Lyte in The Tramping Methodist, feels compelled to preach that “God is love and all things lovely are part of His love” (GAH 284). In a further echo of The Tramping Methodist, the Gospel narrative, and Bob’s experience at the farm pond, the villagers attempt to teach him a lesson by ducking him in the mill pond. The metaphoric imagery utilised in the recounting of his illness and death is that of sunset and fading light. As he grows weaker the sky becomes ‘pale’ and “translucent with a dying sunset”. When he is at the point of death “It was dusk, and the warm mist of May hung in the garden”, the air was “stirless in the grey light” and with his last breath Bob murmurs of the “‘shadders of trees on the road'” (GAH 285). To affirm the belief that true universal Catholicism is available to all, Kaye-Smith presents Bob’s faith as classless, non-judgemental, mystical, concerned with a belief in the supernatural, and has a firm belief in an after-life. For Clem, Bob’s death in May seems “unaccountable hard”. Bob’s response encapsulates the essence of the personal and clearly-developed religious philosophy that the novel sets out to demonstrate. He explains: ” I’ve a feeling as if I go to the Lord God I’ll only be going into the middle of all that’s alive . . . If I’m wud Him I can’t never lose the month of May’ “(GAH 285).
Green Apple Harvest is dominated by Bob’s search for salvation but the text also presents the reader with two strong women, Hannah Iden and Polly Ebony. Hannah Iden, a gypsy girl, is used to lure Bob into a dissolute life. Kaye-Smith establishes her as the villainous character of the novel. Identified as the ‘other’, Hannah belongs to an extended family who are proud of their difference. In the characterisation of Hannah and her family, the narrative utilises the dichotomous trope of Victorian fiction in which gypsies are romantic figures, free to roam unconstrained by the norms of society, while embodying values that subvert those norms of behaviour. As such, Hannah is romantically and sexually attractive to Bob but she acts as a catalyst to create instability in Bob’s relationship with Clem and his family. The villagers view the gypsies as “thieves” and “furriners”, who “poached” and “stole horses and could never be brought to justice” (GAH 28), and who were known to be steeped in the “deeper dye of Egypt” (GAH 51). For Bob her attraction lies in her sexuality and physical allure. He sees her as “lovely . . . her mouth makes my mouth ache . . . she smells of grass . . . and her eyes in the shadder – they mäake me want to drown myself” (GAH 30). In her subversive availability, she represents the immediacy of a readily accessible physical gratification that characterised the post-war desire to live for the moment.
Throughout the novel Hannah is defined by others in terms that equate her with evil intent. Kaye-Smith uses a number of lexical devices to reinforce Hannah’s heinous character. Her appearances in the narrative are associated with the gloominess of dusk, or darkness and with the sharp starkness of the “twigs and spines of the thorny hedges” (GAH 55) in the wet weather of autumn. Like Jerry Sumption in Little England, Hannah is inextricably linked with the cruel wildness of nature. She has “shining dark eyes, more the eyes of an animal than of a human being” (GAH 213), while her beauty is that of “the wild and harsh and lovely earth, or of nature in some petty, savage mood” (GAH 214). On occasion, when with Bob, she behaves like a “wild animal in his arms” (GAH 219). He recognises that “she’s a bitch” (GAH 29), but cannot resist her. Hannah’s intrinsic deceptiveness hides her harsh cruel nature with an appearance of coquettishness and is “like the bitter kernel of a ripe, sweet fruit . . . the hard stone in nature’s heart” (GAH 55). Hannah holds no fascination for Clem, but is a threatening, exotic ‘other’ who in her appearance subverts and destabilises the traditional patterns of rural behaviour to which he subscribes. In a ruralised caricature of the young post-war women known as ‘flappers’, her appearance disrupts and disturbs the conventional traditional values of decency. She wears a “bright shawl” and a “crazy hat full of feathers”, has “black and smouldering” eyes, a “red mouth” and a “humming voice, so unlike the drawl of the Rother villages” (GAH 27). Hannah’s ‘otherness’ is not just wild and exotic; Bob recognises that his association with her will take him “straight to the devil” (GAH 30). Like Alec D’Urberville in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, who is seen as Satan by the light of a field fire, she is shown surrounded by darkness, with her face illuminated by the hellish “red glow of the brazier” so that she looks like a “soul in hell” (GAH 218). Clem is also aware of her “crude physical power” that spoke of her desire to “torment him”, and that to him indicates a “perverse depth of mortal cruelty” (GAH 55). There is a certain romance about Hannah’s appearance and her taking to the road as and when she pleases, but Kaye-Smith is consistent in her portrait of her as a “bad lot” (GAH 50) when she is arrested for “fencing – or receiving stolen goods” (GAH 233). The establishment authority figure of a policeman is used to condemn all gipsies and to assert the ultimate inadequacy of their attempts to thwart the conventions of society, as he reinforces their ‘otherness’:
them gipsies is like animals, and you can’t hold them responsible for their doings as you would ordinary human beings. I’ve seen a deal of ’em, there being plenty in these parts, and always in court for something or other (GAH 233).
Just as, in character and demeanour, Bob is the antithesis of Clem, so Polly Ebony is set in direct contrast to Hannah. Polly subscribes to the expected and customary rules of conduct in this rural society, and like many women in the post-war years, accepts the vicissitudes of life without question. Her courtship with Clem reflects this as it takes place in the fields, under “A faint yellow moon” where the couple are part of the “honey-coloured stain on the mist” and where they innocently stand “hand in hand” (GAH 11). Demanding little of life, Polly’s simple delight is watching Clem working in the fields, as she is sitting “on the sun dried clods”, “contemplative, in the peace that often came to her” (GAH 23). She is happy to settle down to living with a farm labourer, her only concern being that she should “prove her fitness to be Clem’s wife” (GAH 65). Subdued in appearance, her clothes are simple and often down-at-heel, and she is unconcerned with the acquisition of wealth. Polly becomes the voice of moderation based on common sense, her life rooted in the natural world and her own wise perceptive instinct.
Her judgements of other people reflect her own honesty and awareness of the world around her. The antithesis of those who subscribe to a modern materialism, she has little time for material fripperies, and realises that people are more than the sum of their outward appearance. As a representative of the reliable rural working class she is quick to condemn those who adjudged country people as “a very common lot” (GAH 115) because they are unconcerned with the latest smart clothes, fashionable furnishings or precise etiquette. Rather Polly is motivated by kindness and love for her fellow human beings, regardless of their social status. When Bob is set on marrying a town girl (Mabel), Polly is against the match because “‘She äunt his style . . . And he doän’t love her'” (GAH 108). When Mabel criticises the roughness of Polly’s hands her reply that “‘I’d sooner have an honest, working pair of hands than a pair of useless white ‘uns'” (GAH 117) illustrates her pride in good honest toil and a contempt for the falsity of outward appearances. Her fatalistic acceptance of the vagaries of life has no place for extremes of behaviour in either love or religion. In matters of religion, Kaye-Smith uses Polly as the voice to condemn the Calvinist hell-fire Christianity that Bob has adopted. She wishes that “he hadn’t got hold of such a Salvation sort of religion”, and believes that “he’ll find as much trouble on his way to God as ever he found on his way to the devil” (GAH 166) and in his relationship with Hannah.
Polly represents the best of a simple authentic philosophy of life engendered by a closeness to the natural world and grounded in the cycle of the seasons. Her kindness and consideration for others manifests itself in a cheerfulness in times of trouble, a desire to “make [Bob] happy” (GAH 245) when he is rejected by the rest of his family, and in helping Clem to line Bob’s “grave with late primroses and cuckoo flowers and buttercups” (GAH 286). Kaye-Smith leaves Polly to sum up Bob’s life:
‘Sims to me as Bob’s life’s lik a green apple tree – he’s picked his fruit lik other men, but it’s bin hard and sour instead of sweet. Love and religion – they’re both sweet things, folks say, but with Bob they’ve bin as the hard green apples’ (GAH 235).
As the voice of country wisdom and common sense, Polly is given the final word when, after Bob’s funeral, she states that “‘if Bob had only had sense he might have come to be a saint'” and “‘if he had had sense he’d be alive now'” (GAH 287).
Although Kaye-Smith noted that as soon as the war was over the “natural desire was to get back to normal life – to dig a deep grave for the past” and that “desperate efforts were made to forget it [the War] (TWH 124), the narrative of Green Apple Harvest betrays vestigial concerns with the horror of war. In her tangential condemnation of the hell-fire preaching of Mr Beeman and extreme Protestantism, Kaye-Smith introduces images that are reminiscent of descriptions of the shell bombardment of the First World War combined with a traditional representation of hell. Bob’s discovery of horrific pictures of destruction in a Calvinist Bible with “black and burning” buildings, “fire raining down from a black and thundering sky” while “people ran about in confusion” (GAH 142) references the battlefield and the destruction of cities, such as Ypres, that were razed to the ground and left in ruins, or the bombing of London by zeppelins and Gothas. Bob’s dreams are characterised by the destruction of fire as he is haunted by visions that recall the devastated landscape of Flanders. He imagines the roofs of Weights Farm “seared and gutted with fire”, “the windows broken, and the road littered with black spars and rags” (GAH 145) while “he was among those who ran hither and thither” (GAH 144).
While the novel addresses religion and utilises a rural regional setting peopled by working class characters, in Green Apple Harvest Kaye-Smith introduces another theme which she would go on to develop in later works. By having Bob marry Mabel Powlard from the nearby town of Bulverhythe, she highlights the differences in attitude between town dwellers and those from the country. The narrative emphasises the honest reality of country people in contrast to the superficiality and materialism of those from the town. With her up-to-date clothing, her make-up, her insistence on rigid rules of behaviour and her superficially flirtatious ways, Mabel brings the exciting yet alien “atmosphere of streets and shops and picture houses” (GAH 92) to the countryside. Having none of the robust rebelliousness of Hannah or the common sense of Polly, she is a character lacking in tenacity and concerned only with the frivolous pretence conferred by the wearing of the latest fashions. She is considered pretty but “a trifle anæmic” (GAH 92), her hair is “pulled down fashionably over her ears” (GAH 93), and with her tasselled “boots and her handbag and the powder on her nose” she makes Polly “feel all dowdy and common” (GAH 95). Mabel’s view of those from the country is patronising and snobbish, so that she considers herself far superior to Clem and Polly. Instead of spending time on having “clothes washed and mended . . . and dinner cooked all as a matter of course” (GAH 117) she would rather spend her days dusting vases and ornaments.
The ‘otherness’ of the urbanite is reinforced in the descriptions of Mabel’s feelings of alienation in the countryside. She becomes “an exile from [the] warm, lighted streets, adrift in the solitude” (GAH 114). Mabel perceives the natural world to be “strangely and terrifyingly lonely” (GAH 114). Mabel’s experience of the countryside is rendered in a vocabulary associated with animal menace so that she hears the “moan of the water” in the ditches, feels that the woods have “crept down to the marsh” and that the fields have a “savage remoteness”, while the entire countryside contains a “dim threat” (GAH 114) of alienation. To add to the strangeness and discomfiture of her circumstances, Mabel realises that her husband belongs to this “dark, unfriendly country” and that he is “part of its clay” (GAH 114). To highlight Mabel’s complete estrangement from all that is natural, Kaye-Smith contrasts her uncaring attitude, as a mother, with Polly’s loving motherliness for Bob and Mabel’s child. Once Mabel has left Bob and returned to the town she is more than willing for Clem and Polly to “keep the child” (GAH 262) for she “did not want him” (GAH 285). Viewed from the perspective of Bob’s country values, Mabel is a complex mass of contradictions. She is “provoking, enticing, repulsing, disappointing, suffering, repining” (GAH 264) and is only happy in an urban environment “with her furniture and her piano” (GAH 265). To emphasise the difference between town and country, Kaye-Smith juxtaposes a prosaic description of Mabel sitting at the piano “which she could not play”, picking out “with one finger the opening bars of the Waltz Dream”, with an idyllically lyrical account of the countryside at dusk:
The air thickened as it chilled, smudging the few faint stars that were hanging round the chimney of Pookwell. Down at the rim of the eastern sky above the woods, there was a wan kindling, showing that soon the May moon would rise and call the buttercups, and the chervil and the roads with the feathery dust, out of the darkness into her white peace (GAH 263).
Such contrasts between town and country and the identification of the countryside with the peace to be gained from solitude and communion with nature is echoed in Vita Sackville-West’s “The Land”. In the section that depicts the countryside in winter Sackville-West notes that townsmen “have lost, in losing solitude,/ Something, – an inward grace, the seeing eyes,/ The power of being alone;/ The power of being alone with earth and skies” (Sackville-West 31).
Throughout the novel, Kaye-Smith uses her evocations of the natural world to illustrate the efficacy of such an environment and to preach her own religious philosophy. For those who cannot see beyond the material, the countryside is threatening. For those who can appreciate the beauty of nature, and who understand their place in creation, the countryside has a spiritual significance and is reflective of the Christian teaching that “God is love and as all things lovely are a part of His love” (GAH 284), and that humanity can come to a unique closeness to God through contemplation of the natural world.
This novel is divided against itself in that the narrative is driven by Kaye-Smith’s desire to promulgate a specific religious ideology, and as a result plotting and characterisation are repressed and made subservient to her doctrinal position. Bob Fuller is the device she uses to extrapolate this theology as she engineers a case for a particular ‘brand’ of Christianity. Mansfield is critical of Kaye-Smith’s depiction of Bob Fuller, and the characterisation of him throughout the text suggesting that if Kaye-Smith intended Bob to be the hero and that this “is the story of [his] lusty youth, [his] broken prime, [his] bitter harvest. . .” (Mansfield 251) the writer has failed to effectively realise her intention. However, Mansfield’s assertions take no account of Kaye-Smith’s use of Bob not just as a hero figure but as a vehicle for the exploration of the nature of religious belief. Kaye-Smith believed, in hindsight, that “the religion expresses my own deeper feelings more surely if less clearly than anything” (TWH 142) else she had, or was to write. In her estimation the novel “was immediately successful” (TWH 141).
The reviews were mixed. Mansfield’s review condemns the novel for the rural regionality that continually emphasises Sussex. Most particularly she objects to the dialect that is “so faithfully recorded that words with double dots, double vowels, buzzing, humming words, words with their tails cut off, lean words grown fat and stodgy words” (Mansfield 250) that it overpowers much of the narrative. Where Mansfield sees a mismatched presentation of rurality and characterisation in the text, Punch hailed Green Apple Harvest as “genuine and of the soil” and as a work that was “redolent of earth”. Similarly the review in The Observer detected the authenticity of the novel as ‘country’ writing and noted that Green Apple Harvest expressed a “plain kinship with elemental natural things, as a husbandman looking over his ploughed field”. At a loss to explain why Kaye-Smith was not a more popular novelist, the reviewer recognises that the work deals with the “basic facts of human nature and spirituality” while praising it as “art of that passionate rightness that belongs also to natural things, like sky and sea and open fields”. More recently, Glen Cavaliero has recognised a religious dimension to the novel in his assertion that Kaye-Smith’s own Christian convictions are “subdued to a more general concern with the values of a Christian humanism” (Cavaliero 76). However, in this generalised comment he has overlooked her belief in the mystical spiritualism of a catholic Christianity that looks to a relationship with God through communion with creation, which lies at the centre of the narrative.
While the narrative and characterisation in Green Apple Harvest are dominated by the rural regional setting and the religious disputation, there is an underlying sub-text that references the legacy of the war. Bob’s desire for immediate physical gratification from a dissipated lifestyle, alongside his ardent searching for a meaning to his life, the descriptions of war-torn landscapes, the characterisation of Hannah’s subversion of behavioural norms, Mabel’s materialism, and Clem and Polly’s rejection of all that speaks of a changed world, highlight the lasting effects of the disruption of society brought about by war. While reflecting the concerns of contemporary society, Kaye-Smith’s depiction of the accessibility of God may well have resonated with, and provided reassurance for, a readership who were mourning the dead of the First World War, and seeking for something to believe in. She believed Green Apple Harvest to be “my best novel, and in this I have the support of no less an authority than George Moore” (TWH 141). However, it is debatable if Kaye-Smith has managed to reach beyond a preaching insularity, to achieve the universality suggested in Moore’s dictum that “art must be parochial in the beginning to become cosmopolitan in the end” (Moore 3). Although a careful reading argues for the ecumenicalism of faith, the presentation of the rural regionality, and a narrow, rarefied interpretation of Christianity, constrain the novel to a provinciality from which it is unable to escape. For a twenty-first century readership, religion and its presentation, mediated through the use of a dialect language that dominates the narrative, means that at best, Green Apple Harvest appears to be an unconscious form of proselytizing propaganda for a particular religious philosophy.

 

January Poems

One of my New Year resolutions was to try and write at least one, and hopefully two poems each month of this year. In the poems I aim to give my impressions of that particular month. As a further discipline I am going to try and write one poem each month that is an acrostic i.e. I shall use the letters that spell the month as the beginnings of each line. Any further poem will be of a length and form that suggests its self at the time.

Today I am posting my first two “efforts” – for January. Please feel free to comment – encouragement, observations and criticisms welcome. Remember short comments welcome on my Twitter @theruralwriter.

January

January skies of gloomy grey hang
Arrow pierced by iron black twigged trees.
Nothing moves in the dripping damp drizzle
Until silent stillness is riven by raven wings
Across the charcoal cloud as crow’s caw.
Rain lashes and stabs the sodden ground
Yet evening brings promise of a better tomorrow.

 

 

Day began beneath gloomy gunmetal grey blanketing cloud
As ferocious wind rattled and roared through
The iron black silhouettes of interlaced twigs and branches.
Rain, icy as steel and needle sharp, pierced the soggy fields.
Muddy, expanding pools and puddles invaded and conquered,
While ditches and streams, swollen and raging, burst banks,
As they flow free across ploughed and seeded land.
But rose streaked twilight’s westering sky promises
The crisp, cold, calm of a crystal bright opal dawn.
In the first faltering filaments of subtle searching sunlight
Icy furrowed fields, diamond frosted, glisten with hoary rime.
By noon a cornflower sky, blazing sun with soft cooling breeze
Illuminates skeletal hedgerows scarlet, gold and verdant green.
At last the small promise of future Spring.

 

 

Sciatica – the poem

Just over a decade ago, during the early months of the year, I suffered an excruciating bout of Sciatica. During one particular night, in those lonely hours when all the world seems to be sleeping,  I could not sleep, felt I would never recover, and would  never be rid of the pain. I began to write a poem to try and explain what it felt like.

The other day while trawling through past material on my computer I found a copy of the poem. Here it is. Please feel free to send me your comments.

Sciatica

It arrives silent and invisible
On the wings of the night.
Snatching, tearing, gashing,
Piercing, gnawing, grinding
To the bony core of being.
Pain of exquisite unique refinement
Raw and vicious, imperial and grand.

The tense and anxious victim
Moves with stealth in hope of escape.
Scarce daring to breath
While denied the comfort of sleep.

As the metallic moon drapes the room
The wind moans, and the world sleeps
In a cold frozenness of snow and ice.
The howling wind is the knife’s twisting stab,
Invisible, incessant, omnipresent.
The bed a padded prison
With no release from padlocked agony.

Will morning never come?
Slowly, slowly, very slowly the sounds and sensations fade.
Light leaks through the window
From an infinitesimal crack in the carapace of heaven.
The victim rouses to another dawn.

Fear, panic and doubt have sat beside me,
Like some frightful trinity,
Force feeding my mind in the dog watch of the dreadful night.