Writers of Romney Marsh

Writers of Romney Marsh

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

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

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

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

Writers who lived on the Marsh or nearby.

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

Writers who wrote about the Marsh

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

Novels mainly set in Rye

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

Poets that have written about Romney Marsh

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

Children’s novels set on Romney Marsh/Rye

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

Modern Romance/Thriller Novels

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

 

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

 

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The Loves of Joanna Godden

The Loves of Joanna Godden

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

April Poems

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

April

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

Heatwave in April

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

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

 

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

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

 

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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.

 

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.