Sheila Kaye-Smith

It has been a little while since I posted anything on this blog, particularly any articles on Sheila Kaye-Smith’s fiction. However,  I have now decided to write a sort of conclusion to the articles I have previously posted on her work. In this article I aim to provide an overview of the work I have discussed on this blog and place that fiction within a context of Kaye-Smith’s life, the times within she lived and her place in the writing of the first half of the twentieth century.
Since the second half of the twentieth century, Sheila Kaye-Smith’s fiction has suffered the fate that she ascribed to those novelists of her youth who had fallen from favour with the readership of the 1950s. She felt that no injustice had been done to those whose work had been forgotten because they had “provided a past generation with entertainment and had received in return their meed of praise” (ABML124). Nevertheless in the articles posted on this blog I have aimed to make it apparent, through this retrieval and reappraisal of Kaye-Smith’s fiction, that among her prolific output there is much that is of interest and relevance for a modern readership. From the publication of her first novel, The Tramping Methodist, she marked her work as regional with the use of the Sussex/Kent border countryside as her setting. She was never to veer away from this regionality, not least because from her earliest childhood, it represented all that was her “heart’s delight”, “always had been . . . and always would be” (TWH 3). Apart from her strong emotional attachment to this area, in later life she turned that love of the land into a physical bond by living on a small-holding in the Sussex countryside. A more pragmatic reason for her regionality is signposted in her own assertion that she was a regional novelist by reason of necessity. She “felt at home in that country” and saw herself as a child of Sussex. She needed to write about that area of land that she knew intimately, for a sense of place was essential to her novels. All her work demonstrates this primacy and spirit of place, so much so that in many of her earlier novels, most notably Sussex Gorse and Joanna Godden, the landscape is of greater importance, or is “at least as important as the people” (TWH 174). Nevertheless in most of Kaye-Smith’s fiction the regionality of the narrative is applied with a light touch. The place names that she uses can be found on a map, but Kaye-Smith tampers with the geography of her chosen region and relocates farms and villages to suit the purposes of her storytelling. Her characters often have the names of people who actually lived in and around her chosen location but their lives bear little resemblance to lives that Kaye-Smith attributes to them. Her descriptions of landscape are those of a gentle south country, but the only real anchors in a specific area come from her references to the Downs, Romney Marsh and a countryside dotted with oast-houses and hop fields. Not all her novels incorporate dialectal idioms and the manners of speech peculiar to Sussex, but those that do, most notably Green Apple Harvest, confirm Kaye-Smith’s regionality and her desire to preserve at least some of the “racy Sussex dialect, with its affinity with real English” (Egerton viii). Once her work became popular during and after the First World War, and with the growing popularity of regional fiction, both her publishers and her critics began to dub her the ‘Sussex Hardy’ and placed her as a distinctly regional novelist. However, Kaye-Smith’s regionality as a writer is inextricably linked to her positioning as a novelist of the rural.
Throughout Kaye-Smith’s fiction the writing of the rural demonstrates the development of her growing skill as a novelist, and her changing interests and concerns during her adult life. Her early works are illustrative of a writer feeling her way as a novice novelist, and as an observer of the countryside from the perspective of an occasional visitor. The portrayals of the regional countryside are panoramic and pictorial, and are rendered in the language of an idyllic pastoral style. Thus she described the Weald as a patchwork of images with its scenic “white-capped oasts and black barns, emerald pastures, olive-green hop-fields . . . patches of garden . . . and above all the blue sky” (TM 121). Combined with these wide expansive views of landscape, there are detailed and carefully observed descriptions of the natural world. These narrations of nature, influenced by her reading as well as by detailed observation, idealise the particular. For example, a spring day is characterised by earth that “was damp and soft, and smelled sweet, and primroses and dog-violets starred the turf” (TM 42). However, as Kaye-Smith’s writing developed, she combined these two aspects of the rural to present a generalised impression of countryside that speaks to the regional in its imagery, but is also no longer reliant on the visual senses alone. For example in Susan Spray the countryside is depicted in a variety of sensory terms with the “clop of the horse’s hoofs upon the valley lane, and the dim, stealing smell of hops, which blew in invisible smoke down the September twilight from the cowls of the oast-houses” (SS 367). In the early novels the landscape and the natural world take centre stage and the human characters are placed as interlopers or outside observers for much of the narrative. They are, like Kaye-Smith, urbanites, “just townspeople living in the country” (TWH 95). Not until the writing of Sussex Gorse did Kaye-Smith begin to place human characters at the centre of her narrative and start to develop her theory of the relationship between the rural environment and humanity. In this novel and those that followed she concentrated on how characters are shaped by their environment.
Throughout her writing of the 1920s and 1930s Kaye-Smith continued to develop and refine her presentation of this relationship. In her pre-First-World-War novel, Isle of Thorns, she had tentatively begun to explore the affiliation between humanity and the environment with the added dimension of religious belief. The use of the rural environment as a manifestation of God the Creator, with God in all things, and a belief in a universal Christianity based on these tenets was tentatively explored in her early novels; it became the driving philosophy that informed all of her writing during and after the war. By the 1930s Kaye-Smith had come to recognise that although her writing was regional by necessity, it was her love of the countryside that really lay at its heart. For Kaye-Smith it is evident, throughout all of her fiction, that “The country and my writing are really two different parts of the same thing” and that religion is “the third strand in the shining cord” (TWH 5). From the time, in 1918, that Kaye-Smith became a devout Anglo-Catholic until her death, when she was an equally devout Roman Catholic, her fiction is informed by her faith. In those works where this is overtly evident, such as her proselytising propaganda for the Anglo-Catholic movement that lies at the centre of The End of the House of Alard, or in the preaching of her own religious Catholicism that makes up much of Green Apple Harvest, the narratives overwhelmingly speak to a Christian culture. However, while the majority of her work is informed by her beliefs, the Christian message is implied rather than obviously and openly stated in her later work. Kaye-Smith’s novels do, nonetheless, provide a record of her personal changes in faith and belief. Those works that pre-date the First World War reflect her own searching for religious belief and a questioning of her parents’ Protestantism. In them her protagonists’ rejection of the constraints of Anglican Protestantism, with their exploration of a spiritual replacement by a form of mystical union with the natural world, echoes Kaye-Smith’s own quest for a meaningful religious dimension to her life. Her conversion to Anglo-Catholicism marked a significant change in her life and work that came at the same time as a rise in her popularity. With the zeal of the convert she gave her central characters an assurance of faith that combined her own belief in the union of humanity, nature and God with a Catholicised Christianity. Her final conversion to Roman Catholicism marked a concluding change in her fiction. She no longer felt the necessity to preach or proselytise, and while her work reflects her own Catholicism, this is covertly presented through the everyday lives of her characters. The only religious philosophy that remains constant, but is refined and developed throughout her oeuvre is the belief she had from childhood: that of the unique relationship between God, nature and humanity. This is illustrated in her often repeated motif of a human being leaning on a gate staring at the natural world while experiencing a universal mystical spirituality that is beyond words.
Kaye-Smith’s religious beliefs lie at the core of the other concerns and issues that are the focus of the majority of her fiction. Her work gained in popularity after the publication of Sussex Gorse, but it was not until the end of the First World War that she became a truly popular novelist. Her popularity is attested to, not only by the sales figures for her fiction, but also by the number of interviews and articles that appeared in the newspapers, by the lengthy reviews that appeared in a number of publications both in Britain, and particularly America, and by the recognition she gained from her fellow novelists. In the inter-war years critics recognised that her concern with social issues, particularly the place of women in society, and her positioning as a rural regional writer, placed her alongside a wide-ranging collection of her contemporaries including Rose Macaulay, Clemence Dane, Rebecca West, Storm Jameson, Hugh Walpole, John Travena and Constance Holme. However, it was not popularity alone that gained her acceptance in a wider literary milieu. D. H. Lawrence, in a letter to Charles Lahr dated 7th October 1929, concerning the publication of Pansies (1929), suggested that “you might ask Rebecca West, Sheila Kaye-Smith – a smart woman or two” (The Letters of D. H. Lawrence 516) to give an opinion on the content of the poems, thus defining Kaye-Smith as a woman of some literary eminence and sound judgement in his estimation. While a twenty-first century readership might not wish to subscribe to the opinions and judgements of Kaye-Smith’s contemporaries, such material is pertinent in the placing of Kaye-Smith in a context of the middlebrow literary landscape of the 1920s and 30s. What set Kaye-Smith apart from her fellow writers of rural regional fiction and many of the women middlebrow novelists, was her concern for the rural working classes: those who worked on the land and the issues that affected their lives.
During the 1920s Kaye-Smith was at her most prolific. Like many of her generation she had been greatly affected by the First World War, and her writing of the 1920s and early 1930s reflects this. Several of her novels, either directly, or through the metaphorical imagery of destruction and battle, reference the war and illustrate the lasting, damaging legacy of that conflict. Much of her fiction is preoccupied with the changes in society that followed in the wake of peace, as she adopts a political agenda that is reflected in the subject matter she addresses in the novels of this time. From the early 1920s Kaye-Smith uses her rural and regional settings to explore a number of social issues and to make socio-economic and socio-political observations. These included discussing and documenting the changing roles of women in rural society, the economic effects of the agricultural slump on the lives of the rural working classes and the gentry, the encroaching urbanisation of the countryside, and the loss of traditional country ways of life and skills. Not always critical of this brave new world, her contention throughout is that while change is inevitable, and sometimes for the best, each individual must work out their own destiny and freedom within society. Her religious beliefs and her love of the countryside inform her contention that human peace and contentment can only be attained by a spiritual and mystical contemplative communion with the natural world. What matters most to those characters, who are cast as admirable, is the contentment that comes from an acceptance of their lot in life, and her oft repeated central theme, of humanity’s place within the natural world. This is most aptly reflected in Reuben Backfield’s resolve that when he dies he “‘shan’t be afraid to lie in it [the earth] at last'” (SG 462), Bob Fuller’s assertion that in dying in May he was “going into the middle of all that’s alive” and he “can’t never lose the month of May” (GAH 285), and in Adam Cryall’s desire to have his ashes spread “upon the dust of the stubbled wheat” (VFP 224). For Kaye-Smith’s characters, in an ever changing world, stability comes from the dependable and predictable cycles of the seasons, the weather and the farming year. Their joy, solace, and optimism for the future, comes from their observation of nature combined with an implied recognition of their own place within the natural world. Stella Mount recognises hope for the future in the “starry beds of wood anemones” and “the first occasional violets” (EHA 332) of spring, while Fred Sinden perceives that even in a much-changed world the things that meant most to him “were with him still – the earth and its changes, the fields and their fruit” (PP 343).
While her earliest novels only tentatively approached an exploration of women’s place in society, her fiction that featured female protagonists from the 1920s and beyond is uncompromising in the presentation of women who are robust, determined and resolute in their desire to make their way in male-dominated worlds. The dilemmas that face Susan Spray, Joanna Godden and Rose Deeprose have relevance for a twenty-first century female readership. As Janet Montifiore suggests in her Introduction to Susan Spray, the focus of “The woman’s questions have a resonance now that her [Susan Spray’s] creator probably did not intend” (SS xii). Kaye-Smith champions the right of women to compete with men, and to stand as equals, in whichever field of activity they choose to pursue. To strengthen and reinforce her case she has allocated traditional male preserves as the chosen careers for her heroines, with Joanna Godden and Rose Deeprose finding satisfaction in farming, and Susan Spray as a female preacher. In the novels of the 1940s and 1950s, female characters still stand at the centre of the narrative, and although they are strong, steadfast and tenacious in their pursuit of a path in life, they are less overtly ambitious and competitive. All of Kaye-Smith’s female characters exemplify the central thematic strand that is woven throughout her fiction: they all find solace, peace and contentment in the countryside and it is to the natural world that they turn when they are in need of tranquillity. Equally, in common with many of her male protagonists, her female characters are ‘questing’ or ‘wayfaring’ individuals in search of a path to follow that offers them an understanding of who they are, and that gives a meaning to their lives.
The feminist message is not the only politically motivated strand that characterises Kaye-Smith’s fiction of the 1920s and beyond. With her abiding concern with the traditions of the countryside and her love of the Sussex rural landscape, it is not surprising that the focus of her socio-political and socio-economic criticism is directed at the changes wrought in agriculture and farming life by the agricultural slump that occurred in the aftermath of the First World War. She is accepting of the inevitability of change and modernisation and sees much that is beneficial to those who live and work in farming communities. She is saddened and angered by the loss of the paternalism of the gentry and in The End of the House of Alard makes plain her condemnation of Gervase Alard’s sale of his inherited estate. She abhors the indiscriminate house-building that attracted town-dwellers to the country and that blighted Sussex with sprawling urbanisation. She is at her most outspoken when condemning the pain and suffering that has been caused to those who have lost their jobs and livelihoods because of prohibitive taxation, government policy and a general centralisation of control over rural affairs that means the destruction of traditional farming methods. Her political advocacy for the countryside as a “place of business, of hard work” (KF 203) became explicit in her writing by the middle of the Second World War when she was living in the heart of the Sussex countryside. As an ardent advocate for the farming industry she felt that in the national political outlook farming should be regarded as on the same footing as other large industries, and as such should “have its place in ‘progressive’ political programmes instead of being regarded by the protagonists as the symbol of Tory reaction” (KF 203). Her eloquent and heartfelt call for a fair-deal for the countryside has a resonance for the twenty-first century when considered in the light of modern organic and environmental movements that campaign for food security. Kaye-Smith’s constant, informed love for the countryside is most powerfully and passionately stated in her assertion that “The day we lose our countryside as a real thing – a working thing, an independent thing, a self-respecting thing – we lose our soul” (KF 204). All of her fiction attests to this staunchly-held belief.
Her fiction reflects the spirit of the age. Often her early work appears to relate the perceptions of an outsider overlooking the world of the countryside, but in her later novels she is “much more than a detached observer” (TJA 18) of the countryside and the current of events that affect the lives of those around her. As she had commented of Jane Austen, Kaye-Smith was “watching the stream of history flow” (TJA 18) but her observations of the times in which she lived were not viewed from a distance, but rather she found herself “carried along ” (TJA 18) by the tide of change. Although she abhorred some aspects of the modern world she viewed much of that change with sympathy, recognising that change was inevitable. However, during the interwar years she became aware of the national mood and a nostalgia for an Englishness that had become identified with the perceived traditional ways of the countryside.

With a careful balancing act, Kaye-Smith stayed true to her agenda of realism by presenting the hardship and harsh reality of rural life, but she combined this with sufficient idyllic pictures of the landscape to allow her readership to retain their fantasy of country life as wholesome and timeless. Her desire with her fiction was to provide a “form of escapism” that allowed her reader to experience a world that was “enough like [their] own to be real” but “unlike enough to be stimulating” (TJA 208). By the 1930s and through to the post-war years, Kaye-Smith was using her “nostalgic views of rural life . . . in the service of a political intervention” ( Head 121). Her mission was to persuade those in a position of political authority to recognise that the countryside is “the scene of one of the most vital, most neglected, most maltreated of our national industries” and to argue that “Any great extension of its present occupation by urban fundamentalists would mean the end of farming except as a hobby” (KF 203). By the late 1930s this nostalgic conception of the countryside, that her urban readership saw as quintessentially English, was linked with the patriotism of popular culture. For example the popular song “There’ll always be an England” (1939) promoted the notion that there will always be an England “While there’s a country lane. Wherever there’s a cottage small/ Beside a field of grain” . Throughout her later fiction Kaye-Smith presented her readers with rural life rooted in realism while allowing for an escape to a fantasy world that was not threatened by the mechanised forces of war or modernity.
As well as reflecting her own interests and concerns, Kaye-Smith’s fiction often adopts or emulates the prevailing trends of the time. During and after the First World War her rural writing echoed the Georgian poets interest in an Englishness that rested on images of landscape, nature and a love of the English countryside. Like Vita Sackville-West she celebrated the beauty of the Kent and Sussex countryside and the lives of those who lived and worked there. Kaye-Smith’s novels of the 1920s and more especially the 1930s and beyond, with their preoccupation with aspects of religion, place her among convert Catholic novelists such as Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. Unlike Waugh and Greene her novels were never explicitly Catholic but her characters are invariably portrayed as wayfarers, pilgrims, in transit, or on a journey metaphorical or actual that will lead to a sense of self-understanding and a spiritual awareness. Like Waugh and Greene she illustrates the mysterious workings of divine grace and a universality of faith and hope that is only offered by the Catholic church.
While it is plain that Kaye-Smith’s fiction was primarily rural and regional, and that on occasion she placed a strong emphasis on a religious dimension, her work also represents a strand of the middlebrow that has been neglected by those who have chosen to foreground women’s middlebrow writing in recent years. Her readership and popularity in the inter-war years places her securely in the middlebrow, albeit a middlebrow that encompasses a wide spectrum of genres. She fulfils Woolf’s criteria of being ‘betwixt and between’ the bestseller and literary fiction, and Kaye-Smith had no pretensions about herself as a novelist or reader; she felt that in both she was “average middle-brow . . . [her] brow is not high, neither is it narrow” (ABML 171).
The carefully chosen selection of Kaye-Smith’s fictional writing that is considered here illustrates the development of her writing as a regional, rural and religious novelist but there is still scope for further work on her fiction. There is considerable scope for further deliberation and exploration of Kaye-Smith’s fiction as writing of the self, and the lasting effects of the First World War on her writing, could offer interesting lines of enquiry. In addition the ethnographic and historical uses that could be afforded by her Alard novels might fruitfully add to academic enquiry into the agricultural slump.
Although she stayed true to her championing of a regional rural agenda, with a socio-political, religious and moral message, Kaye-Smith’s novels from the late 1940s and the 1950s were increasingly old-fashioned, out-dated and parochial, when compared with the work of other popular writers. Among these were Rumer Godden, (a Sussex writer who eventually bought Little Doucegrove from Penrose Fry), Daphne Du Maurier, George Orwell, Ian Fleming, William Golding and J. R. R. Tolkien. Kaye-Smith’s publishers traded on her reputation from the past, but the sales for her later works were modest. After her death Cassell’s noted that Kaye-Smith “became the literary hit of the Twenties and best-seller followed best-seller”, but by the Fifties the critics were only able to praise her characterisation and her nostalgic recreation of country life. Although a twenty-first century multi-cultural readership might well find the overtly religious aspects of a few of her novels unappealing, some of Kaye-Smith’s fiction has a resonance for a modern audience. Her overall emphasis on, and concern for, the rural environment voices a nostalgic view of Britain that speaks directly to a sense of parochial identity in a globally focused world, and the stereotypical escapist dream of life in the countryside. With this in mind I think it would now be timely for a re-issue of a number of Kaye-Smith’s novels. Joanna Godden and Susan Spray, her novels that are concerned to show the dilemmas faced by women in society have a real relevance for women today, while her two war novels Little England and Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum are unique in their dealings with war from the perspective of those on the home front, particularly women, and therefore each of these is worthy of re-publication. Those novels that take farming life as the focus of their narrative, and/or have their basis in the agricultural slump of the 1920s and 30s, have a value not only as a fictionalised record of those times but also as historical ethnology, and as such there is good reason for a re-print of Sussex Gorse and The Ploughman’s Progress.
Kaye-Smith’s fiction addresses issues that are universal and timeless and they do, therefore, possess a lasting value. Always true to her subject matter, her work springs from “some fundamental wisdom and tolerance as old as the earth itself, and as indisputable”.
Her dedication to her literary work and her overwhelming reason for writing fiction was considered by her to be a vocation driven by her religious beliefs and informed by her life-long love of the countryside of Sussex and Kent.


The View From the Parsonage

The View From the Parsonage was Sheila Kaye-Smith’s last published novel. Her untimely death in January 1956 brought an end to the publication of her fiction. There is some indication that she had been working on a number of works but these have never seen the light of day and were quite possibly only at an ideas stage of planning.

The View From the Parsonage is a “study in nostalgia”, presented as a first-person narrative that spans fifty years from the 1890s to the outbreak of the Second World War. Narrated by a village parson but not presented in diary form, The View From the Parsonage is in the tradition of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth-century diary of a clergyman, such as Parson Woodforde’s Diary of a Country Parson, or John Galt’s novel, The Annals of the Parish, that purports to be the diary of a Presbyterian Minister. It comments on national affairs but with a concentration on the personal and parochial affairs of a small rural parish. The narrator is Parson Harry Chamberlin, whose view from the Parsonage is twofold. There is the actual view from his window on to the farm and the land beyond that forms the setting for the novel. However, there is also the metaphorical “view back over the rough country” of the past, that his generation and Kaye-Smith’s had travelled across to reach the present “firm and tranquil ground”. As well as providing a recollection of the social changes that have affected rural life in England throughout those fifty years, this novel returns to Kaye-Smith’s early works in having a rural and regional setting located on the edge of Romney Marsh, and with religion at the centre of the narrative. In the course of the novel Kaye-Smith brings together many of the foci and features of her extensive oeuvre. This novel returns to the lyrical description of the countryside of the Kent/Sussex borders that had established her reputation as a regional, rural writer. She continues to emphasise the differences between town and country as, through Chamberlin, she leaves the reader in no doubt of her conviction that the rural environment is by far superior to the urban. As with the other novel considered in this chapter, this work is concerned with an exploration of time and memory and addresses questions raised by social change. However, the central thesis of the novel is the nature of religious belief. Kaye-Smith uses her characters to scrutinise the “manifestation of God in the world and each individual’s response to it” (Walker 112). She compares the relative merits of mainstream Anglicanism, as seen in the narrator, with Roman Catholicism, exemplified by Edward Boutflower and more especially Blanche Cryall, and with the atheism espoused by Adam Cryall after his rejection of the Christian ministry.
She asserted in the late 1930s that once she wrote from imagination or her “unconscious mind”, but now “the cupboard of this internal Mother Hubbard is bare, and I must take my imagination out into the highways” (TWH 255). The setting of this novel lacks the imaginative re-arrangement of landscape that had featured in her early novels. Kaye-Smith has been faithful to her chosen topographical and geographical setting and her village of Palster-in-Ebony is an amalgam of Stone-cum-Ebony and Stone-in-Oxney. In earlier novels she had introduced her characters and setting in time and place with a looking back at the history of the community, but this technique is used sparingly here. In a few sentences Kaye-Smith establishes a sense of the physical change that has affected Ebony throughout the fifty years of the narrative, and this subsequently becomes a metaphor for the social and religious changes that have affected the lives of the inhabitants. In 1892 “the ferry was still working. The lower reaches of Wet Level were seldom clear of water between November and May, and the old black tub would glide across the shallows, at hours of its own choosing, from the wharf below Mockbeggar to the toll-house” (VFP 7). In contrast, in the present of the late 1930s, Ebony “has a gentle shore-green meadow [that] becomes green marsh” (VFP 6) but “in winter even now the sea is back, salting the overflow of the dykes and the swollen river and lying in sullen floods upon Wet Level” (VFP 7).
There is less cohesion between the natural world, the seasons and human activity than in previous works. In this novel depictions of the landscape are used to reflect the relationship that those who live in Ebony have with their surroundings – sometimes these are used to enhance the pathos of a situation or more frequently to set the scene for some incident of human interaction, or as a framework within which the human drama is played out. Central to all of Kaye-Smith’s philosophy of the land is the strength of the bond between the individual human being and the countryside. This attachment to place is illustrated most fully in the realisation of Adam Cryall. In his own eyes, Cryall is defined by his umbilical connection to the land and in particular the landscape of Ebony. When faced with estrangement from this environment he experiences a “nausea of craving” in realising that he
might never again see that view from the Parsonage field – or the red sun hanging in winter above the woods over there by the river’s bend at Methersham – or that sharp white corner of Potmanskiln Lane . . . [that] shines in the moonlight above Barrow’s Land. (VFP 19).
Cryall accepts “death as a part of Nature” (VFP 216). Like the changing of the seasons, it is “one of her [nature’s] processes for cleansing and remaking the world” (VFP 216). This attitude towards the cycle of life and death makes reference to the myth that those who live their lives close to the earth have an acceptance of death as part of the natural order, and also to Kaye-Smith’s often re-iterated belief in the unique relationship between the country dweller and the natural world. An instance was the death of Sam Holman, “a good old man” whose “painless, peaceful end had been in true affinity with the fields where the wheat slumbered and with the trees that revealed their beauty in their leafless boughs” (VFP 56). This reinforces the fantasy of a countryside that is constantly stable, unchanging and able to withstand the increasingly mechanised and technological influences that affect Kaye-Smith’s urban readership. Throughout the text Kaye-Smith has conjured up an idyllic imagined countryside in which the seasons are characterised by a perpetual immutability. A summer day ends when the “motionless air thickened at dusk into crimson bars at the western edges of the sky” (VFP 74), the early autumn is a time when “the misty gold of the hedges had become clear splashes of yellow, red and brown” (VFP 99), and winter is “bringing cold winds from the marsh and fogs which lay around the isle like another sea” (VFP 102). The rural environment in this novel is no longer the harsh landscape of Sussex Gorse, nor is it the working countryside of Romney Marsh seen in Joanna Godden. For the vast majority of her readership, who were living in the cities and urban areas of Britain, Kaye-Smith has provided the fictional equivalent of the Shell petrol company posters or the railway tourist posters that were used in the 1950s to promote travel to the countryside. The narrator, Harry Chamberlin, is town-born like Kaye-Smith and the majority of her readership, and his perceptions of the countryside speak directly to the nostalgic dream of England as a green and pleasant land. Ebony and the surrounding area is “a world of green pastures and shallow waters and long dreaming days” (VFP 10). There is nothing the same as “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” (VFP 267).
Reviews of The View From the Parsonage made little mention of the setting or the depictions of the countryside, and were critical of the slow pace of the narrative that made the novel appear out-dated and old-fashioned, much as her early work had been recognised as reminiscent of Victorian fiction by some critics. This last novel had an “air of indirection” so that the “exterior tale moves like an English village fete”. In the handling of religion reviewer Robert Bowen feels that “there is no suggestion of a statement of faith”. There was no reason to believe that “Kaye-Smith felt that Catholicism was intrinsically different from any other religion or . . . that religion was ultimately different from any other basis for human behaviour”.
In this novel Kaye-Smith is not proselytising as she had been in The End of the House of Alard, or preaching her own religious message as she had in Green Apple Harvest. Rather, she is presenting the reader with a philosophical exploration, through her depiction of a number of characters, of what makes a good Christian soul content with life. To conduct this theoretical fictionalised experiment, Kaye-Smith must contrast the beliefs of her three main characters. The narrator is suspicious of Roman Catholicism. He is “innocent, good, kind, and safe” (Walker 121) in his ‘view from the parsonage’. He is assiduous in carrying out his duties as “a loyal, devoted son” (VFP 249) of the church who, each Sunday, holds “an early service besides Morning and Evening Prayer” and delivers “two sermons” (VFP 265-266). Chamberlin, with his prejudices and limitations of vision and faith represents the culmination of Kaye-Smith’s fictional portrayals of the Anglican clergy. The first person narrative allows for a gentle self-critical appraisal of Chamberlin’s short-comings in his worldliness and lack of spirituality. This gossipy all-too-human priest acknowledges that he enjoys the ‘good things’ and sometimes fears that “I appreciate them too much” (VFP 27). His spirituality and the need for faith to influence everyday life and actions he learns through observation, experience and from those around him – most notably Adam Cryall and Blanche Cryall. By the end of the text he is portrayed as an innocent good man. He is happy to be an ‘old shepherd’ to his flock, but he finds his joy in appreciating the worldly things of life. He has, however, learnt that selfless acts of charity and a closeness to nature bring a certain contentment. His greatest joy is his love for “Ebony and the men of the Marsh, who are still [his] men” (VFP 267-268).
Kaye-Smith’s investigation of faith places Chamberlin as the observer/informer in the narrative, and as such he is in a central, pivotal position between Adam Cryall, an atheist, and his daughter, Blanche Cryall, who eventually becomes a Roman Catholic nun. The complex characterisation of Adam Cryall is necessitated by Kaye-Smith’s desire to promote the same fundamental views that had inspired her other religious novels – that God is “in all things, no matter how simple and seemingly insufficient” (TWH 139). As a young man Adam represents the ideal clergyman. Borne out of a social conscience to help those in need, his work in the London slums involves him in visiting the homes of the poor in “courts and alleys that were shunned by the police” (VFP 13). He made a rash decision to “clean up Jute Street and Sody Street” by tackling the “lucrative vice” that was “not only harlots but all perversions for hire” (VFP 16). Applying the same contrived manipulation of the plotting that she had used in previous works, Kaye-Smith introduces a series of co-incidental but unrealistic twists to her narrative so that she can change Adam from the perfect clergyman to an atheist “Lord of the Manor” at Palster Manor. In line with Kaye-Smith’s view that God works through those who acknowledge his existence and those who do not, Adam continues to be an honest, just individual who extends the hand of charity to those in need, and is true to his own creed.
His paternalistic attitude to those around him means that he serves the community by providing the Village Hall and a playing field, and in secret acts of charity he “saved poor men from debt and old folk from the workhouse” (VFP 145). Defined by ‘goodness’, ‘charity’, the “sunshine of his humanism” (VFP 144), “a good life” that has been “mostly summer” (VFP 222), and a belief in ‘mankind’, like Reuben Backfield in Sussex Gorse, at the end of his life he is content. To illustrate the naturalness of death and Adam as a humanist countryman, Kaye-Smith utilises a metaphor of autumn trees. Adam is “ready to go”, he is no more than a “leaf that must fall”, and “it’s the tree, not the leaf that matters” (VFP 222). In an extension of this metaphor, Adam’s belief in the intrinsic goodness and progress of mankind as “a tree that grows taller and stronger with every generation” speaks to Kaye-Smith’s own belief in the existence of a unique bond between the natural world, humanity and a religious faith. This is echoed at Adam’s humanist funeral when Chamberlin states of him that “he himself did not believe in God. But he was much better than many of us – than any of us – who do. God did his work in him without his knowing it. All that you loved in Adam Cryall was God’s work” (VFP 227). In Kaye-Smith’s theoretical investigation of religious faith, her placement of him as a good man who has lived a Christian life without acknowledging this fact, means that he is able to reap “his Maker’s reward for a good life lived without Him”. Adam is saved from witnessing the horror of the First World War because he was taken “from this world six months before that shot was fired at Sarajevo” (VFP 223).
Figured throughout the text as the countryman, Adam Cryall is rendered in the same terms of nostalgia and idealism that characterise Kaye-Smith’s countryside. He is a shadowy heir to the protagonists of her earlier fiction. Where Reuben Backfield, Bob Fuller, Mr Sumption or Fred Sinden were portrayed as men who worked the land, understood nature’s harshness as well as its beauty, had an affinity with the natural world, and who found God in their communion with the soil, Adam Cryall is shown as a gentle man who is distanced from direct contact with the actuality of nature. Kaye-Smith has attempted to make him her country philosopher who lives his life in tune with the seasons and the world of nature but in her positioning of him firstly as an educated clergyman, and latterly the “Lord of the Manor”, she has made him less than convincing in this role.
In contrast to both Chamberlin and Adam Cryall, Blanche Cryall is presented as the perfect Christian, an exemplar of the hard road that must be trodden to attain true faith. In an imitation of Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress, Blanche must travel a hard road to faith with many difficulties along the way. Her journey is fraught with doubt, and becomes a “slow-motion progress, with endless set-backs and false starts” (VFP 250). Although she “kept on falling back and having to start again” (VFP 251) the journey eventually led Blanche to her religious life. From an initial position as an atheist, her eventual coming to faith is characterised by her fervency as a convert. Overwhelmed by the spiritual joy of her baptism, she felt that she was like
a new born babe [when she] entered the Church, though unlike a newborn babe, [she] had the unparalleled joy of knowing what was being done to [her] . . . [she] stood there at the font absolutely pure and sinless after all [her] sins. It wasn’t just the scrubbed cleanness of absolution, but the perfect whiteness of a new creature (VFP 250).
In a continued engineering of the plot to prove her theory that Catholicism is the only true and satisfactory form of Christianity, Kaye-Smith figures this baptismal start to Blanche’s new life as a Roman Catholic as offering the greatest of rewards. Blanche is the only one of Kaye-Smith’s central characters whose Catholic faith comes to define who she is and she is the only one who by the end of the novel has devoted her life to faith. She is, however, the last in a long line of characters who reflect, like Rose Deeprose, the mysterious workings of divine grace.
Where Chamberlin sees the risks of life as a Poor Clare to be ‘repugnant’, ‘inhuman’, ‘vile’ and something to “thoroughly disapprove of” (VFP 260), Blanche sees her decision in a much more positive light. She will no longer be “thoroughly selfish” (VFP 260), but will be fulfilling her understanding of God’s will in that He “wants me to give myself to him more completely” (VFP 261). Kaye-Smith uses the symbolism of the rose that Chamberlin has bred and cultivated to emphasise the perfection and purity of Blanche’s faith.
In a complex referencing of the iconography of the Rosary, the medieval and renaissance depictions of the Virgin Mary in a rose garden, the white rose as a symbol of purity, and the use of the imagery of the rose in the liturgy of the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Kaye-Smith equates the new rose that has been produced by Chamberlin with Blanche and her faith. Characterised by perfection, based on sight and smell, the rose is white as a reflection of Blanche’s name, it has ” a golden shadow at its heart” (VFP 230), and therefore incorporates the two hues that make up the Papal colours. Its scent is “a gust of sweetness – the sweetness of tea and honey” (VFP 231), and it is a symbolic image of the life that Blanche will live as a Christian, that should be blameless and golden at its heart. As well as her sense of a religious vocation, Blanche’s version of a perfect Christianity involves not just faith but also selfless good works. On a visit to New York she worked with those in need and saw it as “wonderful work – to help the people at the bottom not from above them, but from the bottom too, as one of themselves” (VFP 258-259). In the conclusion of Kaye-Smith’s survey of what makes a good Christian soul, Blanche’s life reflects the goodness of her father combined with the author’s ideal of religious belief. The story of Blanche’s religious life contains fictionalised and exaggerated aspects of Kaye-Smith’s own. She had at one time considered herself an atheist and like Blanche she had come to an adult religious faith as a result of her experience of the First World War. The descriptions of Blanche’s conversion and subsequent baptism are rendered with the emotionalism of one who has experienced the same spiritual awakening. Blanche’s reception into the Poor Clares reflects Kaye-Smith’s own strong faith that was reflected in her membership of the tertiary order of the Dominicans. It was endorsed by the stipulation in her Will that she should be buried “clothed in the religious habit of the Dominican Order in which habit I am entitled to be buried as a member of the Secular Third Order of Saint Dominic”. While Blanche most closely reflects Kaye-Smith’s religious views, it is through the voice of the narrator, Chamberlin, that the reader hears her nostalgia for, and remembrances of, the past. The years before the First World War are written about with the sentimental wistfulness of one who chooses to forget the unpleasant times, overlaying that which is recalled with a patina of “elegiac love of the past that makes it all seem so beautiful” (VFP 144). Those times are like a “distant hill-top on which the sun still shines” (VFP 144). Voicing the view of many of Kaye-Smith’s generation, Chamberlin looks back on the First World War as a significant turning point in which the world as it had been “had come to an end in 1914”; by the 1920s “the old order had passed away” (VFP 240). In looking back to the more recent past, the late 1930s, i.e. the time at which the novel ends, Kaye-Smith does not portray the Second World War as a climactic time in the lives of those who experienced it. In contrast to the descriptions of the air raids and bombing raids that feature in Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum, the narrative that focuses on the Second World War underplays the possible effects of an airborne war. Writing with the benefit of hindsight but couching her narrative in the guise of foresight, Kaye-Smith has Chamberlin adjudging that this will be a different kind of war, in which the Navy will play a lesser part. The Germans will bring the war to the civilian rural population of Kent but only in the form of “a certain number of bombs [that] will be jettisoned by fighting or escaping aircraft, and there may well be some civilian casualties” (VFP 268). The considerations of the past are not merely concerned with war. Kaye-Smith also utilises the panoramic viewpoint she has ascribed to her narrator to document and comment upon the changes in societal attitudes and behaviour.
The focus of these changes is Blanche Cryall, who is used particularly as a vehicle to highlight the changing attitudes to women. As with the handling of religion in this text, the author offers no “particular way which she feels the materials she handles should be viewed” and she “withholds her judgement in sectarian matters”. While greater freedoms were attained by women between the end of the nineteenth century and the end of the 1930s, Kaye-Smith is careful to show that the ramifications of these would not always be positive. The issue of women’s education is the focus of Blanche’s early years. Her “scholastic and specialized education” (VFP 69) is seen as divisive and sets her apart from those around her, most notably her yeoman farmer husband. His reverence for education makes him determined, against her wishes, that she should not be “looking and behaving like any ordinary farmer’s wife” (VFP 69). Throughout the novel, education is portrayed as a mixed blessing. It becomes the key to a greater autonomy for Blanche as an individual, but is the source of much of the heartache and joy in her life. Her education takes her away from the countryside to teach in a London girls’ school where she is able to enjoy a “pleasant change . . . among people of her own type and education” (VFP 150). In a rather contrived plotting, however, Blanche’s subsequent meeting and love affair with Anthony Boutflower is used to illustrate the author’s belief that marriage is for life and that divorce can be destructive for all involved. The consequences of Blanche’s divorce are far reaching: Boutflower, as a Catholic cannot marry her and his struggle with his conscience eventually leads to his death in the First World War; her divorced husband cannot cope without her and commits suicide, and her father, although a free-thinker in many ways had “failed to prepare him[self] for his daughter’s marriage ending in the divorce court” (VFP 170). For Blanche the divorce is shown to be part of her wider religious education and part of the life journey to her conversion. It leads her to devote her time and efforts towards the care of others by “training as a V.A.D. nurse . . . then driving an ambulance in France” where she is “slightly wounded by a piece of shrapnel” (VFP 242). As with the portrayal of religion, Kaye-Smith’s handling of the secular change that affected society is apparently even-handed. With the contrivances of plotting, however, she has left her readership with the Catholic message that the life of faith and selfless giving, exemplified in Blanche, is the only satisfactory way to find contentment and peace.
Although it was never Kaye-Smith’s intention to make The View From the Parsonage her final novel, it is a fitting valedictory work. In her memoir, Three Ways Home, she had stated that throughout her life there had been three things which mattered most to her: the country, her writing and her religion which made up the “the third strand in the shining cord” (TWH 5). In this final novel, Kaye-Smith uses her writing to portray the countryside she loved, and to pursue a philosophical exploration of the nature of a good Christian life while focusing on some of those social issues that had become important to her in her later years. By 1954 Kaye-Smith was seen as an old-fashioned writer with a limited appeal to the reading public. While her old friend Gladys Stern saw “humour and shrewdness” in The View From the Parsonage. Others saw the novel as “a long, dull, sentimental, pretentious, Victorian tale”. While the reviewer for The Saturday Review maintained it was “hard to be sure what a book’s message is”. Damning and overly harsh though this criticism is, it highlights the fact that Kaye-Smith’s fiction of the 1950s could not compete with the plethora of reading matter available. Fiction with an emphasis on the rural, and religion, held little interest for a generation of readers who could choose the exciting and fast moving James Bond novels, the fantasy works of J.R.R. Tolkien, or the literary novels of William Golding. By choosing a first-person narrative and a cleric as her central character, Kaye-Smith had returned to the format she had used in her first novel, The Tramping Methodist. Similarly, although more carefully crafted, her descriptions of the natural world have an idyllic quality that speaks to a nostalgic view of the countryside rather than the realism that had characterised her work of the late 1910s and 1920s. Nostalgia and selective remembrances of a past long gone and of a countryside that is not mechanised were the features of the novel that the publishers chose to highlight in their sales blurb. They described The View From the Parsonage as a “story of times now fading into the past. . . while the seasons moving over Ebony soothe us who live in less comfortable days with glimpses of a beauty that does not change”. However, at the centre of this novel lies Kaye-Smith’s concern with religion. Under the guise of her supposed even-handedness and the comparisons of different ways of leading a Christian life she subtly demonstrates, in her depiction of Blanche, that she believes that the only true faith is Roman Catholicism. Never overtly propagandist or proselytising, the novel states clearly Kaye-Smith’s position with regard to the relative merits of Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. She believed that opposition to, or a lack of adherents for, the Catholic faith in Britain was because of prejudice: “the inherited prejudice of three hundred years” (VFP 262).
Kaye-Smith’s writing from the Forties and Fifties, as exemplified by the two novels considered in this chapter, continues her concern with those issues that had begun to emerge in her writing of the Thirties. The consideration, exploration and development of differences in generational attitudes to life, the place of women in society, the continuing and ever present menace of war and its effects on everyday lives are all seen through her created microcosmic rural and provincial environments. In using the rhetoric of nostalgia, Kaye-Smith has added to those concerns that have featured in earlier works, by making time and memory central to the novels considered in this chapter. Her scrutiny of the effects of time is conducted through her own memories that in turn inform those that she gives to her characters. These novels are unique in her oeuvre in that they each have a structure that accommodates this consideration of time and is far removed from the linear and chronological structure of all of her previous novels.
The 1940s and 1950s saw a reduction in the number of works of fiction that Kaye-Smith produced. Her fiction of these years was not greeted with a great deal of enthusiasm and commanded no more than a small but loyal following of readers. Nevertheless her reputation was sufficient for her to be able to have a number of other works published. These were two volumes on Jane Austen, written jointly by her and Gladys Stern, along with a travel guide to the Weald, a biographical work on four female saints, and two volumes of memoir. Considered alongside the reliance in these later novels on her past life for her subject matter, there may well be an indication that both her desire and inspiration for writing fiction were coming to an end. Her sudden death in January 1956 meant that The View From the Parsonage was to be her last published novel.

The Stuppeny Tombs in New Romney and Lydd

The Stuppeny Tombs

The Table Tomb that lies in the chancel area of New Romney church of St. Nicholas is a rebuilt construction of Richard Stuppeny’s original tomb. It was rebuilt by his great grandson Clement (Jnr) and was only completed a few months before Clement died at the relatively young age of 27 in September 1622. During his life time this Clement had witnessed the death of his father, Richard, which took place when Clement was a small child, the death of his grand father, Clement (Snr), in 1608 at the age of 83, and the death of his uncle, Lawrence, five years later in 1613.
Richard Stuppeny may have been born in Ivychurch and the surname was probably a corruption of Stokepenny. The date of Richard’s birth is unknown neither do we know his age at the time of his death in 1540. What is of note however is the fact that Clement did not record the date of his great grandfather’s death correctly on the brass that was attached to the tomb. The inscription reads – “Here lyeth buried the body of Richard STUPPENYE Jurat of this town (New Romney) in the first year of King Henry VIII (1509) who died in the 18th year of the said king’s reign (1527) of whose memory Clement Stuppenye of the same port (New Romney) his great grandson hath caused this tomb to be new erected for the use of the Ancient meeting and election of mayor and Jurats of this port town June 10th 1622”. In his Will Richard had stipulated that his executors should see that he was buried in the south aisle of the church chancel of St. Nicholas and that his grave stone was to lie two feet above the foundation and was to have a picture of himself, his wife and children. If there was such a picture (brass) it seems it has been lost. However, we do know that the church authorities were probably very grateful to Clement for the re building because there are records that show that the building was in some state of disrepair in the early 17th century.
Although we know only a little about Richard Stuppeny we do know that he served New Romney as a Jurat on more than one occasion and that he served as a Burgess in Parliament in 1516. He was also admitted as a freeman of New Romney on 22nd March 1512. Richard Stuppeny was a man of some substance in New Romney and in the wider Marsh economy. Richard was involved in the Inning of areas of salt marsh and in the 1490s and in the early 1500s he leased Agney, and Newland in 1517. (Both areas of land close to Fairfield). The interest of Richard Stuppeny in leased land in this area was considerable. When Stuppeny leased Newand he was also instrumental in doubling and extending the area of grazing land by Inning an area that became known as New Innings. (His leased land was leased from All Souls College, Oxford)
However, Richard’s was not the only tomb that the young Clement was responsible for erecting. With his uncle Lawrence he was also instrumental in the construction of the tomb of his grandfather – Clement (Snr) in Lydd church. Born in 1525 Clement Snr married three times and lived to the ripe old age of 83 dying in 1608. Clement Snr spent his early adult life in New Romney and he and his brother Lawrence were involved in the civic plays. Organised and undertaken by the town of New Romney and a number of surrounding villages, the Passion plays were staged annually. The plays were probably a series of pageants, performed over four days between Whitsun and September, portraying various episodes of Christ’ Passion. The most informative material on these plays comes from the reign of Mary Tudor and it was at this time that Clement and his brother took part. Clement and Lawrence are listed as taking the parts of Tormentors in the Jurats’ accounts of 1555/6. The list informs us that Clement represented “False at Need” and Lawrence “Untrust”. (Such characterisation essentially moved the play from a biblical representation of Christ’s Passion to a moral allegory.) Parts in the play were only taken by those who were of some standing in the town and each player had to pay £5 on the feast of the Epiphany when they “recyvyd players Speches or partes in theseyd playe”. This money seems to be have been returned if the players had learnt their speeches by the time of the rehearsals.
Soon after Lawrence’s death in 1557, Clement left New Romney and settled in Lydd. Some time later he was engaged in a dispute over land taxes with the authorities in New Romney. Unlike his father, Richard, Clement made no stipulations in his Will about his Tomb and only requested that he should be buried in earth, likewise there is no indication of any strong Protestant views. Clement Jnr (grandson) and Lawrence (son) were Clement Snr executors and it is they who decided that Clement Snr should be buried in the fine tomb in the south aisle of the chancel of Lydd church. (The tomb is now positioned in the north aisle of the chancel having been moved probably in the 19th century).
Like his father Clement Snr had served as both Jurat and Bailiff, but in his case in Lydd, and his tomb was placed close to the traditional site of the bailiff’s chair. He was first elected Jurat in 1565 and was elected bailiff seven times. Clement’s table top tomb is in some ways grander than that of Richard in New Romney. It is a large marble structure with a brass figure and an inscription that sets out Clement’s civic standing.
“Here lyeth buried the Body of Clement STUPPENY, one of the Jurats of the town who was chosen Jurat of the same town in the year of our Lord 1565. And afterwards elected Bailiff of the same town 7 times. He departed hence in the Lord 11th Nov 1608 aged 83 years.”
A poetic inscription on the tomb also points to the fragility of mans’ existence.
“In holy writ the Pilgrimage of Man
Here upon earth is likened to a span
His days uncertain brittle as glass
His chiefest glory like ye withering grass
A flower in field doth flourish fair a day
E’re tomorrow morn it vanisheth away
Such is our state, we now in glory flourish
But in an instant suddenly perish.”

The tomb building took place at a time when New Romney and Lydd were both in a period of decline and when the country as a whole had undergone considerable religious change. Their medieval importance as providers of ships was long over but they still retained the historical rights that had been part of their proud heritage. The unique position of the Cinque Ports was still treasured and brought with it certain rights and privileges. Among these privileges was the right of both towns to annually elect the civic officers who governed the towns – the Jurats and the Bailiff – and from the early 17h century these elections took place at the respective Stuppeny Tombs. Although the tombs themselves and the people they memorialise are of interest, the motivation of Clement Jnr is worth consideration. Why did he want to expend what must have been large sums of money to honour the names of his grandfather and great grandfather and how and why did he persuade the civic authorities to hold elections at these tombs?

Clement Jnr was a Protestant and as such he could not and would not be able to offer intercessionary prayers for his ancestors or endow chantry chapels in their names. Instead he turned to the tomb building that we see in each of the churches today to provide a lasting memorial. The placement of them close to the place where the Eucharist is celebrated and because they would have been very evident in the empty church buildings of the time adds to their importance. As Protestant churches the high altar of Catholic times had probably been abandoned and replaced by a communion table that was located in the chancel. Thus the tombs were positioned at the spiritual heart of the congregation and its commemoration of Christ’s Last Supper. This religious ceremonial was mirrored in the civic secular ceremonial of the community when the tombs became a focus for the civic life of the towns’ election process that took place around the tombs. In addition we know that the civic officers of each town occupied the pews around the communion table, appropriating the space that had formally been occupied by the clergy, and reinforcing and emphasising the civic officers roles as both spiritual and moral role models to the community. Likewise the placement of the tombs conveyed a political message. The fact that those that were commemorated had both been Jurats on a number of occasions and also served as Bailiff pointed to the importance of a social and political hierarchy within the towns.
Through the placement of the tombs in the chancels, Clement provided a very visible sign of the family’s privileged status within the communities and he went on to reiterate this in the inscriptions that he had added to the tombs. It will be noted that these inscriptions emphasis the civic roles that each man had held and the frequency of holding these roles. This emphasis on their conduct as civic officers enhanced their moral and political status in the eyes of the beholders of the tombs. Together, the inscriptions, the placement of the tombs and the tombs themselves provided an easily understood means of establishing a power dynamic for the family. The past was, therefore, used to reinforce the authority of the Stuppeny family as important members of the urban elite of these Cinque Port towns.
Equally, Clement was presented with a dilemma in the memorialising of his grandfather and great grandfather because both of them had lived, and/or spent, much of their lives, as Catholics. Whereas New Romney citizens had, in Mary’s reign, been strong adherents to the Catholic faith, by the early 17th century, when Clement was providing these tombs, adherence to a strongly Puritan faith had begun to exert influence over the civic life of the town. By the 1620s both New Romney and Lydd had a number of influential families that were of an extreme Protestant persuasion, although the parish church still provided the focus for the religious life of the community.

It will be noted that both tombs are unembellished, and that the inscriptions and the piety that they visibly demonstrate points to the piety of Clement himself as the descendant of these men. The charitable and voluntary nature of office holding and the commemoration of his ancestors as those who have given freely to the good of their respective communities also establishes a place for Clement as such a charitable individual. Equally it could be argued that in making sure his name is recorded on the New Romney Stuppeny tomb Clement (Jnr) has cemented his own position in society and for the future. This tomb acts as a memorialisation for him too. By persuading the authorities to make the tombs the focus of civic life Clement has succeeded in placing his family at the centre of community life. Thus he has been able to link past, present and future whilst memorialising his ancestors and himself. The tombs act as a bridge between the church and the commons – the secular and the sacred – and thus the tombs remain relevant and important to the living and succeed as well as uniting the Protestantism of Clement’s time with loyalty to a town’s proud past.

Clement was highly successful in this endeavour of memorialisation because the tombs were used as places of election until 1886 when national legislation transferred responsibility to town halls. Even today the visitor to the churches is reminded of the importance of these men and equally we recognise the importance of these tombs through our visual perception of their placement etc and as we are drawn to touch the marble slabs and read the inscriptions. Today we “read” the tombs in our own way and come to an understanding of them that is influenced by our own experiences and the narratives that we apply to the Stuppenys in these communities. However, without doubt Clement was highly successful in memorialising his family for far longer than I suspect he ever envisaged. The Stuppenys remain incontrovertibly entwined with the history and heritage of each of these towns.

Romney Marsh sheep, Lookers and Lookers Huts

Romney Marsh Lookers, Lookers Huts and Sheep

By the late 17th century the Romney Marsh was established as a premier sheep rearing area. By 1660 the Marsh was the least humanly populated area of Kent but the sheep population was approx 5 times greater than any other area of Kent. By the 18th century commentators were noting the quality and quantity of sheep on the Marsh as well as praising the ideal conditions that were present on the Marsh for the rearing of sheep. The developed strain of sheep – Romneys – were ideally suited to the requirements of the times. They provided copious amounts of fat mutton and equally good quality, heavy weight, long staple, fine wool.
Daniel Defoe writing in 1724 commented that “Romney Marsh is a rich fertile soil, full of feeding grounds and where an infinite number of large sheep are fed every year”. William Marshall, writing his 2 volume review of agricultural practice in the southern counties of England, published in 1798, used the word Looker in his comments on the sheep keeping on Romney Marsh. He noted that “everywhere the management of the Marshes, and the stock they carry, is committed, in a great measure, to the care of the Marshmen – provincially ‘Lookers’; whose cabins and pens are seen scattered over the area of the Marsh”.
In 1823 William Cobbett in his “Rural Rides” commented not only on the quantity of sheep on the Marsh but also on their size and appearance. He noted that “the flocks are immense. The sheep are of a breed that takes its name from the Marsh . . . Very pretty and large. The wethers, when fat, weigh about twelve stone. . . The whole sheep is as white as a piece of writing paper. . . The wool does not look dirty and oily like that of other sheep. This Marsh abounds in every part” with flocks of sheep “and the sight is most beautiful”.
In 1786 the Rev David Jones of New Romney noted that the Lookers had, for some time, undertaken selective breeding, careful management of grazing, adopted specialist care at lambing time, and had kept detailed stock registers. The management of the grazing land was considered key to the quality of the sheep stock. With well maintained drainage and field boundaries as well as thistles etc removed from the regularly grazed land, John Boys reported in 1805 that “with the constant verdure and innumerable quantity of sheep always feeding on the land” there was a “universal neatness and beauty of appearance” to the land.
The Lookers age old test to see if a pasture was well grazed was said to be to throw a sixpence as far as one could and then go and look for it. If you could not find it then the pasture had not been grazed hard enough.
The selective breeding of the Romney Marsh sheep produced an animal that was ideally suited to difficult climactic conditions of the Marsh. In essence, the area which is exposed and bleak, suffers from severe winds from the east and gales from the west that sweep, unchecked, across the land from the sea. In hot dry summers there is no shelter or shade from the sun because the Marsh has few hedges or trees. The Romneys have been breed to thrive in these conditions. The are hardy, thrifty, fecund, mature early and produce a heavy weight fine wool.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries sheep reigned supreme on the Marsh and the custodians of these mighty flocks were the Lookers. The name Looker comes from their duty in ‘looking’ after the land and flocks and therefore they were said to be ‘looking’ for their employer/s. The land was owned by absentee landlords – some were New Romney or Lydd tradesmen who had diversified into farming whilst others were larger land owners from the county gentry or yeoman farmers often from the ‘upland’. An example of a tradesman farmer can be found in the person of Thomas Baker of Lydd who was a carpenter by trade but by 1744 he owned sheep that were worth more than his tools and timber stock. The gentry families were represented by the Derings, Twisdens and the Knatchbulls. All of these landowners employed Lookers to oversee their flocks.

The Looker was responsible for riding across the land he had in his care once a day – usually in the morning – to see whether any sheep have fallen into ditches, to count the sheep, to make sure the flock was intact, to check all boundaries and mend etc as required, to check the sheep to see if they are healthy, and to check for fly strike. The Looker always had a dog with him. On average a Looker would be responsible for 3 to 5 hundred acres of ground and the stock therein. Frequently a Looker would be contracted to several different land owners. Although the Looker was usually based in a village at busy times such as shearing, lambing or washing, for example, the Looker would use a Lookers’ Hut. A contemporary description of a typical Looker described him as a man who was “generally in easy circumstances” not rich or poor but what might be described as of a middlin sort (middle class). He would have a house at an easy rent in a Marsh village, the keep of a cow, the fat of dead sheep and the lamb skins if they lambert the flocks, the privilege of keeping a horse on the master’s ground, and the Looker would be paid for his work – approx 8d per acre per annum. These circumstances enable him to live comfortably and if he was prudent he was able to save a little money. As an example in 1766 one Richard Reynolds was paid £2 10s for ‘looking’ after land in Newchurch and for cutting thistles on said land. He would also have been paid by other landowners as a Looker. Among a Lookers duties, as well as looking after those flocks he was contracted to oversee, would have been the oversight of any land which he worked that was up for auction or available to lease. He would have shown perspective owners around the land and answered any questions they might have had about the Scot payable etc. Land advertised on the Marsh often included the details of a house and requisite buildings that were required for a Looker.

On each area of land that was the Looker’s responsibility there would be a Looker’s Hut and pens. In the Huts the Looker would keep his tools and medicines and at busy times such as lambing and shearing the Looker would stay in the Hut for as long as was required. At lambing times this could be for several weeks and his family would bring food etc on Sundays. The Huts were brick built but varied in size, however the basic pattern prevailed and is unique to Romney Marsh. In the 19th century there were probably as many as 300 Lookers’ Huts on Romney Marsh but by 1973 there were only 23 left and many of these have now disappeared leaving us with only 15 at the most. (Some of these may now have been demolished or be in a state of disrepair.)
The first concrete evidence of Lookers Huts and their locations dates back to the Tithe maps for Romney Marsh that range from 1817 to 1844. Those recorded on these maps were clearly in existence by he early 1800s but the earliest reference to a “sheephouse” is to be found on a map of Walland Marsh produced by Thomas Gull in the 16th century where he names an area between Old and New Cheyne Court as Sheephouse Fleet. The locations for Lookers Huts, whilst they are now isolated, may have originally been near to settlements that have been lost. Today the sites are either near to medieval settlements such as farmsteads or they are close to footpaths. A good example is the Looker’s Hut at Dymchurch – a footpath links the Hut to Dymchurch village centre and also to the former moated site of Marshalls Bridge and it is set among the earthworks of a former farm that was depicted on a map of 1652. No trace of the farm survived by 1759.
The configuration of the buildings was simple and functional. They were small, purpose built, single-roomed, single storeyed structures with a fireplace and chimney. Usually constructed of brick with a tiled roof, a single door and a single small window and almost always rectangular. Interestingly the bricks used in construction were often produced locally on the Marsh. These were produced in the 18th and 19th centuries, and were small scale bricks, hand made and of generally poor quality with uneven burning and a granular coarse fabric. The walls were a single brick thickness and timber used in the roof was often re purposed from other buildings. Internal walls were usually lime washed and often graffitied with sheep numbers, lamb numbers, dates and calculations.
An example of a Looker who would have utilised a Lookers Hut in and around Ivychurch is Edward Brignall. Born in 1787 he is recorded as working for a Mr Walter Mutton of Ashford although he probably also worked for other landowners. Edward Brignall died on 13th April 1831 aged 44 years. His cause of death is unclear but it is noteworthy perhaps that he probably managed to live long enough in that year to see the end of the lambing season. It was not unknown for those who worked on the Marsh as Shepherds and Lookers to die young by our standards. Their lives were hard, malaria or Marsh ague was endemic at this time and medical care was rudimentary. Prior to his death it seems that Edward lived in a cottage, with his wife and 8 children, on the edge of the parish of Ivychurch, in Moor Lane. During the early Spring of 1831 he might have been using a Lookers Hut and lambing in all weathers. The winter of 1830/31 was very cold with temperatures of -12 with snowstorms. No doubt sharp cold icy winds had beaten their way across the Marsh carrying with them snow flurries, snow storms, and severe frost that would have presented a great danger to the pregnant ewes in Edward’s flocks. He left behind his wife and 8 children, the eldest of which, Mary, was 19 years old. His eldest son was Edward Brignall was 16 years old and worked as a shepherd, and subsequently became the Looker in his father’s place. This Edward Brignall (Jnr) became the head of the household and eventually owned the Woolpack at Brookland and was listed in Census returns as the owner of 80 acres of land in and around Ivychurch and Brookland and was said to have carried out the occupations of Innkeeper and Grazier.

March Gale

Here is a poem inspired by the gales and high winds that we had here on the Marsh last week.


March Gale

A roaring, raging wind woke me.
Rattling gusts beat against the pane
As the house groaned and creaked,
Complaining at the battering blasts of rain.

Outside, clashing branches lash the air
Drumming a wailing discordant sound.
Cawing crows on coal black wings
From churchyard trees tumble, whirling around.

In the garden gilded, brassy daffodils
Prance a manic tarantella, bending low,
While angel’s tears, more restrained,
Gently shed raindrops as they nod and bow.

Across the fields a steel sharp, knife piercing,
Southwesterly storm stabs and slashes;
Rampaging through hedges, raking reeds,
Pounding and buffeting me as I pass.



Covetous cowards
Want that which
We have.

They don’t ask,
They don’t beg,
They just want.

Hard work, dedication,
Fruit of our labour.
Ask nicely, kindly,
And we will share.

Be polite, thoughtful,
Respect our views.
Threats won’t work.
Ask, don’t demand,
And we will share.

Don’t try to manipulate
Opinions and ideas.
Don’t resent what is ours,
Just ask appropriately
And we will help.
We will understand,
And we will share.

Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum by Kaye-Smith

Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum by Sheila Kaye-Smith


In honour of International Women’s Day I thought I would post an article in which the central characters are all women. Kaye-Smith’s writing in the 1940s became more focused on women and their place in society.

Kaye-Smith’s fiction of the 1940s and 1950s is characterised by a combination and adaptation of the stimuli that she had turned to in the 1930s. This stimulus for her writing was rooted in her memories of the past – which she characterised as “the whole of life outside” – here she found material that was “rich enough to give . . . all [she] needed” (TWH 255) as inspiration for her later novels. In the 1940s one such novel was Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum (1943) that takes the bare bones of personal memory, fleshed out by the application of imagination, and disguised in the clothing of an embellished, embroidered fiction for her construction and content of the novel. Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum is structurally different to any of Kaye-Smith’s other novels. It is divided into three distinct sections that correspond with the three wars that Kaye-Smith had experienced, or was now experiencing, in her life-time: the Boer War, the First World War and the Second World War. The uniting factor in the narrative is the presentation of the female family members of the Landless family, affected as they are by each of these wars. The core of the novel is an exploration of the developing consequences of war, particularly on the lives of women, in the first forty years of the twentieth century.
In her synthesis of the panoramic, chronicle and character novel, Kaye-Smith has chosen to document an era through the presentation of a few fixed and clearly-defined characters who respond to the changing times. As a novel of (auto)biography, this work rest on selectively retrieved fictionalised personal memories of the past. Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum shows Kaye-Smith recognising that each successive war marks a transition point of change in society. In her recollection of the Boer War and the First World War, the text is her memory, filtered through the fictionalised lives of her protagonists. The Second World War is in stark contrast to this discourse of memory writing, because it is a fictionalised record of the immediate present.
This novel interrogated in this article adds little to the range of thematic interests of previous work, but rather amplifies and/or re-works those issues. Following the pattern set by Joanna Godden and her writing of the 1930s, Kaye-Smith addresses the issue of women’s place in society through strong detailed characterisations of individual women. A preoccupation with war and its effects on civilians is at the centre of Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum, and therefore places this novel alongside Little England. The text with its exploration of the changing dynamics of family life continues the interest in generational differences of outlook that had featured in many of the novels of the 1920s and 1930s. Securely regional in the recognisable locations that form the background to the narrative, the descriptions of the natural world have regained some of the lyrical qualities that were evident in the early novels. In this text religion is no longer presented with the proselytising zeal or prominence that had characterised her work of the 1920s but it does re-affirm Kaye-Smith’s belief in the mystical communion between humanity and nature that has been a constant throughout her fiction.
Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum represents a departure from Kaye-Smith’s previous fictional works in many ways. Unlike most of her other novels, this work uses the urban environment of a south-coast seaside-town as its central setting. Marlingate, forms the core setting for this novel, but to provide a contrast and balance to the use of this urban location, Kaye-Smith has set much of the narrative in a rural environment that is recognisably the area around Little Doucegrove in Northiam.( Kaye-Smith and her husband bought Little Doucegrove in 1929 and took up residence in 1930. She lived there until the end of her life.)
Her previous work had almost always been divided into chapters, and parts within those chapters, and had occasionally included an initial epigram. Here, however, the novel’s construction is reflective in the style, format and detail of the content. Instead of a continuous linear narrative she has chosen to divide this novel into three distinct “Parts”, with no chapter divisions. Each part has an epigram relevant to the specific war that is the focus of that section, while the novel as a whole continues the narrative of the featured characters as they live through the war years. Within these Part divisions, the narrative is presented in short episodes that become increasingly disjointed and fractured as the successive wars have a greater impact on the lives of her characters. Part One, entitled ‘Tambourine’, with an epigram from Rudyard Kipling’s “The Absent-Minded Beggar” (1899), (The poem had been set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan and was used as part of an appeal by the Daily Mail to raise funds for the war effort. The epigramic quotation is “Will you kindly drop a shilling in my little tambourine/ For a gentleman in khaki ordered south?”) tells the story of the Landless family, during the Boer War. Part Two, entitled ‘Trumpet’, with its epigram taken from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, (Corinthians 14:8 – “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle”.) relates the story of the same family during the First World War, while Part Three, ‘Drum’, focuses upon the Second World War, taking place as Kaye-Smith was writing. The epigram to this Part is the Morse code symbol for V for Victory.(The three dots followed by a dash – the V for Victory – came to symbolise the fighting spirit of the British during the early years of the War. It appeared on posters, was referenced in broadcasts and speeches and was used as a propaganda tool in Europe.) Each Part concentrates the narrative on the lives of Sibylla, the eldest Landless daughter, and Myra, the youngest. As with the novels of the 1930s, this narrative uses women as the central characters and men are only seen in subsidiary roles, often simply for romantic interest. The four sisters, Sibylla, Georgina, Kitty and Myra, bear a loose resemblance to Kaye-Smith and her sisters but with only the bare bones of verifiable fact. (By the time the novel was published only Sheila’s oldest sister Dulcie and Sheila were alive.) As well as inspiration coming from her own life, this novel is influenced by the work she was co-writing with Gladys Stern, in 1943, on the novels of Jane Austen. Most particularly this ‘sisters’ novel owes much to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) with Austen’s Bennet sisters replicated in the Landless sisters. Not only does the youngest, Myra, go to the bad in much the same way as Lydia Bennet by having a liaison with an unsuitable bounder of an army officer, but Kaye-Smith has adopted the name Kitty for one of her sisters. Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum is a many-layered novel that adopts an old-fashioned chronological style of storytelling combined with the genealogical format of Victorian family sagas in the first section, but with a stream of consciousness modern type of approach in some sections of the narrative that moves the action into the period of the First World War. This stratification in structure and plotting locates the individual woman’s experience within the narrative of the collective of a wider community, so that the sisters’ lives are interleaved with the telling of national events.
Reviewers were lukewarm in their criticisms of the novel, but most of them believed its strength lay in the realisation and development of the characters – specifically Sibylla and Myra. Reviewers noted that the actuality or reality of the novel rested on “the author’s skill at drawing character”; Sibylla was primarily a “study of frustration”, while Myra is the one “on whom Miss Kaye-Smith lavishes the bulk of her elaborate study”. The generational differences and contrasts between Sibylla and Myra, as well as the detailed portraits of them and their lives, provide continuity and make this a novel primarily concerned with character. In all the sections of the novel Kaye-Smith concentrates on the development of the characters of Sibylla and Myra, documenting their daily lives, portraying the attitudes and social mores of the time, demonstrating the changes in the social conventions of each particular era, and illustrating how women became victims of war.
To address her central concerns with differing generational attitudes, the changing nature of relationships over time and changing attitudes to women’s role in society, Kaye-Smith has established these opposing characterisations of Sibylla and Myra. Throughout the novel the characterisation of Sibylla develops from the initial portrayal of her as a Victorian spinster. Prudish and proper, she is invariably concerned about appearances. Her sister should hold her skirt down in the wind because it would be ‘shameless’ to allow it to reveal her petticoat; she rejects a book by May Sinclair because it “seems a bit improper” (TTD 8), and her naïve understanding of relationships between men and women means that she is “nervous and unsure of herself” in any exchange with a man. Throughout the Boer War section she is established as superficial, self absorbed, mindful of her status as the eldest sister, jealous of her younger sister Kitty, self conscious in social situations and prudishly prissy. Serious-minded and earnest, she struggles to cope with social chatter for “She was not used to light exchanges” and could only “blunder out a reply” (TTD 50) in her encounter with a young man. Like her sisters, and most middle-class women of the time, she is not touched by the Boer War. In stark contrast to her father’s concern for “thousands of our lads dying out on the veldt”, Sibylla sees the conflict as an excuse for frivolous socialising in the name of a ‘war’ effort. Kaye-Smith’s irony is not lost on the reader as Sibylla laments that “‘goodness knows how hard we’ll have worked before we’re through with it. There can’t be many people in the country who are doing more'” (TTD 43).
This characterisation of Sibylla is maintained throughout the novel – she sees physical attractions as “wicked in their enchantment” (TTD 85); a first kiss is “an act of committal” that brings an “ecstasy of assurance, . . . definite knowledge that somebody loved her and wanted to marry her” (TTD 89). Her outdated views on sexuality mean that she is continually haunted by that first kiss and considers herself “sinful and unworthy” and “no better than a harlot” (TTD 125). In a continuance and strengthening of the characterisation of Sibylla she is shown as a dutiful daughter who has become reliant on the constraints of behaviour dictated by the conventions that Victorian society imposed on a single woman. By the start of the First World War, she is a stay-at-home daughter, controlled and dictated to by her widowed mother who has become “more demanding and self-assertive” (TTD 130). In a barbed comment on the self-centredness of such parents, Kaye-Smith places Sibylla as the norm in Marlingate. Middle-class families had kept these women “from marriage partly by isolation and partly by taboo”. Now those parents were “reaping the fruits of their selfishness” in demanding the “constant attendance of these middle-aged ‘girls’, whom Armageddon itself had been powerless to release” (TTD 198). Kaye-Smith encodes her scathing criticism of this situation for women by satirising the prevailing notions in terms of submission, acceptance, self delusion and dependence. Sibylla “no longer imagined herself doing or being anything different” (TTD 189), she was doing her “duty”, she had grown attached to her immediate environment and “she did not want to leave her home, she did not want to leave her church” (TTD 199). Kaye-Smith has transposed Wilfred Owen’s “pity of war” to the fate and position of women in the First World War when she highlights the pity of Sibylla’s situation as a victim of war. The pity of her circumstances is that “she won’t stand up for herself” and allows her mother to “wipe her feet on her” (TTD 211). Her comfort in life comes from “much-loved possessions and old familiar surroundings” (TTD 228). The psychological need for certainty in a time of uncertainty was felt by many women. It is characterised in Sibylla’s increasing desire to stay close to her home and in her clinging to “the familiar security that was her island in the sea of war and changing life” (TTD 228-9). Sibylla’s mirroring of her mother’s reactions, when Kitty wants to divorce, is voiced in language that places both mother and daughter in an accord of interdependence. They become the same in their attitudes and opinions; they are both “appalled”, and “tiresome and irritating” (TTD 238) in their old-fashioned reactions.
The development of Sibylla in the last section of the novel gives her a voice as an autonomous individual, albeit one who is dependent on the familiar. In the world of modern mechanised warfare of the Second World War, Sybilla is presented as a personification of Victorian England and as such is an anachronism in both her appearance and her views. Her sense of duty is that of the past – she must stay in bombed Marlingate because now:
‘She was in the front line – a soldier’s daughter, a soldier herself. “And very glad I am to be in it. I saw very little of the last war, and absolutely nothing of the one before it. If I’m to go on living in wars like this I’m glad at last to have been given a chance to do my own bit of fighting”’ (TTD 296).
The reader sees her as ridiculous, obstinate and foolish with her courage, fears, and affection for the town which she will not leave. Even so the narrative evokes a grudging admiration for this old lady in her “high-collared blouses” and “long skirts and coils of hair” (TTD 291) that tilted her hat over her eyes, who is upholding the values and indomitable spirit of Empire, with her British-bull-dog mentality. Kaye-Smith’s presentation of Sibylla in this final section is characterised by the writer’s irony and gentle humour in her realisation of the voice of this elderly lady. Sibylla sees Marlingate as “select” now that it has few inhabitants, and she is grateful that the “Germans have obligingly refrained” (TTD 352) from bombing the street when she is shopping. She would not pay Hitler “the compliment of running away” (TTD 353), and considered herself to be fortunate: although she was “alone and in danger” she was “free and comfortable in her own home” (TTD 354). With similar irony she equates herself and her life with the High Street ‘bus. She recognised that for her life had become a “‘bus journey through three wars” (TTD 259) – in the South African War, when riding in the horse-drawn bus, she had “scarcely thought of it [the war] at all”; in the First World War the bus had allowed her to shop all over town, and in the Second World War the bus had a “reassuring quality and would, she felt, dodge the bombs much better than she could” (TTD 347). In keeping with the characterisation of Sibylla as an individual who is entirely dependent on that which is familiar, Kaye-Smith continues the imagery of Sibylla’s identification of herself with the bus when it becomes her conveyance to the afterlife. In her dying moments, her concern is that “she mustn’t stay any longer . . . She must start for the ‘bus” (TTD 378). Ultimately, however, Sibylla with her Victorian middle-class values of Empire class-consciousness, concern with “respectability and breeding” (TTD 372), and with a misplaced idea of duty that meant it would be “cowardly to run away” (TTD 383), is a symbol of an age that is in its death-throes. Like the Empire that she represents her views are antiquated and outmoded. This symbolism is fully realised in her death. Sibylla’s last thoughts, as she is gunned down in the street by a hail of machine gun bullets from a German plane, emphasise her out-dated attitudes and concerns with social class and outward appearances. Her anxieties were that she should be looking ‘smart’, and it was a “pity that people were so rough”, and that it was “raining so hard” (TTD 378) that it would ruin her coat. To complete the finely-drawn portrait, the voices of Sibylla’s sisters act as a chorus to sum-up her life. Their commentary reinforces the perception of her as an anachronistic, belligerent, self-absorbed and selfish individual. They characterise her as “‘Poor old Sib'” (TTD 380), and as a “‘silly old trout'”. She would insist on “‘living in a front-line town'” although “‘heaven knows what she thought she was doing there'” (TTD 383), and is rendered as a pathetic figure destroyed by her own refusal to change with the times. Some aspects of Sibylla may represent loosely-drawn recollections of Kaye-Smith’s eldest sister, Dulcie, although the likeness is tenuous and based on the flimsiest of evidence. (In All The Books of My Life Kaye-Smith records that Dulcie was eighteen years older than her – the same age difference as that between Sibylla and Myra – and in an insight into Dulcie’s Victorian prudery she notes that Dulcie had said she shouldn’t read Adam Bede (1859) because it was “so shocking” that some readers “had torn out all the last pages” (ABML 46). Like Sibylla, Dulcie lived out her life in Hastings (Marlingate) in the parental home and latterly in a flat close by.) Even so in the detailed realisation of Myra the congruence between the fictional character’s life and Kaye-Smith’s own cannot be ignored.
The youngest of the Landless sisters, Myra would seem to be a clear and unequivocal example of Kaye-Smith writing from “the whole of life outside” as she turns to character drawing that takes her “imagination out into the highways” (TWH 255) of her own life. She believed that she was blessed with “an unusually long memory” that provides “Pictures of my life” (TWH 19). In a revealing insight into Kaye-Smith’s understanding of the workings of memory she sees her own remembrances of the past as
“definitely pictures, that is to say I can see them clearly, fixed like pictures on a wall – even if I remember “what happened next” it is like passing on to another picture. They are not movies, then, nor are they talkies, but they are distinctly feelies” (TWH 19).
It is this manifestation of memory, as image combined with emotion, that is most clearly realised in the detailed presentation of Myra in those sections of the novel that document the Boer War and the First World War. This writing of the remembered and imagined fictionalised self becomes transformed in the creation and telling of Myra’s life so that it is impossible to be sure where memory ends and fiction begins. The complex structuring and plotting of the final section leads to a fictionalised realisation of the present. While this is represented through the narrative voice of Myra, it records the actuality of Kaye-Smith’s own Second World War experience in graphic and specific detail.
Although Kaye-Smith does not equate her remembrance of childhood with cinematic representations of the past, it is as such that they appear in the opening section of the novel. The first appearance of Myra shows a pre-pubescent child with a “funny, pale little face” (TTD 10); she is a “skinny little creature with long black legs and shoulders that hunched and wriggled under her reefer jacket” (TTD 11). Her fidgeting and “squirming” called attention to herself, but she was also trying to hide from attention as she sat “hunched” (TTD 11) over, establishing her dichotomous nature. The war provides a chance for her to indulge in a showy display of childish patriotism that manifests itself in the wearing of “a Union Jack in her buttonhole”, having button pictures of Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener on her hat” (TTD 63), and the learning and singing of patriotic songs such as “Dolly Gray”, “The British Grenadier” and Rudyard Kipling’s “The Absent-minded Beggar”. In a nostalgic referencing of some of Kaye-Smith’s childhood phobias in which she had been “afraid of high buildings, big trees, Christmas crackers, striking clocks, ghosts, bath-chair attendants, dogs, beggars” (TWH 33) and would emit “screams of eldritch power” (KF 48) at the sight or sound of a gun, Myra is “shy with strangers” (TTD 31), “afraid of strange dogs”, “strange children” (TTD 32) and “afraid of Old Rumble Farm” (TTD 71). Myra’s tantrums are marked by “argument, exaggeration and heroics” and end as she sobs “breathlessly and stormily” (TTD 103), while good news is greeted with equal melodrama and the exclamation that “‘I can’t bear it – I shall die'” (TTD 15).
These transferred memories are used in this first section of the novel to establish a basis for the adult character of a young woman in the First World War. The contradictory facets of the child’s personality, along with changing societal attitudes and values at the beginning of the century, foreshadow in adulthood ” the changing balance of her world” (TTD 104). The reader is prepared for the depiction of Myra as an emancipated modern woman when her mother voices a generational conflict with criticism of her daughter’s behaviour. She shows her disapproval of Myra “‘living like that by herself'”, commenting that “‘Girls like trying to be independent . . . but they soon get tired of it'” (TTD 121). The section of the novel that tells of Myra’s experience during the First World War is pivotal to the delineation. Rendered with an apparent authenticity, Myra’s experiences closely mirror what Kaye-Smith has allowed us to know – in Three Ways Home and All the Books of My Life – of her own war years. They are thus able to give an insight into the trials and tribulations of life for a young middle-class woman who wishes to assert her independence. In parallel with Kaye-Smith, the publication of Myra’s first novel gains her financial freedom and “her chief desire was to maintain that freedom” (TTD 133). Myra voices the concerns of many women in the early months of the war who felt that the conflict would threaten the tenuous freedoms they had gained. While there were obvious routes for a man, for a woman the role she could play was much less clear. With the immediacy of the first-person voice Myra’s explanation of her frustration speaks to the fears of many women in her situation when she tells her friend Toby Street, “‘You’re a man and can do things; I can’t, because I’m a woman, so I’m afraid of what they can do to me'” (TTD 145). “‘If I can’t write I can’t earn, and if I can’t earn I can’t go on living here. I’ll have to go back to Marlingate and live with Mother'” (TTD 146). This juxtaposes the real possibility of losing a recently-gained independence, and the emotional impact of the war on women. Myra’s love affairs illustrate the changing perceptions of love, marriage and sex and echo the prevailing attitude and circumstances of many young women at the time. When Toby Street proposes marriage prior to his enlistment, Myra feels she is in an impossible position: she does not love him but “she did not want him to go away – perhaps for ever – disappointed of any hope or help she could give him” (TTD 147). In her love affair with a serving officer, Lawrence Buckrose, she is even more trapped in a moral and emotional dilemma. Myra’s conflict of emotions is entwined with the physical conflict being fought by the young men at the front and the real possibility that these young men will be killed. The imminence of mortality and the desire for freedom is set against pre-war conceptions of decency and conformity to social mores. Myra is “shocked, insulted and outraged” by Buckrose’s suggestion that she become his mistress, and she is equally annoyed with her own “stuffy little citizen of Marlingate” (TTD 222) reaction. Her agreement to the arrangement is driven by the belief that “in a war like this, there was probably no future, and love was as long as marriage – till death us do part” (TTD 222). In this time of war it was unreasonable to expect marriage when he “spent his days in misery, dirt and danger” (TTD 222) and as he fought for “the sake of her and things they both loved” (TTD 222).
The conflicted, confused nature of life for women is most clearly shown in the section of the novel that relates Myra’s experience of life in London at the height of the war. The lengthy documenting of day-to-day life resonates with a detailed authenticity; it gives an insight into Kaye-Smith’s own involvement in the war that she has only briefly referenced in her memoir works. Mirroring Kaye-Smith’s own experience, Myra’s work in the War Office is “extraordinarily depressing” (TTD 178). She catalogues “The Deaths” of those who were “‘killed in action'” and “‘died on active service'”, and removes “from each month’s Army List the names of the dead” (TTD 178). In the detailed and impressionistic picture of a chaotically busy London street one evening, Kaye-Smith presents her own definition of memory as a series of pictures that incorporate the senses of sight, sound and emotion. Just as the structuring of this novel looks away from the traditional to the modern, so in the relating of this episode Kaye-Smith has adopted and adapted a stream of consciousness mode for her writing. The narration of Myra’s walk from a cafe to her home has a surreal quality. Characterised by confusion, chaos, loneliness and unrelenting noise the writing bombards the reader with a sensory experience of immediacy and actuality. In a focus on the individual’s loneliness and lack of purpose in this cityscape, Kaye-Smith uses the sight and sound imagery of debris floating on moving water combined with the imagery of theatre. Like wreckage at the mercy of the currents and tides in this time of war the people are identified as undirected and aimless “masses” that were “moving” and “drifting” as they “glided” across “a half-lighted stage” (TTD 223). The sounds created by these “perpetually moving crowds” are menacing and invested with a voice that murmurs loudly like a combination of the sea and thunder. The light, like the people, is indistinct and dull: it is “dimmed”, “down-flung”, “glowing” and “shaded”. To emphasise the loneliness, and feeling of aloneness, brought by the war, Myra recognises that when young men on leave, from all around the Empire, ask her if she is lonely “the loneliness they saw in her was a reflection of their own” (TTD 224). The extreme nature of each individual’s separation is invoked in terms of neglect and isolation. These soldiers are ‘derelict’ and adrift in an ‘ocean’ as they search for “a woman either to love or laugh with” (TTD 224).
To evoke Myra’s disorientating experience in this crowded street on this summer evening, Kaye-Smith continues the imagery of drama and dream. Referencing a subverted version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she transposes the light-hearted comedy of confusion, set in a pastoral environment, into the nightmare of a “mid-war night’s dream” (TTD 224) set in a fractured and disjointed city setting of confused sights and sounds. Rendered in a fragmented and impressionistic set of competing scraps of dialogue, the overheard disembodied voices speak of the everyday mingled with references inspired by the war. The reality of the war experience for those on the Home Front is encapsulated in the “scraps and ends of talk” (TTD 224). Without any indication of speaker or listener the reader is exposed to a variety of bewildering and overlapping voices presented on the page in a series of short staccato disconnected phrases:
“a great mistake . . . three shillings a pound they asked me . . . we’re expecting him Monday . . . poor thing, I felt so sorry for her . . . somewhere near Cambrai . . . don’t say that, kiddie . . . always the present participle . . . when we smoke aht that old Kaiser . . . number fourteen it was . . . pauvre petite . . . make it a bob” (TTD 224).
In a continuation of the water imagery that Kaye-Smith had used earlier to characterise the crowds and loneliness, some of these faceless, nameless people are now “swimming against the stream”, like “flotsam . . . washed about the streets”, like “jetsam . . . cast into the doors of cinemas and theatres” (TTD 224). When taken together these metaphors in the text give a unique impression, not only of the loneliness but also the helplessness felt by a civilian population that had lost all control of their lives. War had invaded every aspect of their existence.
The ensuing description of the entertainment venues and types of entertainment on offer adds flesh to Kaye-Smith’s description of London in Three Ways Home. The assertion that “We were all trying desperately to forget the shadow of death lying over us”, with everyone “seemingly bent on pleasure” (TWH 107), is transformed in Tambourine Trumpet and Drum into a cacophony of conflicting shouts, calls and snatches of disconnected conversation intertwined with images, slogans and references to everyday life in the war. This section of text provides and echoes the previously disjointed description in a further attempt to relay the utter confusion and frenetic anxiety felt by those who sought to live each day as though it was their last. Along with Myra and those in the crowd the reader is eager to escape from the nightmare in which they are assaulted by a suffocating collage of sights and sounds.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this way please . . . Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Dorothy and Lilian Gish . . . the Birth of a Nation . . . the war to end all wars . . . keep the home fires burning . . . Venn’s undies . . . Blanche’s letters to lonely soldiers in the Bystander . . . Phrynette’s letters to lonely soldiers in the Sketch . . . dear yous . . . if you were the only girl in the world . . . the Bing Boys are here-there-everywhere . . . Bric-a-Brac . . . Delysia and Michel Mortoon . . . Entertainments tax . . . no-treating order . . . tea-time dances . . . Archibald Joyce’s Band” (TTD 224-225).
The depiction of Myra’s life in London continually illustrates the dilemmas that faced the modern woman. Myra becomes the representative of those young women who were caught in a world in which the conventions of behaviour of Edwardian England had been swept away leaving nothing but uncertainty. In this assertion Kaye-Smith repeats the message of The End of the House of Alard and her contention of the effects of war on this war generation. Myra has no moral compass – “She did not know how to live” for “in spite of her gifts and her cleverness”, her shedding of moral restraints had caused her unwanted pregnancy, and had caused her to “come this ghastly cropper which would break not only her own bones but the bones of her unhappy family” (TTD 240-241). The narration of this episode highlights the emotional, moral and practical difficulties faced by women. Society will condemn Myra if she attempts to become a single parent, her family will also condemn her as immoral, and the biological father will not marry her. Her cold and calculated deception in agreeing to marry Toby Street, without telling him of her pregnancy, speaks to the public perception of independent young women. They were seen as hard-hearted, selfish and manipulative – much as Myra thinks when she adjudges herself to be “a treacherous, selfish creature who throughout her life had sought only her own ends” (TTD 247).
One reviewer noted that in Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum “There is something strikingly actual”, so that the full reality of war for those on the Home Front is conveyed in the narrative of Myra’s experience in the Second World War. Drawing extensively on her own first-hand knowledge and daily experience of the air-raids and air battles that characterised the Battle of Britain, Kaye-Smith has documented, in graphic detail, the effect of these events on the rural population who lived in “Hell’s Corner” (KF 186). Where the middle section of the novel had looked to a modern impressionistic mode of writing to express the chaos wrought by the First World War, in this section Kaye-Smith turns to a discourse of domesticity, rendered in the language and style of reportage, as the framework within which she can place her narrative of women and war. The upheaval of the social conventions of the home and the changes in female roles in society are illustrated in the narrowly-defined microcosm of Myra’s family life. The war invades all aspects of that life: Myra’s daughter re-enacts the air battles but places people from the village in the place of pilots so that “Nurse Prosser’s got a Spitfire and she rams a Dornier” (TTD 313). Meal-times and sleeping times are regulated by the German raids, and the women “must do the early milking” (TTD 315) of the cows in an “inversion of custom” for “milkers had always been men” (TTD 215).
The strength of Kaye-Smith’s writing in this section rests in her graphic descriptions of the air battles and bombing raids. The menace of the aircraft is rendered in the combined imagery of the man-made and the natural and is dominated by sound. The distant planes ‘hum’ like “a bumble bee imprisoned in a box”, the sky “rattled and screamed” (TTD 311), the aircraft overhead make a “noise like an express train”, the “woods cry out” in an agony of destruction as the crashing bombs are “rending the tree-tops” (TTD 313). The immediacy of Kaye-Smith’s eye-witness experience, voiced through Myra, is most carefully and graphically realised in the reportage-like description of the planes that
“came by night as well as by day. They did not do so in any force, but the battle no longer died down with the sun. The big formations still came over in the daylight, making the skies roar like a smithy; at night came the dragging, broken sound of single bombers following one another across the empty battle-air . . . High explosives dropped in a field at the back of Maidenbower, stripping every tile off roof and walls, leaving only the old timber frame standing like a skeleton. More terribly a land mine sank on slow wing into some trees by Haneholt’s Farm, hanging its threat among the branches for several minutes and then flinging trees and farm together into the sky” (TTD 336).
This section of the novel, and Myra’s story within it, are useful and informative as a documentary record of the actuality of the Second World War and its effect on a civilian population living in the south-east of England. Although the effects of war are documented, the narrative as a whole is concerned with the relationship between time and change. A review by David R. Dunigan notes that
“The most interesting thing about the story is the manipulation of time. The narrative is represented in sections, with sometimes a lapse of ten years or more between the parts. The intervals are so skilfully bridged by retrospection that the action appears to be continuous”.
In spite of this continuity Kaye-Smith has rendered each section in a different style to emphasise the changes that had and were taking place in society, as well as showing her own differing feelings about each war. The first section is presented in the language and imagery of nostalgia. The actuality of the Boer War does not affect the Landless family or those around them. Their concerns are purely social, and the war provides an excuse for parties, balls and other entertainment under the guise of fundraising for the troops. Characterised by the romance of a flag-waving patriotism and the glamour of handsome young men in khaki, Kaye-Smith’s remembrance of this war is summed up when Myra finds “life almost too wonderful” (TTD 99). In this child’s eye view of war Kaye-Smith has been able to capture the excitement and glamour of a distanced conflict. In contrast in the section that records life in the First World War Kaye-Smith has adopted an impressionistic style. To reflect the destruction of conventional social behaviours and the insecurity of life for the civilian population, the narrative is complex and confused in its subdivisions, alternations and contrived linkages. Woven through this complexity of structure are a number of disjointed paragraphs couched in the magical realism of nightmare. The changes that had taken place in all facets of society in the inter-war years, driven in part by the rapid changes in technology, meant that “times had changed, the war had changed them” (TTD 224). Because she is writing of the immediate here-and-now, Kaye-Smith has adopted a more factual journalistic approach in the final section of the novel. This war is a war of machines, which has an obvious physical impact on the civilian population. It has brought the death and destruction of war to rural England. Helpless against this mechanised onslaught, those who live and work in the countryside are, like Kaye-Smith, observers and victims of the destruction. To emphasise the nature of the everyday disruption Kaye-Smith focuses on the mundane: “It was impossible even to provide proper meals” as “anyone who was willing and able, toiled from the morning till the evening dew” (TTD 339). In contrast to the prevailing impression of helplessness and confusion that had characterised the telling of the First World War, the narrative of the Second World War stresses the belligerence of the civilian population and their determination to keep life as normal as possible.
To establish some form of continuity between the three parts of the novel Kaye-Smith has established a discourse of comparison and change to bridge the time-gap between the Boer War and the First World War. Myra realises that this new war will be “different from any frontier skirmish” of the past, that if Kitchener is in charge “I hope he’ll have changed his ideas” since the Boer War, and that this war will be dominated by technology with the Germans using “modern equipment and new inventions” (TTD 136) including aeroplanes and Zeppelins. This technology gives war a nearness and immediacy as the sound of the throbbing guns across the Channel is heard in Marlingate. The real and present danger that the “Germans might actually come over here” (TTD 137) is only partially realised in the Second World War with the air-raids. To establish a similar continuity of narrative from the First World War section, to that which references the Second World War, she adopts a mode of telling which constantly speaks of the earlier conflict. The sound of the guns firing in France that can be heard in Marlingate is “as in the days of the last war, when the barrages of Vimy and Bapaume throbbed on the air” (TTD 290). In previous novels Kaye-Smith had alluded to the ever-present reminders of that war and the way in which it continued to haunt her generation. In this novel she adopts this same leitmotif. Myra is tormented by the mistakes of her youth and Lawrence Buckrose’s shell-shock that has made him “‘a nervous wreck'”. He cannot “‘sit still for half a minute, always wriggling about in his chair and sometimes jumping right out of it, spinning round and sitting down again with a look on his face as if he’d just got a glimpse of hell'” (TTD 278). For Myra the latest war is the result of “the world reaping . . . a harvest that seemed to have been sown by a different hand” (TTD 310) from the past. The war world in which she was living was paying the price for the mistakes made in an earlier war.
This novel reflects Kaye-Smith’s continued concern with the effects of war and change that had featured in several of her other novels. She also extends her characterisation of the urban as restrictive, claustrophobic and constraining, while the rural is liberating and peaceful. Marlingate and the Landless household are described as ‘constricted’, like a ‘black depression’, ‘old-fashioned’, a place where one is ‘imprisoned’, ‘limited’ and ‘suffocated’ by out-dated social mores. The countryside, however, is a place of ‘freedom’, an ‘escape’, it is ‘tranquil’, and ‘peaceful’. As with most of the other novels the landscape is figured as an ageless idyllic environment in which “the tops of trees and the roofs of farms swam together above the mist like the distant shore” (TTD 138). Myra enjoys the stillness of the “peaceful hour between day and darkness, when all the sky might have been a high grey cloud except for the occasional prick of stars”. Myra fulfils the role of the country person who leans on the gate and watches “the white tide [of the mist] creep westwards as far as Warf Wood” (TTD 306-7) while contemplating the natural world. However, it is not until the final section that Kaye-Smith draws her investigation of these differing environments to a conclusion. Myra, as she has been throughout the novel, is the voice that condemns the urban landscape as one of “confinement, stiffness and repression” (TTD 387), especially for women. Marlingate, a ‘ghost’ of a town, represents Sibylla, for like her, it is being destroyed. It is now like a “respectable elderly lady being beaten up by thugs” (TTD 388). In contrast “back in the country. . . the bomb scars were already healing under the balm of grass and centaury and bramble” (TTD 388). Myra and her family can continue their lives disturbed only occasionally by the “moan of a siren across the fields” (TTD 388) and an occasional air-raid.
One review dismissed this novel as one in which “the author is trying to tell us that the lives of very mediocre and ordinary people are not necessarily deflected by wars”. It failed to recognise that in Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum Kaye-Smith utilised a narrative of three wars and the lives of two women to illustrate the changing effects of war on a civilian population and the consequent changes in society – particularly for women. Through the exploration of these two lives Kaye-Smith is able to chart the destruction of the outmoded values of Victorianism. She shows that in the modern world women can contribute to society in a meaningful role, and that they are able to stand as equal partners to men. Although many of these issues had been central to previous work, the complexity of structure, content, and forms of expression of this novel set it apart from her earlier fiction.