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By Sheila Kaye-Smith
Joanna Godden is what the people of Romney Marsh call “a fine woman”—warm, vigorous, and graced with a strong beauty. Most importantly, she is of a highly independent spirit, with an immense confidence in her own capabilities. Upon the sudden death of her father in the year 1897, Joanna—against the universally shared expectation of her neighbors that she will marry and hand over the running of the family farm to her husband—chooses to manage Little Andsore herself. Year in and year out, Joanna dauntlessly contends with nature, both in running her farm and cultivating her role in the community. Even as she piles farm success upon social success, yet the two deepest desires of her heart—love and family—prove elusive. Attaining those desires will be the greatest test of the spirit and mettle of Joanna Godden.
Poor Father said only a week before he was taken, “Pity you ain’t a man, Joanna, with some of the notions you’ve got.” Well, maybe it’s a pity and maybe it isn’t, but what I’ve got to do now is to act up proper and manage what is mine, and what you and other folks have got to do is not to meddle with me.
With its skillfully drawn, attractive heroine, and beautiful setting of Sussex farms and marshes, Joanna Godden stands as a great literary achievement, deserving of a place among the classics of English literature.
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Sheila Kaye-Smith (1887–1956) was an English novelist and a Catholic convert. Rooted in rural life, her fiction contends fundamentally with the natural order. Not “Catholic” in the typical sense, her novels nevertheless illustrate Chesterton’s assertion that the province of Catholicism is “that spaceless, timeless commonwealth,” sub specie aeternitatis. Kaye-Smith’s bibliography of more than forty books encompasses novels, collections of short stories, and biographies.