Thursday, May 24, 2012

Another High School Memory: SUPERSTITION CORNER

Sister Eustasia also had this book by Sheila Kaye-Smith on her extra-credit reading list: Superstition Corner (I remember reading this Doubleday Image Book at the time). The Neumann Press offers a hard-cover edition now and it is available on Kindle too. Kirkus Reviews posted these comments in 2002:

Modern woman transposed to Elizabethan England, and flaunting the banner of her refusal to conform to the religious tenets of the crown, Kate Alard is a memorable if not wholly convincing figure, and the picture of Sussex, and the ancient faith at the stake, is a novel one. A slighter story than what the reader expects from Sheila Kaye-Smith, but a vigorous tale at that. The Sheila Kaye-Smith market is a fairly consistent one, and though this cannot be sold as typical, in that she has departed from her established theme, the historical interest may prove added bait for a somewhat new market.

As I remember reading it in high school, I did not find Kate Alard unconvincing, but then I was used to reading about tomboys like Jo March in Alcott's Little Women. What sets Sheila Kaye-Smith apart from Robert Hugh Benson is the difficult "romantic" situations in the novel: Kate's mother is unfaithful to her father and Kate witnesses the confrontation between the lover and her father. The village minister, who has gone along with each of the religious changes, repulses Kate when he tells her that he loves her--after he has betrayed her friends who were hosting a Catholic priest to celebrate Mass. Kate leaves her home to meet her brother, who has become a priest on the Continent and is preparing to serve in the English Catholic underground. When they meet he recalls that: "all these years, while he had been living in spiritual luxury in the heart of the Church, her soul had starved on the barest means of grace. . . . He realized with pity that she had never been inside a Catholic church, that she had never heard Mass except in darkness and haste and fear, that she knew nothing of the beauty of Catholic ritual, nor the fellowship of large crowds, nor the power of great leaders." And yet she clung to her faith as the one thing that made life worth living in her Sussex home. I won't spoil the ending, but it is beautiful and inevitable.

Sheila Kaye-Smith was a successful and prolific novelist, setting most of her novels in her native Sussex. She was an Anglican (Anglo-Catholic) and married to an Anglican minister. After writing a book titled Anglo-Catholics in 1925, she and her husband became Catholics (RC) in 1929. They bought land and established a Catholic chapel dedicated to St. Therese of Lisieux in Northiam, Sussex, in 1935. Sheila Kaye-Smith is buried in the chapel's cemetery there.

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