Sheila Kaye-Smith was born on February 4, 1887, in Hastings, Sussex, to an English father and French mother. Her father’s side of the family had several dignitaries in the Church of England, and therefore religion was never a foreign topic in the household. Her mother was Presbyterian, although she converted to Low Church Anglicanism after her marriage. Sheila enjoyed a happy childhood; she was an avid reader of the classics as well as contemporary novels, and her powerful imagination and gift for storytelling naturally led her down the path to becoming a writer. She attended Hastings and St. Leonards Ladies’ College and then began writing for various magazines. Her first novel, The Tramping Methodist, was published in 1908 when she was twenty-one. Nearly every year thereafter, the prolific Kaye-Smith published another piece of writing. Her 1916 Sussex Gorse, a local-color work that earned favorable comparisons with Thomas Hardy’s close descriptions of Wessex, was her first critical success.
As a child and young woman, Kaye-Smith questioned religion, and she even became an atheist for a short while. In 1918, she converted to Anglo-Catholicism, where she remained for more than a decade. After her return to religion, she penned novels that continued to forge her popularity, including Tamarisk Town (1919), Green Apple Harvest (1921), Joanna Godden (1922), and The End of the House of Alard (1923). Tamarisk Town—like Sussex Gorse, a study of the human toll of all-consuming ambition—sold more than three thousand copies. Kaye-Smith married Reverend Theodore Penrose Fry, a High Church Anglican rector, in 1924. In 1929, however, increasingly ill at ease with Anglo-Catholic beliefs, the couple converted to Roman Catholicism after a trip to Rome. Sheila Kaye-Smith was forty-two years old at the time, and, as she later expressed in her 1937 autobiography, Three Ways Home, she had “always been latently and potentially a Catholic—there has been no swing around from a contradictory set of ideas” (p. 14). Fry left the ministry, and