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South Riding: An English Landscape by…

South Riding: An English Landscape (1936)

by Winifred Holtby

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7553419,479 (4.06)1 / 336
After the death of her fiancé, an ambitious young woman returns home to a depressed, post-World War I Yorkshire village to become headmistress of the local girls' school.
  1. 10
    The Headmistress by Angela Thirkell (thorold)
    thorold: Sarah Burton and Miss Sparling may be poles apart in political terms, but it's fun to see how much Thirkell's idea of a headmistress overlaps with Holtby's, despite that.
  2. 10
    Middlemarch by George Eliot (Booksloth)
  3. 00
    Haweswater by Sarah Hall (fountainoverflows)
    fountainoverflows: A study of a community confronted "progress". Carefully developed characters and a love story to boot.

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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
South Riding is a pleasant sweep of a fictional countryside set in 1930s Yorkshire. The characters are colourful and span multiple generations. Holtby gives a sharp and often humorous account of local government and how it affects parties ranging from gentry to farmers. Through headmistress Sarah Burton, you also glimpse Holtby's particular interests as a feminist and pacifist.

The ending isn't traditional; this isn't a run-of-the-mill romance; what you have in Holtby's last work, written when she knew these words would be her last, is an engaging insight into a countryside community at a crossroads. ( )
  jigarpatel | Jan 25, 2020 |
I guess you're meant to sympathise with the main protagonist, Miss Burton, who is the right kind of spinster--despite her quirks and her angular features and her red hair (good or bad depending on who you talk to), she's well- adjusted and charming. There's one Miss Sigglesthwaite, however, who's the Doomed Spinster, who was meant for a lifetime of research and learning and instead became a teacher, and is ill-adjusted to the work, but because of her position (she has to care for her mother) she can't simply quit her job and do what comes naturally to her. Worst of all by the standards of the slightly lean-in bourgeois feminism of Miss Burton, Miss Sigglesthwaite has not learned to monetise her hotness and so exists forever in a drab display of undone buttons and falling hems or whatever. She appears for a bit and is gone, but she's the one I could identify with:

"It's true. I know I can't keep order. I've lost confidence. I can't trust myself to keep my temper. It's being always so tired. Those dreadful nights, when you can't sleep, waiting for dawn; and then the dawn comes and you dread it, because in an hour you must get up, in two hours you must face that dreadful staff-room. The young mistresses. It's so easy to be unafraid when you're strong and pretty. Girls get crushes on Belinda Masters. She pretends it's a nuisance, yet it gives her power. Power. Confidence. That's what I'm needing. Oh, if only Father hadn't died quite so early. He believed in me."

Miss Sigglesthwaite is not treated fairly at all by the narrative. She is just made to disappear into oblivion, as though it should be perfectly natural why no one should believe in her. All because she didn't realise early enough that she needed to be liked and had to make an effort to appear pretty even if she didn't care for pretty.

Wanted to give the book three stars because of that but that would be unfair because the book is otherwise very good and rich in ideas. ( )
  subabat | Mar 19, 2018 |
Wonderful "Spoon River" quality to this British novel. Holtby presents a vivid picture of local politics and small-town types. ( )
  LaurelPoe | Dec 25, 2017 |
"The South Riding" is a fictional designation for a real and distinctive region in Yorkshire. A good bit of the action in this novel concerns local governing bodies and the slippery political scheming and in-fighting that lubricates their joints. The personalities and personal strivings of aldermen including our mostly upright Mrs. Beddows, and of council members including the not-so-upright Mr. Huggins, made for very interesting reading, even if some of the particulars of their schemes left me slightly bewildered at times. (Holtby felt compelled to apologize to her mother, Alderman Mrs. Holtby, in her introduction, making it clear that South Riding was not her mother's district, and its councillors were not her mother's colleagues.) Intertwined with these goings-on are the daily concerns of the ordinary residents of the district--small holders, school mistresses and their pupils, labourers, dressmakers, pubkeepers, reporters and dairymen. It's all here: economics, politics, love, dying, faith, hypocrisy, innocence, pride, regret...a grand sprawling landscape of life with multiple roads and streams to explore. Loved it. ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Aug 24, 2017 |
This was a BB from lit_chick, who described this Yorkshire-between-the wars story as "a perfect, perfect book." And it was. I had my doubts at first, as I was a little lost in early chapters of council meetings and council personalities vying for influence and alliances in the making of local decisions. But before I knew it I was swept away in the stories -- the grand and sweeping and the small and intimate. This is simply an amazing book. Vera Brittain writes in the epitaph (for Ms. Holtby died soon after finishing [South Riding] in 1935 at the age of 37): "This tale of universal values mirrored in local experience is not only an achievement of the mind; it is a triumph of personality, a testament of its author's undaunted philosophy. Suffering and resolution, endurance beyond calculation, the brave gaiety of the unconquered spirit, held Winifred Holtby back from the grave and went to its making. Seed-time and harvest, love and birth, decay and resurrection, are the immemorial stuff of which it has been created."

The book follows several South Riding characters -- the ambitious new headmistress of the girls' high school; the proud and ruined farmer-gentleman; his odd daughter; the various aldermen of varying political persuasions; the desperately poor family from the shacks for whom education may be a way out, or may be utterly unattainable. We see the intense suffering and small generosities of the Depression, but the reader's emotional connection is compounded by knowing that these characters' way of life is over, and that their world is changing irrevocably. It is not too unlike the present day and the desperate situations of wealthy nations' poor and politically marginalized. While their suffering is real, their former way of life is gone or changed forever. The book is a masterpiece.
6 vote AMQS | Mar 30, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
Holtby understood the necessity of conveying progressive ideas to the widest possible readership, of the kind that Woolf scorned in her essay "The Middlebrow".
added by thorold | editThe Guardian, Mark Bostridge (Feb 19, 2011)

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Winifred Holtbyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Boyd, CaroleNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brittain, VeraEpitaphsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shaw, MarionIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sommerfelt, AiméeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Williams, ShirleyPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Take what you want," said God. "Take it---and pay for it."

Old Spanish Proverb
Quoted in This Was My World by Viscountess Rhondda.
"I tell the things I know, the things I knew
Before I knew them, immemorially;
And as the fieldsman with unhurrying tread
Trudges with steady and unchanging pace,
Being born to clays that in the winter hold,
So my pedestrian measure gravely plods
Telling a loutish life."

V. Sackville-West
The Land.
First words
Young Lovell Brown, taking his place for the first time in the Press Gallery of the South Riding County Hall at Flintonbridge, was prepared to be impressed by everything.
Winifred Holtby, who had met my mother in the autumn of 1919, when both were students at Somerville College, Oxford, was, like her, a writer. (Preface)
In February 1935 Winifred Holtby, staying in Hornsea on the Yorkshire coast in order to escape the distractions and fatigue of life in London, wrote to her friend Vera Brittain to say that she had received 'a very nice letter from Virginia Woolf asking if I would like to write an autobiography for the Hogarth Press'. (Introduction)
South Riding is the last novel that Winifred Holtby will write. (Epitaph)
I was born to be a spinster, and by God, I'm going to spin.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
"Take what you want,' says God.  'Take it and pay for it,' 'Ah,' said Mrs. Beddows quietly. 'But who pays?'"  This, Winifred Holtby's greatest work, is a rich and memorable evocation of the characters of the South Riding, their lives, loves and sorrow.  There is Sarah Burton, fiery young headmistress, inspired by educational ideas; Robert Carne of Maythorpe Hall, a conservative councillor, tormented by his disastrous marriage; Jo Astell, a socialist fighting poverty and his own tuberculosis; Alf Huggins, haulage contractor and lay preacher of 'too, too solid flesh'; Mrs. Beddows, the first woman Alderman of the district, and the obsequious Snaith.  These are the people who work together - and against one another - in council chambers and backroom caucuses.  Alongside them are the men, women and children affected by their decisions: Tom Sawdon, landlord of the Nag's Head; the flamboyant Madame Hubbard of the local dancing school; young Lydia Holly who dreams if scgikarsguom and many more.

Winifred Holtby (1893-1935), born at Rudston, Yorkshire, was a journalist, critic, feminist, pacifist and author of six novels, South Riding (1936), winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, is 'a triumph of personality, a testament to its author's undaunted philosophy." - Vera Brittain
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