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South Riding (Virago Modern Classics) by…

South Riding (Virago Modern Classics) (original 1936; edition 2011)

by Winifred Holtby (Author)

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7013113,533 (4.08)1 / 314
Title:South Riding (Virago Modern Classics)
Authors:Winifred Holtby (Author)
Info:Virago (1988), Edition: New, 502 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

South Riding: An English Landscape by Winifred Holtby (1936)

  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 31 (next | show all)
"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 |
I decided to tackle a rather formidable bit of fiction pretty much on a whim in the form of South Riding by Winifred Holtby. It took me much longer to read than I had anticipated but that's just a good lesson that sometimes you need to take your time with a book. :-) Apparently this book is a literary classic although I had only heard about it recently through a YouTube channel (Mercy's Bookish Musings if you're curious). What drew my interest (besides the gorgeous cover art) was the setting which is a small area of Yorkshire. (As some of you may know, I'm kinda obsessed with the English countryside and I had the very good luck to visit Yorkshire in 2015 and fell a lot in love with it. THE MOORS, YA'LL.) South Riding is a fictional area of Yorkshire where city councilmen (and a councilwoman) pretty much run the show. If you've ever lived in a small town, particularly a rural one, then you'll recognize the intricate balance between government "officials" and their fellow townspeople. This was set in 1933-35 right at the start of WWII when the country was still harboring hope that the war could be avoided. Our main character, Sarah Burton, is a headmistress who is a revolutionary (at least to the people in South Riding) and ready to shake things up. The lone female on the City Council, Mrs. Beddowes, sees in Sarah a chance to improve the reputation of the school but she also feels that she can muster some amount of control over her (spoiler alert: this is doomed to fail). There are quite a few side stories such as that of Lydia Holly who lives in poverty but aspires to be an academic success the likes of which South Riding has never before seen. Not to mention the rather despicable men who like Mrs. Beddowes are on the City Council. One of them really turned my stomach. *shudder* I went into this book thinking that it was likely to be a romantic tale but if anything the romance was between the characters and their town. It's quite plain that Holtby harbors a nostalgic love of the Yorkshire where she grew up and it's palpable on nearly every single page of this book. If for nothing else, I enjoyed South Riding because of this. Otherwise, it wasn't exactly a life changing read (read Dickens for that). I'd give it a solid 6/10. ( )
  AliceaP | Feb 17, 2017 |
Sarah Burton returns to her home of South Riding as headmistress of Kiplington High School for Girls. She is full of ambition, determined to make the school the very best it can be, and to inspire her students to take all from life that they can. But in the aftermath of the Great War, inspiration and ideals are hard won. The education of Sarah’s brightest young student, Lydia Holly, must be sacrified to care for younger children when her mother’s health fails. Numerous appeals to Robert Carne, governor of the school, for improvement to decrepit structures fail. In fact, Carne of Maythorpe Hall stands for all that Sarah detests: generational landowners, their social positions uncontested for generations. And yet she can’t but feel attracted to the proud, haunted man – himself nearly ruined financially, emotionally burdened still by the “bitter tragedy” that was his marriage.

The novel is panoramic in its portrayal of 1930s Yorkshire: an intimate look at the lives of a myriad of characters, and at the goings-on of local politics. I loved Emma Beddows, a 72 year old who’s given her life to public service, existing very capably in a man’s world, at a time when so few women did. My heart went out to the desperately poor Holly family, representing the strife of the poorest working families. And Councillors Huggins and Alderman Snaith reminded of our contemporary (read corrupt) politicians – both the losers and the millionaires. But always in the foreground is Sarah’s devotion to education, as the only way forward for her students to make the world in which they live a better place:

“Don’t let me catch any of you at any time loving anything without asking questions. Question everything. Especially, perhaps, what I say. Question everyone in authority; and see that you get sensible answers to your questions. Then, if the answers are sensible, obey the orders without protest. Question your government’s policy, question the arms race, question the Kingsport slums, and the economies over feeding school children, and the rule that makes women have to renounce their jobs on marriage, and why the derelict areas still are derelict. This is a great country and we are proud of it, and it means much that is most lovable. But questioning does not mean the end of loving, and loving does not mean the abnegation of intelligence.” (510)

My review in a nutshell: Oh, perfect, perfect, book! Winifred Holtby is storyteller extraordinaire! The beautifully written South Riding is rich, vibrant, humourous, and wise. I found myself happily immersed in the era, the class/social struggles, the characters’ lives, and, most unusual for me, even the local politics. As a lover of classic literature, this is a novel I will cherish. Most highly recommended. ( )
5 vote lit_chick | Mar 23, 2016 |
I had high hopes for this novel, after watching a rerun of the adaptation, but instead I have to utter those rare words, 'The "film" was better than the book'! Rarer still, I must add that Andrew Davies seemed to form from the novel a more cohesive, sympathetic story, and Anna Maxwell Martin and David Morrissey played Sarah Burton and Robert Carne respectively with spark and chemistry. Winifred Holtby's source material reads more like a series of character vignettes, full of potted life histories and introspection, linked together through a very heavy-handed message about community spirit. The whole thing took an age to read, and I really only persevered because of the characters as portrayed in the BBC miniseries. Feel free to shoot me down - I am usually the purist who resents all but a select few adaptations - but I really struggled to warm to Miss Holtby's posthumous masterpiece, despite the Yorkshire setting. Her characters are not overly likeable, despite the author's constant reminders how brave, handsome and noble Robert is - Mrs Beddows is his own personal fangirl - and how spunky and forthright Sarah is. Also, one of the many 'secondary' characters, Lily Sawdon, takes her bitterness out on a poor dog, which I couldn't forgive Holtby for writing in - no tears for that miserable wretch! So unless county councils in the 1930s float your boat, I recommend sticking with the adaptation. For once, Davies saves the day. ( )
1 vote AdonisGuilfoyle | May 29, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (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
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"When Sarah Burton returns to her hometown as headmistress she is full of ambition, determined to create a successful school and to inspire her girls to take all they can from life. But in the aftermath of the First World War, the country is in depression and ideals are hard won. Lydia Holly, the scholarship girl from the shacks, is the most brilliant student Sarah has ever taught, but when her mother's health fails, her education must be sacrificed. Robert Carne of Maythorpe Hall stands for everything Sarah despises: his family has farmed the South Riding for generations, its position uncontested. Yet Sarah cannot help being drawn to this proud, haunted--and almost ruined--man."--Publisher's description.… (more)

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