Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Winifred Holtby

Another Virago in the house? All right. It's Winifred Holtby's SOUTH RIDING. I didn’t like this one so much as her best friend Vera Brittain's masterpiece, HONOURABLE ESTATE..

Holtby, the subject of Vera Brittain's memoir, TESTAMENT OF FRIENDSHIP, simply did not write as fluidly and well as Brittain. Holtby’s sprawling, intelligent, political, if somewhat turgid, novel, is compelling, yet awkward, the labored story of a town. SOUTH RIDING fascinatingly spirals out from actions of the city council of South Riding to highlight the characters of all classes from shack dwellers to headmistresses to construction workers on the dole to once wealthy farmers. Perhaps that is its appeal: Holtby cares so much about her characters and contrasts the innocence of socialists and do-gooders to the corruption of sleazy council members who hope to make real estate deals by preying on the poor. The traditional narrative is never preachy, and she gives all the characters their due. Published posthumously in 1936, the Winner of the James Tait Black Award, it doesn’t measure up to the best of ‘30s liberal writers like Storm jameson. Nevertheless, it is a very good traditional novel, logically constructed, if not exquisitely written.

In her preface Holtby wrote to her alderman mother: “What fascinated me was the discovery that apparently academic and impersonal resolutions passed in a city council were daily revolutionizing the lives of those men and women whom they affected. The complex tangle of motives prompting public decisions, the unforeseen consequences of their enactment on private lives appeared to me as part of the unseen pattern of the English landscape.”

Anyway...this one is readily available, though I’m not sure about Holtby’s others.

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