South Riding by Winifred Holtby


Virago Modern Classic #273

South Riding is subtitled An English Landscape, and it is just that, a landscape made up of people.

Sarah Burton is a dedicated and idealistic teacher who returns to her home county to become headmistress of a girls’ high school.

Emma Beddows is the first woman alderman in the district and her work is the focus of her life now that her children are grown.

The dialogues and the developing relationship between those two dedicated but different women are quite wonderful, and there is much more besides.

Robert Carne is a county councilor and a struggling gentleman farmer. His wife is in an asylum and he worries that their daughter Midge will inherit her mental illness.

Lydia Holly loves learning and Sarah believes she has more potential than any other child she has taught but, when her mother dies after one pregnancy too many, her father pulls her out of school to look after her younger siblings.

And so many more – councilors, teachers, pupils, farm workers, townsfolk, all of the people that make up a community and all with their own story.

Their paths, of course, cross and Winifred Holtby tells all of their stories, mixing them and balancing them perfectly.

The characterization is absolutely wonderful, right across the social spectrum.

And there are so many wonderful words and ideas, so many wonderful moments. I really can’t praise this book enough.

South Riding is a quite wonderful picture of provincial England in the 1930s.

4 responses

  1. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: April 4, 2009 at Semicolon

  2. Ooooo, this sounds like a good one!

    Anyway, this is a note to say that this review won a prize in the Guardian Challenge. Please email your mailing address to kidsilkhaze at yahoo dot com so I can get it in the mail!

  3. Pingback: Now We Are Six ….. « Fleur in her World

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