Anderby Wold by Winifred Holtby

‘Anderby World’ was Winifred Holtby’s first novel, written when she was in her early twenties.

She would go on to write finer novels, but this was an excellent start; she wrote of the Yorkshire she knew, understanding the people, the history, the changes wrought by the Great War that she had lived through, and the way that the world was changing still.

The writing has such conviction, and I think it would be fair to say that this is a first novel sowing the seeds of greatness….

Anderby Wold

When her parents died Mary Robson married John, her steady, sensible, older cousin, so that she could keep the farm at Anderby Wold. It took them ten years to pay off the mortgage, and by then Mary was in full charge of her life and her world. She managed her farm, her home, and the village of Anderby. She was a strong and capable woman, and she was firm in her opinions.

She held her own in her social circle, but she was disliked by many. Sarah Bannister, John’s elder sister, who had raised him after their parents died, felt that Mary didn’t appreciate what John had done, leaving his own farm to help her save hers. Mr Coast, the village schoolmaster, was bitter that Mary wouldn’t accept his ideas for the school.

That made Mary vulnerable. The dullness of her marriage, her failure to produce a child, made her vulnerable. And, with debt gone and the farm secure, there was a space in her life, room for something more

It was then that she met David Rossitur, a red-haired, fiery, young idealist who preached socialism. She was captivated by his energy and his passion, she was intrigued by what he had to say. She loved their debates, but she was less happy when he began his work in the village. A colleague was summoned from Manchester, a union was formed a union, and soon Mary faced a choice between meeting demands that she felt were wholly unreasonable or having her farm-workers strike at the worst-possible time.

The story explores the conflict between traditional and progressive views wonderfully well; understanding both, and understanding that there is no black and white, that there are only shades of grey.

Above all it is a human story; a story of real, fallible, believable human beings, who all had good, solid reasons for being the people they were and doing the things they did.

Sarah was critical of Mary, but that came from her love for her brother, and when she was needed she would always be on their side. Mr Coast was critical, but he wanted the best for his school and his community. John was cautious and conservative, but he was content with his place in the world and he understood his wife much more than she realised.

Mary had so much potential, she could have done so much. But she only had her position at Anderby, and she so feared losing it …..

Winifred Holtby made this story so engaging, so readable, and I was captivated.

There are contrivances needed to make the story work, and there were moments when I might have wished for a little more subtlety, but the story did work, and I loved seeing the themes and ideas that she would explore in all of her novels threaded through this story so effectively.

‘Anderby Wold’ captures a particular place and time, a particular point in history very well.

It was clear that Winifred Holtby cared, and that she understood.

The Classics Club Spin has spun me to Yorkshire!


This morning – a few hours before the spin – I pulled ‘Anderby Wold’ by Winifred Holtby from my Virago bookcase, to read for All Very Virago All August.

I love Winifred Holtby, but because she didn’t write many books I’m trying to spread them out. But I decided it was time.

And the spin agreed with me:

Anderby Wold

#17 – Anderby Wold by Winifred Holtby

I couldn’t be more pleased!

How was the spin for you?

My Favourite Virago Heroine

A question to ponder for Virago Reading Week

I have met so many remarkable women in the pages of Virago Modern Classics that it is very hard to pick just one. But I did.

Winifred Holtby’s South Riding seems to be the book of the moment. It’s just been reissued, the lovely Virago Modern Classics group on LibraryThing is reading it right now, and a new BBC adaptation is due to air very, very soon.

Now I know I’ve written about South Riding more than once before, but trust me, it really is that good.

And one of the wonderful women that I met between its pages has to be my favourite Virago heroine.

I wrote about her for Aarti‘s inspiring series Rosie’s Riveters … 

Rosie’s Riveters is a weekly posting written by Booklust readers about
riveting females in literature. Many readers have strong reactions to
the women in the books they read- either very positive or very
negative. These are the characters we find riveting, for good reasons
or bad ones, and they form the population of Rosie’s Riveters. Through
this weekly post, we can discuss females we love to hate, or love to
love. And maybe, just maybe – we can determine why we react so strongly
to them.

The concept and the questions just felt right for Virago Reading week and so, as I’ve not run this particular post on my own blog before, here is what I wrote. It still holds true.

Who is your Riveter?

Sarah Burton

What book does she feature in?

Sarah features in Winifred Holtby’s final novel, South Riding.

South Riding was published posthumously in 1936, and widely acclaimed as Winifred Holtby’s masterpiece.

Do you love her or hate her?

I very definitely love her.

Describe her personality – how would you describe her to a friend?

Sarah’s a striking figure. A small woman with a fine head of red hair. She has the quick temper to go with that hair, and she has strong opinions, but she really is a lovely person and a very good friend.

She comes from Yorkshire – the South Riding. Her mother was her nurse and a father a blacksmith, but he drank and so Sarah had to make her own way in life. And make her own way she did! She became a teacher. She’s taught in tough schools in London and in South Africa, but now she’s come home and got a job as a headmistress here in the South Riding. She’s a wonderful teacher and would do anything for her girls.

Her problem though is men. A classic case of loving not wisely but too well.

Can you compare her to a celebrity?

None that I can think of.

What makes her riveting?

Sarah is a determined woman with a true vocation. She’s a truly dedicated teacher, and she really believes that she can improve her girls’ futures through education. Her job as headmistress isn’t without its problems though.

Emma Beddows is the first woman alderman in the district and a governor of the school. She appreciates Sarah’s qualities as a teacher, but she has rather different views on a lot of things – and she’s just as stubborn as Sarah.

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. He’s very protective of his daughter and believes that Sarah is pushing her too hard.

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. Sarah is not happy!

And, of course, she ruffles the feathers of some of the school staff who are rather set in their ways.

What do you most admire/despise about her?

You can’t help but admire Sarah’s spirit and vitality. And her vocation and her willingness to work so hard for her girls really is inspiring.

There’s nothing to despise. She can be stubborn and she doesn’t always appreciate other people’s different points of view, but she does have the best of intentions.

Would you recommend reading the book in which the Riveter features?

Yes! Winifred Holtby is a wonderful author, and this is marvellous tale.

Do you have a quote by or about your Riveter that you’d like to share?

“Sarah believed in action. She believed in fighting. She had unlimited confidence in the power of the human intelligence and will to achieve order, happiness, health and wisdom. It was her business to equip the young women entrusted to her by a still inadequately enlightened State for their part in that achievement. She wished to prepare their minds, to train their bodies and to innoulate their spirits with some of her own courage, optimism and unstaled delight.”

If you haven’t already read South Riding, please do! It’s a genuine classic, a wonderful piece of storytelling, and it’s themes have as much to say today as they ever did.

And please tell me – who is your favourite Virago heroine?

Books for a Desert Island

“Desert Island Discs is on the radio. I think there should be a Desert Island Books where the guest tells us which books he/she would take … “

As soon as I read those words in Ann Kelly’s The Bower Bird I began to wonder what books I would take.

It wasn’t easy. Some beloved authors – including Thomas Hardy, Margery Sharp, George Eliot, Sarah Waters, Wilkie Collins – had to be dismissed because I couldn’t pick just one book from many wonderful works, and because I knew that whichever one I took I would regret leaving another behind.

There had to be a good range of books. I could easily have picked eight Victorian novels, but I had to allow for different days, different moods needing different books.

And I wanted books that could give me everything – beautiful prose, engaging characters, wonderful stories, thought-provoking ideas ….

Books to engage all of my emotions, and books to make me think and ask questions.

Books with so much to offer that I could happily read them over and over again.

And now, finally, I think I have my list:

South Riding by Winifred Holtby

The perfect picture of a community and the people who make it. Such wonderful characters, such wonderful ideas and emotions, and a green Virago Modern Classic to remind me of so many others.

Skallagrig by William Horwood

If I could take just one book, this would be the one. A book that speaks to me personally and says all that needs to be said about what makes us human.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

My favourite Brontë sister, and a wonderful Victorian novel that I know I could read over and over again.

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

It’s a long time since I read this one, but I still remember it so well. I can’t quite explain what makes it so special, I just know that it is, and that I want to take it with me to read again.

Love in the Sun by Leo Walmsley

I did wonder whether I should take a Cornish book. Would reading of Cornwall allow me to travel home in my head or would it just make me homesick? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that Love in the Sun is just too lovely to leave behind.

The Gormenghast Books by Mervyn Peake

When I want to escape sun and sand, this is the book that will take me into a completely different world. To wander down dark castle corridors and watch extraordinary stories unfolding …

Tea With Mr Rochester by Frances Towers

Perfect short stories take me back to an England that has long since gone, but that I have visited so many times in books. And a Persephone book so I have the bookmark, the endpapers, the sheer beauty of the book as an object to enjoy.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman

I would definitely want a big historical novel, and this is definitely the right one to take. The first one I read, the book that made me realise that history can be questioned, and a book so rich in detail that I could lose myself for days and days ….

Yes, I think that those eight books and I could live happily together for a long, long time.

And now please tell me, how would you pick your desert island books? Which ones would you take?

I’m a Librarian ….

… well I’m still an accountant actually, but I have just got myself upgraded to Librarian status on Good Reads.


Mainly so that I can add covers and descriptions to the books in my collection that are out of print and missing those things.

Partly to make my own collection look nice, and partly from wanting to be evangelical about books that aren’t as well-known as they should be.

Tonight I added covers to the out of print Virago Modern Classics editions of Winifred Holtby’s books.

And then I noticed that the book I’m reading at the moment –  Winter Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards – was missing a cover. So I added it, and as there wasn’t a description either I added the one on the back of my copy.

It’s strangely addictive … which is why, I’m afraid,  the book I was going to write about tonight will have to wait until tomorrow.

What’s in a Name Challenge

Just over a year ago “What’s in a Name” was the very first challenge I signed up for via this blog. And it was the first challenge I completed ahead of schedule!

It’s a lovely challenge, and of course I’m going to do it all over again next year.

Beth at Beth Fish Reads is the new host, and there’s a dedicated blog here.

It’s really simple. During 2010 read one book from each of six categories.

I’ve perused my shelves and come up with a book for each category. So here are the categories and the books I’ve chosen:

  • A book with a food in the title: Clockwork Orange, Grapes of Wrath, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Land of Green Ginger by Winifred Holtby

  • A book with a body of water in the title: A River Runs through It, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, The Lake House

Brook Evans by Susan Glaspell

  • A book with a title (queen, president) in the title: The Murder of King Tut, The Count of Monte Cristo, Lady Susan

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

  • A book with a plant in the title: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Wind in the Willows, The Name of the Rose

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

  • A book with a place name (city, country) in the title: Out of Africa; London; Between, Georgia

Martha in Paris by Margery Sharp

  • A book with a music term in the title: Song of Solomon, Ragtime, The Piano Teacher

A Note in Music by Rosamond Lehmann

Changes are allowed, but I’m really looking forward to my sextet.

Chunkster Challenge – Done and Dusted!


I committed to 6 books of 450 or more pages for The 2009 Chunkster Challenge and I’ve done it!

Here’s the list:

Not a dud among them, but I would pick South Riding out as the star!

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.

2008 Year End Review: My Top Twelve Books

ten-talesBest Book Made Up of Short Pieces: Ten Tales Tall and True by Alasdair Gray



novel-about-my-wife1Best Novel set in the Here and Now: Novel About My Wife by Emily Perkins



company-of-liarsBest First Meeting with an author: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland




crowded-streetBest Book reissued in the year: The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby




love-childBest Flight of Fancy: The Love-Child by Edith Olivier




queen-emmaBest Journey Into The Real Past: Queen Emma and The Vikings by Harriet O’Brien



glass-of-timeBest Journey Into an Imaginary Past: The Glass of Time by Michael Cox




servantsBest Novel for Producing a Warm Glow: The Faithful Servants by Marjory Sharp




drivers-seatBest Not Quite Contemporary But Not Quite History Book: The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark



harriett-freanBest Book Received as a Gift: The Life and Death Of Harriett Frean by May Sinclair



gargoyleBest Book Outside My Usual Range:The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson




wreath-of-rosesBest Virago Modern Classic Not Already Mentioned: A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor




Please don’t ask me to pick an overall winner – I really can’t!