Day 199: South Riding

Cover for South RidingI had never heard of Winifred Holtby until I watched the excellent Masterpiece series South Riding. I enjoyed it so much that I picked up several of Holtby’s books. Holtby published 12 novels in the 1920’s and 1930’s, as well as pursuing a successful career as a journalist and nonfiction writer. She is known for regional fiction about Yorkshire and has a prize for regional fiction named after her.

Set post-World War I, South Riding is the story of the conflict between the landed gentry and social progressives in a Yorkshire town. Sarah Burton comes to town as the headmistress of a girl’s school. She has many progressive ideas and wants to improve the school and the quality of education provided to the girls. To accomplish her goals, she asks the town to invest more money in the school.

She immediately runs afoul of Robert Carne, a local landowner. He has very conservative ideas about the town and school, but he also has some heavy concerns. Previously prosperous, he has spent all his money on care for his mentally ill wife. He also has the care of a young daughter who is having her own problems.

Unlike the television series, the novel has a huge sweep and does not concentrate on Sarah, but presents the stories of about fifteen other major characters. It deals with issues like education, poverty, and governmental corruption as well as family relationships. The characters are all carefully delineated so that you feel that you know each one.

The novel is beautifully written, although it gets just a little preachy at the end. Some reviewers have compared Holtby to George Eliot because of her interest in local social issues and her breadth of scope.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.