The Crowded Street was Winifred Holtby’s second book, and like her others, one of its themes is a woman’s duty to herself and to a larger society than her local community. The novel’s main character is Muriel, who always tries to do what is right and good.
We first meet Muriel when she is nine and follow her for the next twenty years. In the first scenes of the novel, Muriel is excited to be attending a party. But her desire to enjoy the party by watching the others conflicts with the ideas of her mother, who thinks she should be dancing and socializing.
During the party, she dances with Godfrey Neale, who becomes important to her later in the novel. But in trying to escape her mother, Muriel falls into a situation where her behavior is misunderstood and the party is ruined for her.
Muriel begins a pattern of always trying to please her mother. Mrs. Hammond, though, has married beneath her and has spent her career social climbing to make up for it. Although Muriel would like to learn about astronomy and is interested in math, the only way she can please her mother is by marrying well. Unfortunately, she is shy and only moderately attractive. Still she decides fairly early on to devote herself to her mother.
Only one friend, Delia, urges her to do more. She tries to get Muriel to go to college, but Muriel is naive and for a long time believes what her mother tells her, which is that men do and women wait for them to act.
It took me a while to relate to Muriel, probably because she is so naive. But eventually I became engrossed in her story, as she learns to view her world and her mother with a more skeptical eye. Having grown up in the 50’s and 60’s, I remember my own mother coming out with some of the things implied or said in Holtby’s novel, only my own reaction was one of indignation. But that was 30 years after the setting of this novel.
I very much enjoyed this novel about Muriel and her slow turning toward a more feminist outlook.