Winifred Holtby – South Riding

The world is what we make it, she would preach; take what you want. Take it – and pay for it.

This is the motto of Sarah Burton, one of the main characters of Winifred Holtby’s 1936 novel ‘South Riding’. Winifred Holtby wrote several other novels and was also a prolific journalist. She passed away before ‘South Riding’ was published. What follows here are my thoughts on ‘South Riding’. I would not call this a review simply because there is so much in this novel and I am not sure I can do it justice in this entry.

In ‘South Riding’ Winifred Holtby very convincingly creates a universe. A universe consisting of a small Yorkshire town in the second half of the 1930’s. Through various characters and their own struggles and triumphs in life she is able to portray an entire community. The storylines surrounding the characters meet, so a matter is often seen from different angles. This serves to show us that some of the social and administrative dilemma’s presented in the book do not have a single resolution. There is often no solution that benefits all parties involved.

There are many characters to be liked and disliked in this novel, but they are all very real. Some immediately capture your sympathies, like Alderman Mrs Beddows or Robert Carne. Others I wasn’t so sure about. Midge Carne, for example, made me feel very sorry for her on the one hand, but on the other hand I found her insufferable in some parts of the book.

Now I know I am not in a position to judge on what is a classic, but for me personally I feel this will become one of the greats. One of those novels that I will pick up again and again, like works by Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Henry James, the Bronte sisters, etc. This truly is a book you want to live in. A lot of novels offer great characters and overpowering stories, but it is rare that an author is able to create a whole universe. Winifred Holtby did so with ‘South Riding’ and I am happy to have been able to inhabit this world while I was reading.

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2 Responses to Winifred Holtby – South Riding

  1. Iris says:

    Oh, the problem of who defines what a classic is.. I rather like discovering those more “forgotten” classics (usually, Virago Modern Classics and Persephone Books are a great resource) and Winifred Holtby has been on my TBR list for a while. She seems to be a favourite in the blogging community. Your review made me even more curious 🙂

    • 88novels says:

      I agree, the discovery process is great. It feels a bit like being on a treasure hunt. I was really impressed by ‘South Riding’ and without the blogging community I would probably never have discovered Winifred Holtby. If you do try this, or any other novel by Winifred Holtby, I would love to hear what you think!

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