South Riding, by Winifred Holtby

I had never heard of this novel before I read a precis and analysis of it in Susan Leonardi’s Dangerous by Degrees, but I was inspired to pick it up because the heroine, Sarah Burton, is headmistress of a girls’ school in the north of England in the 1930s, and one of my characters is going to end up doing a similar job in a similar place and time, so I thought it might be good for a bit of background. It was, but it was so much more than that.

Sometimes billed as a novel about local government, South Riding is a story about several characters who shape a community during difficult times. Sarah Burton, the schoolmistress, is one, but there are many main characters in this story: the landowner Robert Carne, the alderwoman Mrs. Beddows, the disillusioned socialist Joe Astell, the evangelical preacher with a weakness for the ladies, Mr. Huggins, the promising girl from a poor family, Lydia Holly … and many more. Yet each character is vividly and fully realized; the omniscient narrator brings us each of their lives briefly and yet each one is real and memorable. This is an amazing novel which I can’t believe I’ve never encountered before, and I highly recommend it.

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2 Comments

Filed under Fiction -- general, Fiction -- historical

2 responses to “South Riding, by Winifred Holtby

  1. Vikki

    PBS Masterpiece Theater is showing South Riding this month. Good so far. Hopefully our library has the book. Thanks for the review.

  2. I’ve heard that the new miniseries is not considered as faithful to the book (by fans of the book!) as the one that aired sometime back in the 70s, but it would still be interesting to see.

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