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South Riding

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Holtby provides no neatly tied ends and happy endings and her characters sometimes have a difficult time of it, but there is still running through a sense of the need for the struggle to improve the lot of people especially through socialism and feminism; it isn’t a depressing book.

After Holtby's death, Brittain attempted to repay the debt by ensuring, as her friend's literary executor, that her final and most significant work saw the light of day. Miss Holtby has used her imagination not to create a world but to bring vividly before our eyes a world already in being. For me that's a plus; literature should deal with big ideas, and the structure of society and purpose of government are certainly that. Central to Holtby’s story is Sarah Burton, a forty-year-old unmarried woman, newly appointed to the role of headmistress at the local girls’ school.I mean the fact that Robert Carne is considered a good-looking man and constantly likened to Mussolini.

She lectured extensively for the League of Nations Union and was a member of the feminist Six Point Group. It could perhaps do with a little pruning, particularly towards the end, but I was not disappointed, having read it many years ago aged about 20, and remember the excellent BBC dramatisation (in the 1970s or 80s).Nous suivons la vie de plusieurs personnages, chacun avec ses qualités, ses défauts, ses joies, ses drames. Holtby was a committed socialist and feminist who wrote the classic South Riding as a warm yet sharp social critique of the well-to-do farming community she was born into. The independent-minded quarterly magazine that combines good looks, good writing and a personal approach.

I never felt the book was that superior to the BBC adaptation, I never thought the characters had been betrayed by the actors who played them or by the script for that matter.Beddows’ nearly forgotten message) she would have been incomplete, with no knowledge of suffering save at second-hand. And yet it’s also very readable – the sort of classic you can sink into and enjoy as the characters’ lives unfold. Just in case you need a reference to how aware the British public at that point could be of what the Third Reich was doing to its opponents, years before the Wannsee conference took ever place and a year before the world-attended Olympics happened in Berlin. I’m hoping to watch the BBC mini series at some point, whenever it moves to the top of the rental list.

So, given there is some shift to the middle in terms of likability what do you end up with after 515 pages?I think it’s that optimism in the face of poverty and adversity that makes it such an inspirational read. Because ‘(his) values were not her values’ - the heroine is a modern woman - and Winifred is one too. It is the main reason she is remembered today – along with her friendship with Brittain (Brittain chose to make their relationship the main focus of Testament of Friendship, her biography of Holtby, published in 1940). South Riding is a rich, panoramic novel, bringing vividly to life a rural community on the brink of change.

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