Read south riding by Winifred Holtby Online


This is Winifred Holtby's greatest novel - A rich evocation which explores the lives and relationships of the characters of South Riding. Sarah Burton, the fiery young headmistress of the local girls' school; Mrs Beddows, the district's first alderwomen - based on Holtby's own mother; and Robert Carne, the conservative gentleman-farmer locked in a disastrous marriage - witThis is Winifred Holtby's greatest novel - A rich evocation which explores the lives and relationships of the characters of South Riding. Sarah Burton, the fiery young headmistress of the local girls' school; Mrs Beddows, the district's first alderwomen - based on Holtby's own mother; and Robert Carne, the conservative gentleman-farmer locked in a disastrous marriage - with whom the radical Sarah Burton falls in love. Showing how public decisions can mould the individual and strongly echoing Middlemarch, South Riding offers a panoramic and unforgettable view of Yorkshire life....

Title : south riding
Author :
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ISBN : 10307254
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 518 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

south riding Reviews

  • Emma Rose Ribbons
    2019-05-11 00:35

    So this is one of Those Books. For me, there are two categories of books. Those that change your life, those which you started in a certain way and ended up changed when closing them. Such books are rare and precious. And then there are the ones that make you feel as if the author had extended a hand and held yours, that for the duration of your reading, you found a mirror so perfect it validated everything you'd been and everything you wished to be. This is such a book. It's about the value of education, the value of change. How in order to inspire, you need to be inspired. It's about happiness and fulfillment and about responsibility and choices. It's also about Sarah Burton who's probably the best character I've ever encountered in all of literature. I don't even know where to begin except that I hope I'm her and I want to be her when becoming myself. That is all. I realise I haven't talked about the book much so here's a quote. This is why this book is special, because it's about this:'We're so busy resigning ourselves to the inevitable that we don't even ask if it is inevitable. We've got to have courage, to take our future into our hands. If the law is oppressive, we must change the law. If tradition is obstructive, we must break tradition. If the system is unjust, we must reform the system.'Suffice it to say I've probably been looking for this book my whole life. Well here it is. Finally.

  • Paul
    2019-04-21 22:51

    This is Winifred Holtby’s last novel and she wrote knowing of her own imminent death. It is both vast and narrow in its scope at the same time. Its length and the varied and large array of characters reminded me of Victorian novelists like Eliot and Dickens. There are over 160 characters in the character list. It is set in Yorkshire in a fictional South Riding. The geographical area is the one Holtby grew up in and is in actuality the East Riding of Yorkshire, the area just north of the Humber centred on the city of Hull (Kingsport in the book); an area I know well. Holtby captures the area well, the people and its geography. Holtby was a committed pacifist, socialist and feminist, a close friend of Vera Brittain. She has thrown everything into this novel; as you would if you knew your time was limited. The novel looks at change; old and new ways of doing things and the tensions attendant with that. It is partly based on Holtby’s mothers experience as an alderman and on her experience of local government (her mother opposed her writing the novel). The main protagonist of the novel is Sarah Burton, newly appointed headmistress of a girl’s school, moving back to the area of her birth; she is 40, single, a socialist and committed to the education of women. Robert Carne is a gentleman-farmer, struggling to make ends meet because his wife is in an asylum (an expensive one) and trying to bring up his daughter alone. He is conservative, reactionary, enamoured of the old ways of farming, a keen hunter and essentially patriarchal. There are a large number of significant characters and the main characters don’t appear in large portions of the novel. All of the characters are well drawn; they all have significant faults and failings. The alert amongst you will have noticed something about the two main characters; a touch of the Jane Eyre’s perhaps. I’m sure this isn’t a coincidence and among the many strands in the novel is a reworking of the Jane Eyre/Rochester relationship. The complexities and frustrations of English local government are writ large;“Without emotion, without haste, without even, so far as Lovell could discern, any noticeable interest, the South Riding County Council ploughed through its agenda. The General mumbled; the clerk shuffled papers, the chairman of committees answered desultory questions” This enables Holtby to deal with the issues she felt were important; education, public health and the eradication of treatable diseases, ignorance, poverty and unemployment. It also allows Holtby to explore the irritations and corruptions inherent in the system and she does so with a good deal of relish. The secondary characters are also well drawn and not there to make up numbers. Holtby illustrates one of her primary beliefs “We are all member of one another” and writes it large here. 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. Holtby deals with difficult subjects. The history of Robert Carne’s wife and her internment in an asylum is very much the way the middle classes dealt with mental ill health. Holtby makes even her less savoury characters human with likeable qualities, but she leaves the reader to judge; the other characters not knowing all the picture make their own mistakes. In this context with Carne there is one piece of information, a marital rape, which the reader knows (eventually), but no one else does. It’s a telling piece of writing and makes the reader thoroughly uncomfortable; one knows a secret and nothing can be done with it. Holtby is perceptive in her understanding of male sexuality. This is a tour de force and a great novel.

  • Sarah
    2019-04-30 21:52

    It is 1932 and Sarah Burton returns to Yorkshire as a newly appointed headmistress with a gift to teach and a desire to awaken interest in her young pupils. She brings courage and optimism along with a feisty and impetuous nature. Sarah finds her new role in the small town challenging as she encounters town politics and staff problems. Her set plans are disrupted and she becomes uncertain of her future.Holtby writes wonderfully on local government issues and town hierarchy. Her characters are sensitive and well-rounded. They cover a wide social range, but share a common love for their rural community. Ambitions, hypocrisy, triumphs and failures are shared amongst the people of South Riding and their moments of passion, tragedy and hope strengthen their bonds as they face a world that is on the brink of change.

  • Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
    2019-04-26 19:57

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the best classic novel you’ve never heard of. Correct me if I’m wrong.This book is set in the early 1930s in the fictional South Riding of Yorkshire. It’s an ensemble piece, structured around the activities of local government and the ways they intersect with the characters’ lives. Most versions of the cover feature Sarah Burton, the fiery, progressive new headmistress at the local girls’ school, and she’s one of the most important characters, but there are others: the elderly alderwoman, Mrs. Beddows; the gentleman farmer, Robert Carne, and his troubled daughter, Midge; the bright but impoverished teenager, Lydia Holly; the hedonistic but devout preacher, Councillor Huggins. South Riding follows these characters (and more*--it’s a story about an entire community) over two years, with chapters alternating among various characters.There’s a lot going on in this book, and Holtby has a clean style that keeps the story moving and focused on the most interesting moments in the characters’ lives. I’ve seen this book criticized for the space devoted to mundane aspects of adult life--the book focuses as much on the characters’ working lives as their personal ones--but that’s one of the reasons I loved it. It avoids well-trodden novelistic paths: most of the characters are middle-aged or older, and first love doesn’t appear even as a subplot. In large part it’s a novel about work and why it matters; anyone who hopes to make a difference with their career will empathize with Sarah Burton’s struggle to make a difference in her school and her occasional doubts about whether her work is important enough in the scheme of things.But there are many poignant and relatable stories that come out of the characters’ relationships with their work, from the sad case of Agnes Sigglesthwaite, who meant to be a researcher but wound up a miserable science teacher, to the fervent socialist Joe Astell, who takes a cushy job on the county council due to illness and sometimes has trouble relating to the very people he’s trying to help. On the whole it’s a positive and hopeful book, but there is a lot of illness and dying here; the author was terminally ill when she wrote it, and it’s hard not to imagine something of Holtby in Astell, who is desperate to accomplish his work before illness keeps him from it. On the other hand, one of the saddest subplots deals with Lily Sawdon: she is one of the few characters with no real occupation, and perhaps as a consequence, decides her duty as a wife is to hide her sickness from her husband, even at the expense of getting treatment.South Riding is a character-driven book, and works brilliantly, because the characterization is brilliant. Holtby has the gift of creating fully-formed, memorable characters within just a few pages, characters with all the complexities and foibles of real human beings, and at the same time, people who are easy to sympathize with and like. Sarah Burton is especially memorable: she’s a spinster in her late 30s, but she’s not a damaged or pitiable figure; she’s energetic and optimistic, sociable and engaged with other people. Also a standout is Mrs. Beddows: as the South Riding’s first female alderman, she’s expected to be colorful and allows people to believe outlandish stories about her, but in reality she’s more conventional than that, a worldly-wise grandmother who finds happiness through community involvement--and through the attention of Robert Carne, whom she views as a combination of attractive male friend and spiritual son-in-law. I could go on to describe most of the cast, because they are all excellently-realized characters drawn with exceptional psychological insight, but nothing I say will do Holtby’s writing justice.Another amazing thing about this book is just how modern it feels, despite being published in 1936. By virtue of its focus on interesting, varied female characters--as well as interactions among them--it’s one of the most feminist novels I’ve read, and indeed Sarah’s feminism would need little updating for the 21st century. An author writing this story today would no doubt be condemned as anachronistic, but since it really is an old book, I’m happy to praise it for being just as relevant now as when it was written. The same goes for the politics. This isn’t a book about politicking, but it is a story involving local government during a time of economic depression, and Holtby’s progressive beliefs do shine through in the way the characters think about their world and the effects of their decisions. For me that’s a plus; literature should deal with big ideas, and the structure of society and purpose of government are certainly that. The fact that these topics are controversial means authors should engage with them, not ignore them.I do have one issue with the book that bears mentioning. The plot doesn’t fit together quite as well as most ensemble pieces; Holtby perhaps got a little carried away with her ability to write great characters, and spent disproportionate time on some secondary players. Alfred Huggins is the chief offender here (I’ve called him a protagonist above, because of the number of chapters starring him, but he has little interaction with or impact on any of the others), followed by the Sawdons. Also, I doubt many people will read South Riding for its language alone: Holtby has the good journalist’s ability to get to the heart of the matter without excess verbiage, but her use of words is rarely memorable.In sum, an excellent book, and one that spoke to me much more than classics usually do. I’ll be keeping a copy on my shelf, and I hope some of you will give it a try too!*Please don’t be intimidated by the character list at the beginning of the BBC edition. It includes everybody who’s ever mentioned in the book, but you won’t have to remember all of them.

  • Katie
    2019-05-09 23:44

    South Riding is set in Yorkshire in the first half of the 1930′s, focusing on the everyday lives of the people who live there. There is Sarah Burton, the new headmistress of the girls’ school who returns to the area armed with progressive ideas and is determined to make a difference; there is Mrs Beddows, the council’s only female alderman who is torn between her desire for progress and her personal loyalties; and there is Robert Carne, staunch proponent of the old ways, desperately trying to care for his mad wife and fragile daughter while not losing his tenuous hold on his lands. The book chronicles their struggles, sometimes against each other, sometimes alongside one another for a common cause, and those of a whole host of other characters.The cast of this novel is huge, with more than a hundred characters (listed handily after the introduction), but it never feels overpopulated or confusing. In fact, they are what makes South Riding such a great read. I felt as though I knew each and every one of those characters, even if we only had a nodding acquaintance. It is testament to Winifred Holtby’s writing skill that she manages to create such a wide variety of characters with equal authenticity; I believe in Midge Carne, who is young, female, highly strung and unthinkingly cruel, just as much as I believe in Castle, who is an elderly, male, gentle salt of the earth type. I particularly liked the fact that no character is as straightforward as they at first seem, and not in a gimmicky everyone-has-a-dark-secret way, but in a these-are-all-real-people-with depth way. They aren’t defined by their quirks, but these help to gain a deeper insight into the characters and why they behave the way they do. Councillor Snaith at home with his cats was a particular favourite of mine.A wide range of characters means a wide range of relationships, and here too Winifred Holtby excels. Whether two people are cooperating or at loggerheads they always act in a way that is so appropriate and well described that I experienced everything along with them. Tom and Lily’s relationship broke my heart time and time again, and they are relatively minor characters (if there can be said to be such a thing in this novel). Not only does she write scenes tightly focused on one individual or group, she also writes the best, most effective crowd scenes I’ve ever read. The outside performance put on by Madam Hubbard’s girls, at which cast and audience alike spend more time focusing on their own individual thoughts and agendas than the show, is an absolute masterpiece. Her writing reveals a wealth of life experience put to very good use. I also appreciated the fact that, although people struggle and fight with one another, there is no cruel, cackling villain in this book. The characters go through hard times and experience tragedy, but that is because life is hard rather than because someone is plotting against them. Harvests fail so people lose their money. People become sick and, because they are poor, they die. It’s all very matter-of-fact and realistic. This may make the novel sound rather bleak, and it’s definitely not without its bleak moments, but there is also a great deal of comedy in this book. There is stoicism but there is also humour; the people of South Riding endure hardships and they do so with a shrug and a grin. Despite some of the tragedies that occur, Holtby never allows characters to wallow or the tightly controlled plot to spiral into melodrama, which I find only adds to the pathos. I’m sad to leave South Riding and it’s definitely a novel that I’ll be rereading in the future.

  • Catie
    2019-04-26 17:42

    Absolutely adored, enjoyed and loved this book! If you enjoy sweeping English novels with a pastoral setting and social commentary this book is definitely for you. Much like Middlemarch by George Eliot and The Warden by Anthony Trollope. Which commentate on social institutions such as church, and small town government. I would argue, South Riding falls into the same category.Richly written, with characters that come to life, this book, although a little slow at times, has quickly become a favorite of mine.I especially am intrigued by the personal life of the author. A note on the author reveals that Winifred Holtby led a short life and passed away one year before the publication of South Riding. Her good friend Vera Brittain, whom she met in college, wrote about their close friendship in her book Testament of Friendship (1940). Having researched a bit about Holtby and Brittain'a lives, especially during the First World War. South Riding, its themes (in particular those towards the end of the book) became even more meaningful and deep to me. This is one book that I believe, regardless of the number of re-reads will continue to reveal rich new layers and meaning for the reader.

  • Kelly
    2019-05-18 00:51

    Review included in my second half of 2016 round up on my blog:

  • Ali
    2019-05-10 01:41

    First published in 1936 this is a marvelously femenist novel. Set in the fictional South Riding, with much of the story concerning local poitics, and the different characters and factions associated with the county council, alongside other local people. There is a large cast of characters, at the centre of which is Robert Carne, landowner and councillor, Sarah Burton, a new headmistress for the high school, and Mrs Beddows 72 Alderman, and great friend of Carne. Mrs Beddows - a truly marvelous character - seems to be a portrait - at least in part of Winifred Holtby's mother, herself a local councillor who became (like Mrs Beddows) the first woman Alderman.This novel is actually quite sad, although there are many uplifting moments too. Winifred Holtby was uncompromising in her portrayal of life as it was in the 1930's, both socially and politically. We see the few chances given to women and the sacrifices made by many bright young girls, the hardship and the poverty and the desperation of those finding themselves in difficulty. There is a conspiracy of corruption at the council, backbiting and gossip, all of which help to bring a good man down. The poignant story of Sarah and Robert Carne is the one at the centre of the novel, is wonderfully romantic on the one hand without ever descending into sentimentality. Alongside that story though we that of Lydia Holly - whose family live in "the shacks" a group of old railway carriages, Lydia dreamsof scholarship and learning. Carne's daughter Midge - the same age as Lydia but from a very different background is rather wild, her mother is in a mental hospital, for a time the girls come togther under the watchful eye of the new headmistress Sarah Burton. Meanwhile at the Nag's head, Tom Sawdon is unaware of his wife's illness. So much human drama in just under 500 pages! A fantastic read.

  • Resh (The Book Satchel)
    2019-05-09 20:40

    South RidingA big book with a four page character list is not something I would generally pick. But I am so glad I did. Read this if you want to get lost in idyllic prose set in a neighborhood in old Yorkshire. As you read you will stumble upon beautiful phrases such as "slapped the kettle on the stove" and "fastened it at the throat with a cameo brooch" strewn over a slow narrative.This is the story of a multitude of characters, flawed and imperfect as may be' yet with an undeniable charm. Be it Carne, a traditionalist who doesn't want to be pitied for his crumbling finances or Sarah Burton, the fiery headmistress who has modern reforms in mind yet hopelessly in love with her fiercest opponent, or Lydia Holly, who has to give up her education or Madame Hubbard who teaches young girls to dance ti ridiculous songs, every character will earn a place in your heart. I must add this is the first book I have read on local government and workings of the village council in the countryside, hence was refreshing and informative.Half a chapter of romance that made me well up with an undescribable churning in heart is a testament to Holtby's brilliance. A wonderful piece of writing about provincial life through the lives of a neighborhood.

  • Margaret
    2019-04-27 18:51

    I had been meaning to get around to reading this for ages, and now I'm sorry I waited so long. Holtby takes a community in Yorkshire and, using the framework of its local government, builds up a narrative which tells the stories of many people in the community, all intertwined. It reminds me a good deal of George Eliot in the organic feel of the community, how decisions and events affect everyone, and of Elizabeth Gaskell in the concern for social issues. The characterization is simply brilliant; there are a lot of characters, but I never once lost track of who was who nor forgot anyone's particular plot thread. Fortunately, Virago has reprinted at various times all of Holtby's other novels, which I will be tracking down soonest.

  • Helene Jeppesen
    2019-05-17 17:32

    This book deals with the community of South Riding in the 1930s, and in it we encounter a variety of characters who are very different from each other, but who all have South Riding in common. While this novel was entertaining, I wouldn't call it a favourite of mine. There is a great set of characters to keep track of, and only some of the chapters kept my attention 100%. However, there is something nice and pleasant about reading of a community in which everyone knows everyone. It definitely kept me entertained to read about certain characters and their destinies as well as character development, although I could have lived without all the overt morales towards the end of it.

  • SarahHannah
    2019-05-05 23:45

    I finished this at 4 this morning weeping with just how good it is (one of those that should be 6 stars) This will be one my books to hand out at airports.

  • Charmaine Anderson
    2019-05-09 21:45

    I will admit that I am a Masterpiece Theater junkie. So when I discovered that they were going to have a production of “South Riding” this year I got on line and ordered a used copy. It was published in 1936. I was not disappointed. Two things gave me pause before I began. The introduction said the story moved around English local government. Could that be interesting, I wondered? And then there was a list of characters 6 pages long at the beginning of the book. Wow! How will I ever keep that many straight. But neither issue was detracting. Holtby was a spinster and lived in the era she was writing about and her mother was involved in local government so she knew of what she wrote. I had such a clear picture of the goings on in the seaside village life of 1933. Winifred Holtby’s writing is crisp and quick moving. I was never bored or bogged down. She says a lot with an economy of words. Her character descriptions and dialogue are amazingly insightful with sparkle, humor and pathos. She didn’t judge her characters. Even the badly flawed in the story had redeeming qualities. Sarah Burton is a 38 year old spinster, small, plain, red headed and spunky. She is the new head mistress of the South Riding High School. All of the characters have chapters in the book that unfold as they relate to Sarah or to the local government. Life is changing in this era. The landed aristocracy is losing its grip and urbanization and industrialization are altering every day life. Progressive ideas and opportunities for women are shifting the family and society. Can you be optimistic to a fault? I like these thoughts of Sarah when she first arrives at the school. If she is wrong she is beautifully wrong. “There was all the more reason why she must fortify her children, equip them with knowledge and confidence and ambition, arm them with weapons to fight the deadening monotony of life, arm them with joy, with memories, with passion. She would challenge them to make something better of their lives than their parents had done. She would inoculate their minds with her own gospel of resolution and intelligence. ‘Go therefore, and do that which is within you to do. Take no heed of gestures that beckon you aside. Ask of no man permission to perform’—that was the motto she gave to the girls who left her care to become housewives, typists, children’s nurse, shop assistants. She laughed at her extravagance of vision. Oh, but that wasn’t what she meant. It was something unexpected and spontaneous—an afternoon snatched from the fixed routine of time-tables, a chance of joy, a burst of music, an insistence upon beauty or pleasure of daring. Something positive and wild and lovely—like driving out before the dawn of Greenwich and watching the ships sail up the silver Thames.”The book made me think about women and their need to love a man. All my wallflower friends in High School picked out a guy to have a crush on. He didn’t know we existed but we would carry on our fantasy and it got us through our need for romance. Even though Sarah was a progressive, liberated 38-year-old she still wanted to love someone and becomes infatuated with Robert Carne, a Mr. Rochester like character, with an insane wife who is living in a care center. His story dominates a lot of the book. This is not a satisfying love story but Sarah’s unrequited love is sweet and you long for her to find a happy place, which she does, as all upbeat ambitious people like her are bound to do. I am excited to see how Masterpiece portrays the book. 5 stars – loved it!

  • Morticia Adams
    2019-04-28 20:53

    This is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read for ages. South Riding covers two years in the life of a fictionalised borough in Yorkshire (though with a real name), and immerses you into the local politics and social life of the area. I felt myself being drawn into a gentle vortex where all human virtues and shortcomings intersect and revolve around each other – power-seeking and corruption, dutifulness and rectitude, greed and pettiness, generosity and kindness, but where there is equally a recognition that human beings are usually a blend of both the admirable and the not so admirable qualities. This method of storytelling, if well done, can provide some truly profound insights into human nature, and it’s very well done indeed here, through some excellently drawn three dimensional main characters, and a huge cast of convincing and memorable minor characters. We get some very vivid glimpses of the reality of some of the most significant social problems of the time – poverty, poor housing, the education of girls, and maternal health. But it is the tension between tradition and progress which is at the heart of the story, and it’s explored with great humanity and a nuanced understanding, with both sides of the argument sympathetically presented, personified by the beguiling Carne, a near-bankrupt gentleman farmer, and the ambitious calculating Snaith, who has become wealthy on the back of the modernisation he champions. It is the traditionalist who is the nobler and more likeable of the two, but it is the man who wants to move with the times, albeit we might not like him so much, whom we know is right. Inevitably with this kind of multi-dimensional story of course readers will find themselves having to follow many different narrative threads tracing the stories of the characters, their struggles to lead their lives, and to deal with adversity. This can lead to a confusing and frustrating read, with a lot of loose ends or unsatisfactory resolutions. In South Riding though the little pictures fit comfortably into the big picture and the individual threads are knitted together very adroitly into the larger picture, and with larger themes that transcend these individual histories. And in addition to this dexterity with her narrative, and mastery of her material, I should finally say that Winifred Holtby has an excellent writing style – light, ironic, and with wonderful visually descriptive touches throughout the book, which make the setting feel very real.

  • RitaSkeeter
    2019-05-03 19:45

    Sometimes you just get the feeling that while youlikeda book on the first reading, you know you are going to develop a true love for it on future reads. I guess time will tell if I'm right there, but this was a really lovely book.The book took some time to get moving for me, truth be told I was uncertain of it for quite a time. Part of the problem there was the huge cast of characters. I groaned a little when my kindle edition started with a list of characters six pages long. The trouble with ensemble pieces is inevitably that there are characters I'm not interested in, whilst there is never enough of the characters I want to know more of (George R R Martin, you are a prime offender here!). This book was no different - there were three storylines I was always desperate to get back to, and others I tolerated. I think some of the storylines were unnecessary and did not contribute to or advance the book, and could have easily been disposed of. Obviously I've only just read South Riding now, but when I read The Casual Vacancy I hadn't realised how much JK owed to this book. There are some real similarities between them, not least of which of course is that both are concerned with local council. Lydia Holly reminded me right from the beginning of JK's Krystal, with the exception that (view spoiler)[ Lydia got the chance of a happy ending(hide spoiler)]. JK may have been more realistic, but I like Holtby's conclusion to that better. This book crept up on me. I didn't care much for it at the start, but by the end I was crying - totally invested in the characters. This isn't a plot driven novel; this is a study of warts and all characters. If it wasn't for the fact that it's nearly 600 pages long I think I'd pick it up and start it all over again (well, that and the pile of still to be read library books staring at me). A good read the first time; I'm betting it will be a great read the second time.

  • Beth Bonini
    2019-04-30 00:41

    Fantastic saga set in 1930s Yorkshire.The book is chockful of political and social drama - with truly memorable characters.Like the important women in the book -- Sarah Burton, the Headmistress; and Mrs. Beddows, the Alderman -- I was obsessed with Robert Carne. Symbol of a previous age, so noble and tragic!The entire book rang true, even if it did describe a world unfamiliar to me.I would happily read it again. Like all of the great novels, there is so much in it; one could hardly grasp it all on an initial reading.

  • Teresa
    2019-04-24 00:48

    What a hidden treasure, well, hidden to me until the recent resurgence in interest in Winifred Holtby thanks to the excellent BBC dramatisation of this epic novel. It's been quite a while since I've read such a deeply satisfying, challenging novel.South Riding is simultaneously an engrossing story and an important piece of social history as it examines the lives of ordinary folk in this fictional part of Yorkshire whilst highlighting the extraordinary shifts in perspective which came about between the Great War and World War II. First, the story, which has, yes, a vast cast of characters, well over a hundred of them whose names are detailed before the story proper begins. However, don't let the numbers put you off, the story itself focuses on a few main players - Sarah Burton, a fervent socialist, "I was born to be a spinster, and, by God, I'm going to spin", returns to her home county, determined to revolutionise Kiplington Girls' School where she has recently been appointed headmistress. Foil to her innovative nature, is the brooding local squire and Conservative councillor, Robert Carne who is set against change even though it is inevitable. There are obvious echoes of Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester, Carne's wife is committed to an asylum and Sarah immediately sees the connection when she encounters Carne out riding early on in the novel..."So startled was she that for a moment she could say nothing, aware only of the tossing black neck of the horse, flecked by white foam, its white, rolling eyeballs, its black, gleaming, powerful flanks and the dark eyes challenging her from the white face of the rider...Into Sarah's irreverent and well-educated mind flashed the memory of Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester."Their fractious relationship reflects a community in turmoil where change is feared yet bound to happen and thus we see the balance of power within the local council shifting from the old and the conservative (Robert Carne) to the new and forward thinking, surprisingly coming from the staid Alderman Snaith whose name and slimy behaviour put me in mind of Severus Snape (Harry Potter). Mrs Beddows is the only female Alderman and sympathises with Sarah's ambitions whilst harbouring a maternal affection for Carne. She holds her own on the male dominated council but reverts to subdued wife when at home. Councillor Huggins, a part time Methodist preacher, struggles to suppress the urges of the flesh and thus finds himself in a bit of a pickle. Lydia Holly, Sarah's champion, struggles between academic ambition and the brutal reality of her family background, living in squalour whilst awaiting new housing which the council may or may not approve.I could go on and on but you will have to discover all the other characters for yourself and see if Sarah and Robert can reconcile their differences. South Riding is a tale about ordinary folk who do extraordinary things, the characters literally jump off the page, each one wanting to tell you their story. Do take the time to listen to them....indeed a lot of what they have to say is still very relevant for modern local government - but that's another story entirely!

  • Elena T.
    2019-04-19 18:54

    Neanche la fittizia contea di South Riding, nello Yorkshire, è risparmiata alla morsa della grande depressione degli anni Trenta del Novecento. Nonostante tutto, la comunità è in fermento per l’elezione del nuovo consigliere comunale, il socialista Joe Astell che ha scavalcato il favorito Robert Carne. Ma, in modo forse maggiore, la contea tutta è interessata alla scelta della nuova direttrice  per la scuola femminile di South Riding.Ecco che sopraggiunge la nostra protagonista, rossi capelli e caviglie sottili, l'appassionata idealista (pro-femminista) Sarah Burton.  Personaggio dopo personaggio, casa dopo casa, Winifred Holtby ritrae tutta la comunità con i suoi pro e contro, ognuno con una sua storia, ognuno con un qualcosa da controllare – il tutto accompagnato da una verve audace e di chiara matrice progressista che accompagnerà anche i più scettici.Una lettura simpatica ed appagante con l’unico difetto di risultare pedante su alcuni paragrafi (avrei tolto sommariamente un centinaio di pagine). Segnalo anche la serie tv 'South Riding' della BBC (2011), con una marcia in più rispetto al romanzo, che si avvale della deliziosa Anna Maxwell Martin, già volto di Elizabeth (Bennet) Darcy in “Death comes to Pemberley” e di Bessy Higgins in “North and South”.“Non abbiamo neanche cominciato ad imparare a vivere; siamo ancora una razza di selvaggi ciechi che si aggirano per il mondo brancolando, cerchiamo ancora di tirarci fuori dal brodo primordiale e ci trasciniamo dietro timori, superstizioni e pregiudizi, incapaci di sbarazzarcene perché consideriamo ancora virtù la pazienza e la rassegnazione. Dobbiamo invece armarci di coraggio e prendere in mano il nostro futuro. Se le Leggi ci opprimono, dobbiamo cambiarle. Se la tradizione è retrograda, dobbiamo liberarcene. Se un sistema è sbagliato, dobbiamo correggerlo”. (pag.207)

  • ☯Emily
    2019-05-12 00:57

    South Riding looks at a small community in Yorkshire in the 1930's. We see the impact of the first great war by reading about the handicapped veterans and a larger amount of independent, unmarried woman. We are acquainted with the fear already coming from Germany and Italy, years before the start of World War 2. (Much of the comments and fears are eerily similar to those heard over the past two weeks.) We see the lives of the poor, the socialists, the farmers and the politicians. We see the conflict between the conservative landowners and the progressive politicians. How does a city or town handle the poor? Where does the money come from to build roads and schools and hospitals? All these are explored as we look at snippets from the lives of about 10-15 people. The author, who died before the publication of this book, allowed us to see the strengths and goodness, as well as the weaknesses and evil of each character, so that we get a balanced view of each person. Even the least likeable person is portrayed with sympathy.

  • Peggy
    2019-04-26 20:40

    A wonderful big novel that took me a week to read. This was published posthumously in 1936. It's considered a "social issues" novel, but I disagree, because it’s so much more. The issues rise believably out of the lives of the characters. The novel is framed by the business of local government in the area—southeast Yorkshire. Most of the story revolves around Sarah Burton, the new headmistress of the local girls’ high school, and Robert Carne, a local landowner and member of the Council. There are also many vivid secondary characters, including other Council members, high school students, and the women of the area. Their stories, as well as the loving description of the land and water, add much depth to the novel. Robert Carne is on the Board of Governors for Sarah’s high school. He is your classic British male interest: brooding, full of secrets, and handsome. He is very well thought of by the farmers and workers on his land, but mistrusted by his fellow Councilors, except for Mrs. Beddows, a 70ish longstanding political woman who adores him. Sarah, an independent, free-thinker in her mid-thirties, rapidly discovers that he is a conservative, spend-no-money reactionary who thwarts many of her ideas for improving the school. Naturally she falls in love with him, but their relationship is complicated and Sarah struggles with the emotions that he evokes in her. The women in the novel are usually not well served by their men. One dies in childbirth and Lydia, her gifted eldest daughter, must withdraw from school to take care of her siblings. Another is dying of cancer, but refuses to tell her husband, because he sunk his life savings into a business for them to run together without consulting her, and she doesn’t want to puncture his beautiful fantasy of their partnership. Sarah’s views on the single life for women (virginity being part of that for some, but not for her) are progressive but nonconformist for the time. There are very moving scenes and I was brought to tears at mid-point concerning Lydia’s story. At the end I thought the conversation between Sarah and Mrs. Beddows was so deep and insightful that I felt I had read a masterpiece. This novel was championed by Vera Brittain, a close friend of the author, Winifred Holtby. It was filmed by BBC as a mini-series in 2011 with the great Penelope Wilton playing Mrs. Beddows. Don’t stop at the video, but read the book, too. It describes a time and place that are no longer. It’s rich for its depiction of a changing British economy and the impact on ordinary people (Robert is a landowner, but not a member of the nobility—in terms of the story, the distinction escapes me, but British readers may understand that better). It shows a time when women had few choices and it is unsparing in how it shows the impact on the lives of women from low-income families. Pay attention, those who support efforts to make birth control less accessible. But also read it because it’s everything a novel should be.

  • Anne
    2019-04-18 18:44

    The last time I read this book I was feeling too raw and emotional at the end to write a review. I think I'll give it a try now.I think the greatest strength of South Riding is its sincerity. There is not a cynical bone in this book's body. Some of the characters express cynical views, some of the characters are deceitful and crooked, but Winifred Holtby writes about all of them without passing judgment. All people are good and bad and right and wrong. Sarah Burton realizes at the end of the book that the answer to Mrs. Beddows’s question “Who pays?” (in response to Sarah’s favorite quotation from Lady Rhondda: “Take it and pay for it”—also the epigraph of the novel) is that everyone pays. Everyone is connected; everyone’s experience benefits someone else, someone’s sacrifice is somebody else’s gain. We’re all in this together. To a certain extent that’s what makes this novel so heartbreaking to me. Holtby loved the people of her fictional South Riding and of her real home in Yorkshire, she loved the world—and she died of Bright’s disease at the age of 37 before this book saw the light of day. This time through South Riding, I found myself wondering how much of Sarah Burton’s unrequited love story mirrored Holtby’s own relationship with the man who was never going to marry her. That chapter “Two in a Hotel Are Insane” is one of the most exquisite and excruciating sequences in literature; it contains so much anguish, grief, pleasure and pain, and it all feels so real that I’m curious as to whether Holtby had a similar experience. (Certainly she was a talented enough writer that I don’t doubt her ability to create such a scene out of her imagination, but so much of this book feels personal to the author that I think it’s a possibility.) I love that Holtby shows us the inner lives of people from all walks of life and all circumstances—slumdwellers, middle class, crumbling aristocracy, the healthy, the infirm, the married, the single, politicians, journalists, teachers, students, adults, children—so that we as readers really get a feel for the character of the South Riding. Yes, there’s a love story, of sorts, but in the end it’s the surrounding detail that makes this book one of my favorites. It’s the chapters about Miss Sigglesthwaite, the hapless science teacher, Lily Sawdon, the innkeeper’s wife secretly dying of cancer, and Lydia Holly, the gifted girl from the slums who has to quit school when her mother dies in childbirth. It’s Mrs. Beddows, the competent female alderman (modeled on Holtby’s mother, I believe) stuck in a disappointing marriage, finding fulfillment in her friendship with Robert Carne. It’s the memory of World War I and the specter of World War II—which Holtby would not live to see. South Riding is a masterpiece and I can’t help but wonder what Winifred Holtby would have achieved had she lived longer. It’s one of those books that spoils me and makes it difficult for me to find something just as good to read next.

  • Subashini
    2019-04-29 18:34

    I guess you're meant to sympathise with the main protagonist, Miss Burton, who is the right kind of spinster--despite her quirks and her angular features and her red hair (good or bad depending on who you talk to), she's well- adjusted and charming. There's one Miss Sigglesthwaite, however, who's the Doomed Spinster, who was meant for a lifetime of research and learning and instead became a teacher, and is ill-adjusted to the work, but because of her position (she has to care for her mother) she can't simply quit her job and do what comes naturally to her. Worst of all by the standards of the slightly lean-in bourgeois feminism of Miss Burton, Miss Sigglesthwaite has not learned to monetise her hotness and so exists forever in a drab display of undone buttons and falling hems or whatever. She appears for a bit and is gone, but she's the one I could identify with:"It's true. I know I can't keep order. I've lost confidence. I can't trust myself to keep my temper. It's being always so tired. Those dreadful nights, when you can't sleep, waiting for dawn; and then the dawn comes and you dread it, because in an hour you must get up, in two hours you must face that dreadful staff-room. The young mistresses. It's so easy to be unafraid when you're strong and pretty. Girls get crushes on Belinda Masters. She pretends it's a nuisance, yet it gives her power. Power. Confidence. That's what I'm needing. Oh, if only Father hadn't died quite so early. He believed in me."Miss Sigglesthwaite is not treated fairly at all by the narrative. She is just made to disappear into oblivion, as though it should be perfectly natural why no one should believe in her. All because she didn't realise early enough that she needed to be liked and had to make an effort to appear pretty even if she didn't care for pretty. Wanted to give the book three stars because of that but that would be unfair because the book is otherwise very good and rich in ideas.

  • Tanja Berg
    2019-05-17 22:51

    Rating 4.5 / 5 stars. This book has everything I look for: a good story, wondefully told and with insight into the human condition. A sublime read! Beautifully written, amazing characterization, everything supremely realistic. Reminded me a little bit of "the Casual Vacancy", but that was just because I don't read books that deal with small-town government much. This is a far more optmistic book than J.K. Rowling's, but in other respects, more tragic. It depends on what you seek out, the author has more than one message.Sarah Burton arrives to the little town of South Riding, to become the new head mistress. She has a very clear vision on how to develop it. One of her students is the awkward Midge, daughter of Robert Carne. He is a failing farmer with a wife in a mental institution and it is her care that is costing him everything. Carne is ultra-conservative and he and Miss Burton do not get along. The sparks fly and a romance of sorts is kindled. There are many characters in this book. Some small. Some that fade into the background. Some that grow. This is a long novel which has time for them all. I relished all the little sub-plots. I found that the story of cancer-struck Lily stopped - dropped out of the narration - a little too suddenly and because I really liked the woman, that's the one thing which pulled this down from a five star rating. This is my favorite quote from the book:"And who are you to think you could get through life without pain? Did you expect never to be ashamed of yourself? Of course this hurts you. And it will go on hurting. You needen't believe much what they say about time healing. I've had seventy years and more of time and there are plenty of things in my life still won't bear thinking of. You've just go to get along as best you can with all your shames and sorrows and humiliations."

  • Moloch
    2019-04-28 01:43

    Questo libro mi ha sorpreso. In più di un punto ha preso direzioni che non mi aspettavo. Mi ha anche coinvolto e ha lanciato il suo messaggio senza cadere nel dogmatismo. I personaggi sono vivi, per la maggior parte (non tutti) sono tratteggiati con la giusta dose di luci e ombre, e alla fine ci si appassiona alle loro storie.Quindi, nonostante NON mi sia piaciuto al 100% senza se e senza ma (anzi, sono perplessa soprattutto sul modo abbastanza precipitoso e bizzarro di sviluppare (view spoiler)[la storia d'amore (hide spoiler)], che pure alla fine sembra avere una rilevanza spropositata e ingiustificata - per quanto si era visto prima - nella vita della protagonista), e nonostante il voto più "giusto" sia 3, 3,5 stellette, premio queste qualità con un 4/5.

  • Leanne (Booksandbabble)
    2019-04-20 21:49

    3-4 stars.I cant quite decide yet :D

  • Jane Greensmith
    2019-05-09 19:34

    Really enjoyed this book. A 20th century Middlemarch.

  • Jonathan
    2019-04-26 01:58

    A second reading, which pleasingly resulted in an extra star rating - something that I always hope a re-read will produce but just as often can go the other way. Winifred Holtby's final novel is a sprawling, northern masterpiece, set during the final years of her life, and written mostly when she was aware that her health was seriously failing her. It may have been this knowledge that resulted in the high mortality rate of her characters, but then again there are 172 characters named and listed at the beginning of the book, an amount that would have happily appeared in any grand Russian novel, so you would expect a few not to last the course. The purpose of all these people? I think it shows how most novels do not attempt to portray the vastness of real human interaction (which is fair enough, they are not about real people or events by and large), but in this case it shows that the world is made up of lives that are so interconnected. Forster famously wrote 'Only connect' in 'Howard's End', and it is this as much as anything that guides the people and events of this perfectly constructed story.The main theme concerns a group of local district councillors, and how the decisions they make affect the lives of the people in the fictitious South Riding area of Yorkshire (incidentally there are but three Ridings in Yorkshire - East, West and North - because the word Riding is an old word for a third, so the title and setting of the novel is a little in-joke really). Sarah Burton is the central character, newly appointed headmistress to the local high school for girls, although many of the others characters get as much page time as she does. If I were to list all the plots and sub-plots it would imply that the story is quite dense and convoluted, but it flows quite easily, introducing people along the way, mixing high drama with social comment and a typically dry humour. Many events of the novel are inspired by (if not taken from) Holtby's own life (her mother was a well know Alderman on the local council), and she came from a renowned farming family, whose lives would have at least informed her on the situations that the book's landowner Robert Carne finds himself in. There is indeed a strong sense of the author's own experiences in much of the book, and beginning with those of her time nursing in the First World War, and her visit some years later to South Africa, she managed to include what she had seen and learnt about people into this highly moral and thoughtful novel. Most reviewers rate this one as her best, although to my mind there is something overly romantic about that thought being applied to her final novel. I find it difficult to say which is my favourite, as I love them all. She is an author who deserves to be read as widely as her contemporary Virginia Woolf, or her fellow Yorkshire writers the Brontes, as she has got as much to say about human nature and humanity as they do, and she does so with an assured and individual voice.

  • Laura
    2019-05-20 00:43

    I recently tore a leg muscle and I picked up this book in an scapist mood, only to find it full of the "boring" or difficult stuff of daily life: meetings, job interviews, financial hardship and yes, of course, illness.This novel has been recently adapted by the BBC, but I have missed it. However, I understand fully why it has been chosen, as it focuses on a Yorkshire community during a period of economic austeriry, the 1930s. Is the establishment trying to indoctrinate us during this recession? Is Cameron trying to show us an attempt to build "the Big Society"?Sarcastic comments aside, I have enjoyed this portrayal of a community trying to survive, trying to improve conditions. Central to the plot is the group of aldermen (and alderwoman), local councillors, governors, and teachers who run the government of the county and are in charge of making decisions. The most important one regards the building of council houses to improve the lives of the people who currently live in the Shacks. Along the way, chances for prevarication and corruption come to tempt some of these aldermen.I think it is a very British novel, full of very British characters, in particularly, strong formidable women, such as the headmistress Sarah Burton and the alderwoman, Mrs Beddows. I don't know whether these people are very lovable, but they certainly feel real, full of weaknesses and logical reactions, just like we readers are.There is the schoolgirl who has to leave school to look after her siblings; the lay preacher accosted by blackmailers, the chauffer that sets up a pub in a very unpromising area... And of course, there is also an unlikely romantic hero and a love story which reaches a surprising peak in a hotel in Manchester.I have just read the final chapters, and I have found them moralistic, disappointing. They prompted me to start the review in a sarcastic way. To sum up, they reinforce the "Keep Calm and Carry On" philosophy that makes us resiliant, but also very compliant with the authorities, ready to put up with what is thrown at us. Astell, the Socialist, leaves his local council job in order to have more of an activist role. Others remain in South Riding, fighting to get new school buildings, new roads, better benefits for families in financial hardship, as a "self-help" measure really, as nothing much seems to be expected from the central government. Still, they feel proud to be British and the final Jubilee party scenes feel like a premonition of unity in the face of the enemy, much as was to be seen in the near future.

  • Lucy
    2019-05-15 00:43

    Torn between four stars and five - have to deduct a little bit, for the feeling I was being preached at, at times - but oh! what a book! What a rich depth of characters and events and backgrounds - all are described with equal ease and assurance, with equal pleasure and appreciation - Winifred Holtby inhabits the minds of each and any of her characters at will, and shows us their inner lives, their hopes, fears and motivations, with such intimate and compassionate understanding, that we cannot judge any of them, but must empathise with them all. A bold, joyous, novel about being both an individual and a member of a society, and about making it work, despite the constant conflicts of interest. And a vivid evocation of rural life and landscape, local politics, and the universality of passion.

  • Alisa
    2019-04-18 19:41

    Peyton Place in South Yorkshire. I mean that seriously. PP has a reputation for scandal, but when I read it in my teens, I was surprised to discover a non-glamorous tour of a New England town, looking at families from both sides of the tracks, with an emphasis on the particular characteristics of New Englanders. South Riding does the same for Yorkshire. We travel from poverty-stricken Shacks to the toppled grandeur of the gentleman farmer to the crisp new townhouse of the scheming businessman. Love, death, birth, politics, religion, family, cruelty, circumstance, blackmail - it's all there. The social aspect is particularly interesting, as the new businessman, the passionate socialist, and the traditional gentry are face off over their plans for the future. It's skillfully shown that they all, in their own way, want what's best for their community - it's just they have radically different ideas about what 'best' is. It's also shown that ambitious plans for improvement have negative, even possibly disastrous side effects. And that what on the surface appears to be rigid traditionalism, may actually be compassion. The ultimate message: no one comes out unscathed, but life goes on. For everyone.