September's Fiction Book Club: Winifred Holtby's South Riding.

(51 Posts)
StewieGriffinsMom Sat 03-Sep-11 13:41:44

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SybilBeddows Tue 13-Sep-11 20:44:29

I'm going to post early because my internet is a bit unreliable at the moment and there's a risk I might not be able to tomorrow (and it would be ridiculous if I didn't join in at all, what with me being a character from the book and all.)

When I watched the tv series before reading the book I was a bit freaked by the idea of the rapist as romantic hero, but when you read the book it's interesting how much Holtby stresses how much Carne is punished for what he did: firstly, his constant guilt (the bit about him not being able to enjoy a nice meal ever again because Muriel can't have one), the financial consequences, with his farm being ruined by the cost of the asylum, and finally his death - not a direct result of his wrongdoing in the book, but in the sense that fallen women are often 'punished' in Victorian novels by dying, his death feels retributive in sort of karmic terms.
In a way, though, he still doesn't quite add up for me, because Holtby generally draws him as so noble and splendid, and yet, you know, rape; does she see it as the kind of mistake any man can make? hmm

StewieGriffinsMom Tue 13-Sep-11 22:29:05

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SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 13:43:40

we will need to send the Bat Signal out for Dittany - she had interesting things to say about the tv series when it was on.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 14:06:49

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SinicalSal Wed 14-Sep-11 18:55:07

looking forward to this discussion. It's years since I read it, early teens, so I guess i've forgotten a lot, if I even registered it in the first place.

Interestingly, it was my dad who made me read it, on the grounds that all young girls should. Especially regarding Lydia being such a clever girl and denied an education because of the duties of her gender.

<Bluff old farmer dad (RIP) was a bit of a feminist, really>

SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 19:18:22

oh he must also have loved it because of it showing the financial realities of farming (and possibly also because of the farmer character being all attractive and romantic) Sal.

Holtby is really writing what she knows about, I think that's one of the book's greatest strengths.

Did anyone else pick up the acerbic reference to Cold Comfort Farm, where Carne's frivolous and pretentious SIL says 'How are your cows, what are their names, Graceless, Pointless and Feckless?' (except she gets it wrong).
I read one of Holtby's earlier ones, Anderby Wold, after that, and realised it is definitely one of the books being lampooned by Gibbons in Cold Comfort Farm, so the ref to it in South Riding put in the mouth of a dislikeable character is Holtby's response to that.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 19:50:21

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:01:07

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SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:03:08

<clock chimes nine>

<looks forlornly round empty room>

SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:04:51

x-post.
Good idea to sneak Spoons into the exam.

I loved this book so much. Partly because I live in the East Riding (which "is" the South Riding) and she describes the area very well. The Virago edition has a painting of the Dales on the front which is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT <rage>

SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:06:18

I read somewhere she was trying to write a sort of updated Middlemarch; the way she weaves Big Historical Themes in with the minutiae is indeed very Middlemarchy.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:08:15

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SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:12:36

you need to print this out and stick it on top smile

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:13:00

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:13:40

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SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:13:49

ie it's much flatter and more open than the Dales, and lots of brick rather than stone building.

SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:14:36

she's a fabulous character. I wonder how much like Holtby's mum she was.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:14:53

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SinicalSal Wed 14-Sep-11 21:16:56

grin @ Sybil. Maybe that was my dad's reasoning. But it also struck very close to home for him. A childhood (female) friend of his was forced to leave school at 12 to look after the house and children after her mother died. She was very bright, but her brothers got the chances she didn't. I remember he mentioned what a waste it was many times. This would have been the 60's. The book is quite hot on girls' education & leftyism afair - as was my father.
Sorry for making the discussion a bit personal. But at least I'm making the place look busy and it's all I can remember!

SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:17:36

oh how interesting! I didn't pick those up.

SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:19:49

Sal I think it's fascinating to look at how people received a book and why they liked/disliked it, based on their own history - not too personal at all.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:20:33

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:22:13

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SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:23:20

the 1930s morality is interesting - the fact that she really was risking her job by spending the night with Carne and when she confesses all to Mrs Beddows she fully expects to lose her position.

Did anyone else want to thump Lydia Holly's dad?

it is just sickening how he can cause his wife's death and potentially ruin his daughter's life but get away scot free because he's got his daughter to take over her domestic responsibilities.

SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:24:30

men's NEEDS and women's WORRIES?! ffs!

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:25:42

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:27:29

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SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:28:58

it's interesting that for such a feminist book, Holtby picks such a stereotypical, dominant man riding a big black horse, type of love interest.

of course she subverts it by NOT getting it consummated and then him dying (sorry about spoilers Stewie) but there seemed to be something slightly depressing in the idea that even these modern women go weak at the knees at the sight of a tall strong ungovernable landowner.

I know she tries to make it a lot subtler than that though.

SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:32:11

Mrs Beddows' love for Carne is one of the most interesting things about the book I think. There's the suggestion that she loved him too much, it was sort of an indulgence she allowed herself, and it makes her a much more rounded character the way her love for him is ambiguous, partly seeing him as a son, partly admiring him physically.
I didn't pick up on the socialism/feminism parallel there but you're right.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:33:46

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SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:34:54

using what as a trope? sorry, so many ideas flying around!

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:36:20

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:38:14

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SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:40:22

I don't think so, but he's so wrapped up in his own problems (which admittedly are considerable) and also he's used to women admiring him, he probably doesn't ever notice unless he's after a shag.
He would be a relatively unattractive character (seen dispassionately) if it weren't for his love for Midge - which of course is what makes Sarah change her view of him.

SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:42:08

this reminds me I must reread Jane Eyre with this in mind - the parallels were clearly deliberate (heroine being teacher of landowner's daughter by mad wife, Rochester-like hero on big black horse).

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:43:19

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SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:44:27

oh I think it was definitely a trope.

Actually, the Cold Comfort Farm reference is a sort of clue because it shows she was a writer who knowingly made references to other books, expecting the reader to pick up on them.

SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:46:06

it would be an excellent one for Book Club.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:53:03

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SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:54:37

you definitely get a sense of a writer who is at the top of her game. Handling so many threads and complex characters is impressive as well.

(what else would she have written if she'd lived? sad)

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 21:56:50

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SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:57:21

there are probably loads of references we're missing because we're not from the 1930s!
Even so, it feels completely up-to-the-minute. Especially the local government corruption.

SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 21:59:21

I only read it because of the tv adaptation. It was one of the ones republished by Virago in the 1980s so it must have fallen out of fashion before then.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 22:01:03

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SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 22:01:32

I wonder why it was out of fashion.

SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 22:03:47

it needs to be printed in one of those Penguin Classics editions with footnotes. There's an intro by Andrew Davies in the BBC books edition that I've got but it's mostly about Holtby's life.

alemci Wed 14-Sep-11 22:08:01

I read this 20 years' ago. I know the area where it is set. I believe it is humberside?

I think the poverty was worse than it was portrayed in the tv production but I may be wrong. There was a man on a bike selling insurance if i remember.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 14-Sep-11 22:11:34

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SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 22:19:16

yes Alemci, there are a few minor characters who didn't make it into the tv version and one of them is the insurance salesman who is plunged into poverty.

There's a very touching scene where he has to go to the assistance committee for money and Carne is on the committee having just tried and failed to borrow some money from his brother himself and the man is all ashamed and embarrassed and Carne makes a joke about it and makes him feel better.

SybilBeddows Wed 14-Sep-11 22:20:15

in terms of the geography, I think it's basically the area from Bridlington south to Hull (Kingsport) but she squishes it up a bit to make it smaller.

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