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The Bookshelf

SOUTH RIDING, by Winifred Holtby, New York, Macmillan, 1936. 569pp.


The following review was written especially for the Crimson by Charles A. Steel, of the Department of English.

"South Riding" is the last novel written by Winifred Holtby, who died in September, 1935. Showing a definite growth in maturity of conception and expression, it does not, like the author's "Poor Caroline", extrude mechanical ingenuity; and the political doctrine of "Mandoa, Mandoa!", that popular government ignores the individual, is presented with new subtlety.

The author attempts to trace through her scene in the southeast part of Yorkshire the pattern of "the complex tangle of motives prompting public decisions, the unforeseen consequences of their enactment on private lives." Readers unfamiliar with English local government will do well to turn to Vera Brittain's note (in an appendix) explaining the history and functions of county councils.

But a reader whose primary interests are character and narrative will find the book clear to his reading. From all walks of life a variety of figures illustrates the thesis: Alderman Mrs. Beddows, the shrewd and courageous old lady, triumphant over an unhappy marriage; Lydia Holly, the intelligent and unfortunate daughter of an old rogue whose impecunious family lives in a derelict railway car; Miss Sigglesthwaite, learned science mistress of the high school, who is totally incompetent to rule her incorrigible pupils: Snaith, the wealthy alderman, whose reforms are intellectual rather than humanitarian; Midge Carne, the neurotic, unhappy adolescent granddaughter of Lord Sedgmire. One cannot fail to enjoy the star-crossed romance of Sarah Burton, new head mistress of the high school, and Councillor Robert Carne, a sporting former.

The lives of all these people cross and recross: one sees events from varied points of view. Occasionally a chapter--for example, that called "Nancy Mitchell Keeps Her Dignity"--emerges a polished short story, but always the incidents are a part of the whole, which is a social novel written in Miss Holtby's competent, good-humored style.

The book is not without faults: Robert Carne is always a vague, too romantic figure; his death comes too pat for the plot's development; there is extraordinary and unexpected vulgarity in the speech of Mr. Holly. But the whole is good. The book is a pleasure to read and to recommend.

It is unfortunate that the American publishers gave the volume a drab, ugly binding and failed to correct a variety of typographical errors.

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