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74 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humanity in Nineteen Thirties Provincial England.
One of the best portrails of English provincial life ever written, South Riding is on a par with the best of Arnold Bennett in it's depiction of 'big fish in little ponds.' The story revolves about a headmistress who arrives to take over a girls high school in a depressed northern town in the nineteen thirties. Other figures include a number of local councillors, a...
Published on 16 Jan 2007 by steve b

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Paints a picture of a woman's life in times gone by.
A well written story, sometimes longwinded, but it captures the period when women struggled for some independance. A passionate tale, without explicit sex, it leaves something to the imagination. Good.
Published 21 months ago by Margarine


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74 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humanity in Nineteen Thirties Provincial England., 16 Jan 2007
By 
steve b (Dudley England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: South Riding (VMC) (Paperback)
One of the best portrails of English provincial life ever written, South Riding is on a par with the best of Arnold Bennett in it's depiction of 'big fish in little ponds.' The story revolves about a headmistress who arrives to take over a girls high school in a depressed northern town in the nineteen thirties. Other figures include a number of local councillors, a talented but poor girl with a host of brothers and sisters to look after and the local squire and his highly strung daughter.

Winifred Holtby was a strong socialist and she could have made stock villans from the local bigwigs and heros out of the working class. What she does do however is create real people with good and bad sides. The local squire is shown to real prtoblems of his own, a mad wife and daughter and no money, while some of the working class fiqures are shown to be shiftless. In its humanity this book is on a par with its near contempory 'Grapes of Wraith.' It is also a very good read with a host of figures remarkable in their realism.

Winifred Holtby died young and this is her only major work. Indeed she knew she was dying as she wrote it. Read it and it will not let you down.

The nineteen seventies TV series is a good adoptation also worth a look.

If you want to known what it was like to live in nineteen thirties provincial England this book will tell you. One of the best books I have ever read.
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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite simply a masterpiece, 7 April 2009
This review is from: South Riding (VMC) (Paperback)
South Riding is subtitled An English Landscape, and it is just that, a landscape made up of people.

Sarah Burton is a dedicated and idealistic teacher who returns to her home county to become headmistress of a girls' high school.

Emma Beddows is the first woman alderman in the district and her work is the focus of her life now that her children are grown.

The dialogues and the developing relationship between those two dedicated but different women are quite wonderful, and there is much more besides.

Robert Carne is a county councilor and a struggling gentleman farmer. His wife is in an asylum and he worries that their daughter Midge will inherit her mental illness.

Lydia Holly loves learning and Sarah believes she has more potential than any other child she has taught but, when her mother dies after one pregnancy too many, her father pulls her out of school to look after her younger siblings.

And so many more - councilors, teachers, pupils, farm workers, townsfolk, all of the people that make up a community and all with their own story.

Their paths, of course, cross and Winifred Holtby tells all of their stories, mixing them and balancing them perfectly.

The characterization is absolutely wonderful, right across the social spectrum.

And there are so many wonderful words and ideas, so many wonderful moments. I really can't praise this book enough.

South Riding is a quite wonderful picture of provincial England in the 1930s.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You don't read this book so much as live it, 4 Feb 2011
By 
Katie Stevens "Ygraine" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: South Riding (VMC) (Paperback)
South Riding is set in Yorkshire in the first half of the 1930s, focusing on the everyday lives of the people who live there. There is Sarah Burton, the new headmistress of the girlsf school who returns to the area armed with progressive ideas and is determined to make a difference; there is Mrs Beddows, the councilfs 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 Holtbyfs 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 arenft 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 Lilyfs 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 Ifve ever read. The outside performance put on by Madam Hubbardfs 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. Itfs all very matter-of-fact and realistic. This may make the novel sound rather bleak, and itfs 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. Ifm sad to leave South Riding and itfs definitely a novel that Ifll be rereading in the future.
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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly a classic of 20th century literature!, 13 May 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: South Riding (VMC) (Paperback)
One of the best books I have ever read, and undoubtedly a classic of 20th century literature, this book provides as authentic a portrait of 1930's England as has yet been put to paper. With its huge cast of characters, the narrative encompasses all aspects of human life, and Winifred Holtby achieves a depth of characterisation which would be the envy of most living authors. Buy it and enjoy!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars South Riding, 25 Feb 2011
By 
A. Hope "bookcrossing ali" (Birmingham, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: South Riding (VMC) (Paperback)
First published in 1936 this is a marvelously feminist 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.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nina, 18 April 2009
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This review is from: South Riding (VMC) (Paperback)
It was amazing how up to date this book was even though it was written in the 193o's. Some of the opinions and attitudes were similar to those held today. This is true of many of the social problems also. The book is well written and engages the attentio throughout.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars South Riding, 14 April 2010
By 
Y. T. Bacon "Winnie" (Hertfordshire, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: South Riding (VMC) (Paperback)
What fun! A clever, witty, shrewd and curiously accurate description of a community that could written about today as well as the early 1930's. The characters are believable and the story entertainly. I've happily lost myself between the pages on my daily communte to work and had a sense of loss when I turned the last page.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars South Riding, 14 May 2009
This review is from: South Riding (VMC) (Paperback)
This is a gem of a book. I had not heard of Holtby until recently and found her own life really interesting. Set in a landscape (Yorkshire) and time (1930s), she deals with issues of the day and I loved the depth to the characters she writes about and I could visualise them as I read the book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book Review, 2 Oct 2010
This review is from: South Riding (Hardcover)
If you're at all interested in the East Ring/ North Lincs. region and especially if you are interested in the 1930s this is the best read. The various story lines are interwoven and, although the writer was a very intellectual woman, her characters are absolutely real and 'live off the page'. The book is both historically valuable and the characterisations so real and intuative. It would be my book for the desert island. R.C..
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In With the New..., 2 Mar 2011
By 
Lovely Treez (Belfast, N Ireland) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: South Riding (VMC) (Paperback)
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!
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South Riding by Winifred Holtby
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