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I have 80 pages to go because I couldn't do anything yesterday but read. Selfishly, I wish that Holtby had not died so young. I'm sure she would have written a sequel eventually to follow the South Riding community through WWII and the aftermath. She has so many creative years left...
There's a new BBC adaptation forthcoming but other than an tv tie in edition and a mention on forthcoming programmes, I can't find a date for it.
When I get it and get back into it, I will meet you all here once again.
Thinking about it, I was in my early twenties when I read several Winifred Holtbys and that's now thirty years ago (twenty years was optimistic!) so this is likely to be almost new to me.
From South Riding, early on in Book VII, chap 1:
"All through the year she and her family set themselves to accumulate the objects which she could bestow as gifts at Christmas. In a chest on the front landing known as the glory hole they stored the harvest of bazaars and birthdays, of rattles, bridge-drive prizes, bargain sales, and even presents which they themselves received at former Christmases. Into the glory hole went blotters, pen-wipers, and painted vases, dessert d'oylies, table-centres and imitation fruits of wax or velvet, knitted bed-jackets and embroidered covers for the Radio Times, all the bric-a-brac of civil exchange or time-killing occupation. The indictment of a social system lay in those drawers if they but knew it -- a system which overworks eight-tenths of its female population, and gives the remaining two-tenths so little to do that they must clutter the world with useless objects."
This is one of the things I am loving about this book -- its ability to give tactile, personal-feeling experiences while having resonance in social theory. The whole outline of the book, based on local government, sets this up, but the book doesn't get bogged down in it. Instead, Holtby gives us fully drawn characters, not caricatures. The strong outline does however give a strong structure, which helps give the story shape and dynamics.
I'm loving this book, and as I'm drawing near to the ending, have mixed feelings. I'm very impatient to find out what's going to happen to some of the characters. But I don't want the experience of reading the novel to come to an end just yet....
How intriguing about embroidered covers for the Radio Times (presumably then as now a magazine, although the modern version actually gives more coverage to TV than radio).
More seriously, I noticed the reference to someone presumed to have died in Dachau - Holtby was writing in the early/mid 30s, at a time when politicians claimed not to know what was happening on the continent ...
"These rumours of Hitler's Nazi movement in Germany? There swam before her tired mind the memory of that summer holiday in the Black Forest, of tables outside a vine-wreathed inn, and Ernst, lean, brown, eager, in the khaki shirt and shorts worn by hundreds of young Communists -- drinking her health in beer after a strenuous walk. Ernst, who wanted peace and comradeship and a mystical unity of like-minded youth -- Ernst, whose mother had been a Jewess...Ernst, who had disappeared, and who had, some said, been beaten to death at the Dachau concentration camp. These things happened to one's friends.. They were important."
Hardly dare say (whisper) I too just received a copy in the post for joining the Virago Book Club.
If you prefer the classic green one, we can arrange a trade-off (that is, if we trust the mail after this incident), but I'm going to be selfish and ask not to do it until I've finished it -- almost there.....
By some coincidence, I'm now reading 2 books partly/wholly set in Eastern Europe in the late 30s, and earlier this month I read another novel set in Nazi Germany. So I really should have remembered it.
I wonder if I was in time to get a copy for joining the Book Club. I haven't received anything yet, and I thought I was quite quick to respond. I do have a green one, though, so I suppose I can't complain. Maybe it will be a future Book Club read.
Ahhh... I've only read about 15 pages and remember why I loved it so on the first read. Just as good as Middlemarch...
Now I know there are mad wives in families and they have to be cared for, but I wish that Holtby had used another plot line to explain Robert Carne's financial difficulties and his depression. Caring for his wife as he did does prove he is a man who loves deeply, is loyal and honorable, and is responsible, especially since he thinks he caused her madness by getting her pregnant. But I couldn't help thinking of Mrs Rochester in the attic. This seemed to me a bit of unnecessary sensationalism.
So many families lost their financial security as a result of WW1. If Robert's father died and then an older unmarried brother was killed in the war, Robert would have paid double death duties. Then, as shown in the novel, he still had to deal with the money-drain of running a losing enterprise. I believe this would have been more realistic than the plot device of using all his resources to maintain his wife in the best sanatorium. He would have had fewer ongoing debts and may have been able to break even running the farm.
But Holtby wanted Robert to have more than just financial worries so she threw the insane wife into the mix. This leads to his guilt over making her pregnant (did he rape her?) and his worries about the erratic behavior of his daughter.
So I think I talked myself into agreeing that the crazy wife was necessary to further Robert's story. Still, I wish Mrs. Rochester would just go away...
I also thought Holtby might be saying something implicitly about the wobbly state of the genetics of the upper crust, versus the hybrid vigour of the working and middle class in England. Robert married 'above his station' and got a pig in a poke, poor guy, bankrupting himself to keep his wife at the level he thought she must have. My modern sensibility thought he was daft to do this but I didn't grow up in a class system in this era, so I can't speak fairly to how someone might have felt about this.
Did Robert's wife fear sex? Or just sex with him? Or just childbirth? Her father brings up the question of whether the child is Robert's. I don't remember, so if anyone has just finished the book or is reading it now and comes across relevant passages, I would love to know.
The genetics angle is most intriguing. Oh how I wish we could sit down to tea with Winifred and hear what she was really thinking when she wrote.
My quibble was not about the mad wife but - why would a feminist woman fighting for all the things she was said to be fighting for, fall in love with a Tory landowner? I mean, what was that about? I kept waiting for Jo Astell to suddenly become more sexy and appealing and step up to the plate...
ETA: I'm going to hunt for that slur from the wife's father (her name has gone right out of my head).
When I was writing romance novels, the convention was to have the "more experienced" lady vie with the "innocent" heroine for the love of the rakish hero. And the damned fool always chose the innocent. I. personally, could never understand that so my heroines, although always innocent, considered their virginity a pain in the ass and were more than happy to become a quick study to the joys of sex. But the formula always demanded that the "experienced" woman had to be a self-centered bitch Thank goodness, times have changed.
It's the dialogue between Lord Sedgmire and Mrs. Beddows when he comes to take Midge back to the family estate. Page 456 Original Virago:
"You mentioned something about a lot of young officers. And that it was the talk of the place." ..... (Lord Sedgmire speaking)
"So I know her inheritance. Is this child Carnes?"
"He claimed it."
"Is it like him?"
" Not in any way. But that's nothing. He claimed Midge..."
It is not so much a slander, but an acceptance that his grandchild might not have been his son-in-law's.
ETA: That said, with the blindness of Robert's blind love for Muriel and Muriel's behaviour being pretty manic even before she gave birth, I think we are meant to feel doubt about Midge's paternity and to feel even more pity for Robert.
Barbara, I think a drop dead handsome guy from a 500 year old family which had gobs of money (until the post-war slump and Muriel's problems), who can love deeply and with great passion would be a pretty big draw, his Conservative tendencies notwithstanding!
It starts on Sunday 20 February here in Britain.
I don't know when I'll get to watching it but I was thinking of buying the DVD of the much longer 1970s version (13 hours not 3) which is also available from online retailers.
Why does Andrew Davies think Holtby is dumbing down compared to (Anthony) Trollope though?
I watched the first episode on "catch-up" tonight - most BBC and Channel 4 programmes and some others are possible to watch for about a week after they were broadcast, sometimes all episodes until a week after the last one, which is handy for me as I'm upstairs with our 2 year old when most things I want to watch are on.
I'll have to look up the age of the actors playing Sarah Burton, but she doesn't look anything like 40 which is annoying - and the older woman alderwoman doesn't look to be in her early 70s. It would have been nice to cast age appropriate actors in female roles in this, wouldn't it?
The oddly sexualised dancing was commented on in yet another radio program I heard, but I thought, that's in the book. I'll have to try and watch it again, I think!
I watched South Riding yesterday evening. I wasn't sure what to expect from it as (like many of us) I have only recently read the book and that can make me overly picky. I did enjoy it however. I thought the casting was good though I do agree with your point, Luci, about the youthfulness of the cast. They were generally a younger and more glamorous version of the images I had of them! Lydia, maybe because she's intended to be young, looked exactly as I imagined her. I was relieved that the accent and dialects sounded fairly authentic.
I re-read the dancing scene in the book . It does take place as shown but Sarah seems more uncomfortable with it than she appears to be in the dramatisation.
The best thing of all about the dramatisation for me is that Mr Dragon loved it too and decided we really needed a first edition of South Riding! We have ordered a rather special looking one from Maggs Bros Rare Books which appears to come with an autographed letter. Very exciting!
I've only seen the first episode so far and I'm finding it enjoyable. The changes that have been made for the purpose of condensing the book into three hours of television have all seemed very logical so far and it's well cast, even if they do err on the young side. I think Judi Dench would have made a fantastic Emma Beddows though, if I were casting it and had an unlimited budget.
The setting was portrayed realistically although I found some of the indoor scenes far too dark and this detracted at times. (yes, I did fiddle and attempt to adjust my colour balance etc!) The school uniforms were soooo like the brown tunic I used to wear ....
The culmination of the drama seemed to happen in a huge hurry - did he suddenly realise he only had a few minutes of screen time remaining?
Having said all that - I did watch it all despite being a little disappointed. One of those cases where the book may well be read by those whose interest is piqued.
60, 63>: (The First Edition) It arrived and is absolutely lovely. It is in nice condition with a cream spine and green boards and came in a racing green box with a label that announced it was number 4 out of 175 copies. Included is a card signed by Winifred (looks like it was attached to flowers at some point) and also a delightful letter signed by Winifred Holtby to a May Kitston at Crooked Acres in Kirkstall, Leeds, saying how much she'd enjoyed having her to stay etc... Very special!
I should manage a photo soon- I am just getting my life back to a semblance of normality after a frantic month getting final course-work done. I handed my portfolio in on Friday so can breathe again. Looking forward particularly, to catching up with everyone's threads (including my own) on the 75 challenge forum!
I believe David Morrissey did quite a nice little interview on the radio (maybe Front Row) in which he particularly commented on the attitude to local government in South Riding.
I would be interested to hear David Morrissey's comments, Luci. I wonder if they're still available at Listen again...
I just remembered that the new Virago forum is discussing South Riding this month. Link below..
here and the back is
here (Left click to zoom in!)
It is a very conventional sort of letter but obviously wonderful to have. Steve and I have been doing a bit of research into the Kitson family. (The envelope, which I haven't scanned, is addressed to May Kitson of Crooked Acres, Kirkstall, Leeds). It seems May Kitson was a relative of a Leeds Kitson who was involved in locomotive design.
I have discovered that there is a large Winifred Holtby collection at the local heritage centre which was donated by Vera Brittain. Lots of interesting sounding letters there plus the original manuscript of South Riding! That will be my next Holtby mission- don't think I'll be able to scan those though!
I intend to tape it on my DVR as I watch so little T.V. I know I would forget to watch it.
Dee, what a lovely find.
As an additional aside related to various editions of the book I have a small anecdote. I was fortunate to receive the lovely new Virago edition from the publishers for which I was most grateful, even though I possessed the original VMC. When I was in France over Easter I was browsing the shelves of my parents Minty bookcases which we took out and imagine my joy when I found another, much earlier edition. A slim green hardback with my dear Father's signature on the inside cover. A very special find indeed!
I watched the first installment on TV last night and quite enjoyed it.
I enjoyed the first episode but then was disillusioned with the second episode and still have the third to watch. I was disappointed that so much of the plot was condensed -much of what Holtby was saying was "rough shod" over whilst a lot of time was devoted to flashbacks about Miriam which weren't part of the book, as far as I can recall!
While I recognize there are so many subplots in the book, and understand why some may have been omitted, I also feel that without them some of the characters remain undeveloped. Take for example, Emma Beddows. She was a very strong character in the book and not significant enough in the series. There's no mention of Beddows' pioneering role as first alderwoman, or any of her personal history (marriage, money, etc.). It's a waste of Penelope Wilton's talents, imo.
I totally agree that Wilton is wasted. Also, I was a bit distracted by having two actors play Carne. Considered how much was cut, I don't know if it was necessary to show the rape scene.
I'm enjoying the series, but it isn't a keeper.
P.S. Women, am I right that David Morrissey is much more attractive than boring Matthew McFadyen?
David Morrissey did have a certain appeal although I think the dour Yorkshireman thing was just a little overdone!
>84 Liz1564:: :-)
I've enjoyed Andrew Davies' other productions but this one did not live up to his past successes. The train scene missed the point but at least it gave Wilton something to do (I'd commented earlier that her talents were wasted in this adaptation). There were any number of underdeveloped and/or missing plot elements. The special effects in Carne's final scene were also ridiculous and for some reason reminded me of the parting of the Red Sea moment in The Ten Commandments. And that very final scene ... GIVE ME A BREAK.
OTOH, Huggins was just as I'd imagined him to be, so oily and repulsive, yet too ineffectual to be anything more than pathetic by the end. (That's pathetic in the scornful sense used as a playground insult, not the dictionary definition.)
>85 rbhardy3rd:: I'm not a huge fan of McFadyen either. Hated him as Darcy.
I liked him in Little Dorrit.
I agree with you about the scene with Joe !
I was glad to see some things dramatized by some excellent actors. I really didn't like the liberties taken with Muriel coming to the mental home at the end, and how Astell's focus on social issues became simplified into being a torch for Sarah -- I felt that really trivialized the social theme so strong in the novel and just made romance out of it all. And that all got reduced to running in the tide in a bathing suit at the end? >85 rbhardy3rd: Like you said!
I suppose it's because such a large work had to be so condensed into three short episodes. I do think some small details could have been left in though, like the busy, family-filled background of the Beddows household -- could have seen that without dialogue easily. Also, the way in which Carne dies in the novel had been well set up and was ignored here -- I just didn't see the reason for that, except to muddle things. The scene with Midge and Lord Sedgmire was changed for reasons I didn't understand at all either -- the dialogue in the novel was simple and straightforward and would have been more effective and in keeping with character.
Anyway, I guess overall I'm glad it was done at all, and I hope maybe it will inspire some new readers of a real masterpiece, the novel.
Edited to say for "nice" actually read intelligent, articulate and sensitive.
Also I think Holtby is exploring the conflict between sympathising with rural landowners and having socialist beliefs which she first looked at in Anderby Wold.
What say you? Do you have some book in mind that contradicts this? Maybe Harriet Vane, but we don't really see her doing it except in the short story "Talboys."
My question to the discussion group would have to still be Why not Joe with whom she could have had both?
Also, I'm pretty sure that she would have had to give up her career had she chosen to have children, even if she had continued it after marriage. I don't know what the law said, but I know that even when my mum was teaching in the late 60s/early 70s, it was made almost impossible to continue teaching after having a child. Of her 12 weeks maternity leave, 8 HAD to be taken before the birth. Naturally, she chose to give up work rather than only have a month with her new baby. ( I think those numbers are right; I do remember that it was a hugely disproportionate amount of leave that had to be taken before the birth compared to after.)
Since grammar school teachers were almost exclusively women, they seemed to be primarily single or, if married, older with no young children. They also were paid less than secondary teachers.
Also, my mother-in-law told me that the male nurses got paid more than female nurses in the hospital where she worked No one realized this until a newly hired male nurse fresh out of training won the weekly "paycheck poker" pot. When he showed his paycheck to the woman holding the cash, she was shocked to find out his salary was 1/3 more than hers. The response of the hospital? There will be no change. If you are unhappy, quit.
Prior to the changes, any novel, at least set in Chicago, would be"pure" fiction if the heroine had a family and a successful career .The 1924 Pulizer novel "So Big" by Ferber, set in Chicago and a suburb had a heroine who became a successful business woman only after her husband dies and she could bring modern changes to her truck farm.
Even Miss Buncle stops writing her third novel when she finds out she is having a baby, although her editor husband says that it is the finest writing she has produced.
But he did also talk about the fact that initially the series was meant to be a four-parter. After he had written it, the BBC decided it would work better in three parts. So he had to cut out a lot to make it fit. And, to go along with what a lot of you have said, he claims he was very disappointed in the ending.
I realize now that Woolf was often very jealous of other living writers. I think also she met Holtby, who had written about her, a few times and felt a class and generation difference which she couldn't get over.
This has made me want to go back and re-read South Riding. Maybe I have enough independence of mind now to like both. Glad I didn't see the series though.
In Uncommon Arrangements, Kate Roiphe writes that:
"Many of Winifred's friends objected to the tragic, strained portrait of Winifred that emerged from the pages, (of Vera's memorial, Testament of Friendship), to the resolute erasure of her quirkiness, her sense of humor, her vitality"
Virginia Woolf wrote, "Winifred deserves better."