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Winifred Holtby's South Riding on TV

John Simkin

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Winifred Holtby's South Riding is on TV tonight. The book has a lot to say about local government. It includes the following quotation:

But when I came to consider local government, I began to see how it was in essence the first line defence thrown up by the community against our common enemies-poverty, sickness, ignorance, isolation, and social maladjustment. The battle is not faultlessly conducted, nor are the motives of those who take part in it all righteousness or disinterested. But the war, is, I believe worth fighting... we are not only single individuals, each face to face with eternity and our separate spirits; we are members one of another.

Winifred Holtby died aged 37 on 29th September, 1935. Vera Brittain was Winifred's literary executor, and was determined to make sure South Riding was published. However, as Mark Bostridge has pointed out: "The major obstacle she faced was the indomitable figure of Holtby's mother, Alice, the first woman alderman of the East Riding. She feared that her daughter's depiction of local government, allied to the vein of satire and puckish mischief familiar from her earlier books, might expose her own job to criticism and ridicule... Alice Holtby remained obdurate in her opposition to the book's publication, forcing Brittain to adopt a strategy of mild subterfuge, negotiating the uncorrected typescript through probate in order to have the novel ready for publication by Collins in the spring of 1936."

Alice Holtby immediately resigned from the East Riding County Council when South Riding was published. It received excellent reviews. One critic claimed: "The most public-spirited novel of her generation."


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