callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,
callmemadam
callmemadam

February Books & yet more South Riding

Not many books last month but some of them were very long.
List
Moonshine , Victoria Clayton.
A College Girl, Mrs Vaizey, read on Kindle.
An Incomplete Revenge (Maisie Dobbs), Jacqueline Winspear
A Girl’s Guide to Kissing Frogs, Victoria Clayton, read on Kindle.
William, E H Young
Lily Alone , Jacqueline Wilson
Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamond, Mrs Oliphant.
The Curate’s Wife, E H Young
Telling Tales , Ann Cleeves
Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder , Catriona McPherson.
South Riding , Winifred Holtby

A Girl’s Guide to Kissing Frogs by Victoria Clayton is the perfect antidote to the film Black Swan. It’s so very Lorna Hill plus sex as Marigold, a rising ballet dancer, has so much in common with many of Hill’s heroines. She even comes from Northumberland, where most of the book is set. Ballet rivalries and injuries, lots of descriptions of ballets and of the steps required to dance them, some wildly eccentric characters and rival lovers. Very enjoyable.
Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamond. This is the second story in the Persephone reprint The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow, which I’ve already mentioned. This story seemed surprisingly modern and I’ll happily read more from the prolific Mrs Oliphant.

A College Girl by Mrs Vaizey was a free download for the Kindle. It was first published in 1913 and is both a family story and an account of the joys of Newnham. Darsie and her brothers and sisters live almost next door to another large, happy family and the children grow up together. When a great aunt chooses Darsie to spend a summer with her the girl is at first in despair over the dull time ahead but as a result of the visit she meets the Percivals, a much wealthier family than she has known before, who make a pet of her. She’s a lively, attractive girl but has academic ambitions. Eventually the great aunt makes it possible for her to go to college and Mrs Vaizey makes this time in Cambridge seem idyllic. It’s charming to read of the girls’ rooms and how they decorated them, of the lectures and the fun to be had in college.

The author then slips in (a sop to a certain readership?) the idea that college girls don’t have to be career girls. One of the most popular and successful girls announces her intention of returning home to look after her parents.

"With your brain! With your spirit! After this training! Such wicked waste..." Margaret laughed lightly. "Oh, Darsie Garnett, how mean of you, when I feed you with my best Chelsea buns, to land me in this time-honoured discussion! I'm an only child, and my parents have been perfect bricks in giving me my wish and sparing me for three whole years! The least I can do is to go home and do a turn for them. I fail to see where the waste comes in!" "All you have learned--all you have studied--all you have read--" "Just so! I hope it will make me a more interesting companion for them. And for myself!”

It’s always obvious that Darsie will marry, but which of two potential suitors?

“Tete- a-tete_ with Ralph Percival, Darsie felt a giant of strength and resource--assured, self-confident, a bulwark against which others might lean. With Dan, well, with Dan she was just a slip of a girl, conscious of nothing so much as her own weaknesses, mental and physical; her difficult gropings, compared with his clear vision; her tiny hands and wrists, compared with his big sinewy paw; her slim form, compared to the bulk of the square-cut shoulders. Never--Darsie realised it with a smile--never did she feel so humble and diffident as when in Dan's society; yet, strangely enough, the sensation was far from disagreeable."

It’s clear to the reader that the poor man is much worthier of her than the rich one. I just have to include this quote, because I’d always assumed that back combed hair came in in the 1960s. This is a description of some dressing up:

“a mass of red hair, shortened by that mysterious process known as "back combing," produced a sufficiently convincing mane; a yellow skin hearthrug was wrapped round the body, while paint and wadding combined had contrived a wonderfully good imitation of claws.”

Who knew?

So I did persevere with South Riding, getting drawn into the story. Winifred Holtby may have intended this to be a panoramic novel covering local government and politics in Yorkshire but I think it inevitable that most readers will take more interest in the Carne/Sarah relationship. At one point in the text Sarah reads a sad letter from a teacher she has had to let go, a brilliant scientist now acting as companion to an elderly lady and forced to read novels by the likes of Ruby M Ayres (see previous post of mine). Ruby M Ayres is obviously meant to typify the writers of foolish, romantic novels which many women liked to read. But what is South Riding? Feminist in its way yet, especially towards the end, melodramatic and, I’m afraid, noveletteish. A good read but not quite the serious novel Holtby intended it to be and not a great book. Rather like Jane Eyre, a bestseller which I dislike very much yet every now and then have to re-read.
Tags: charlotte bronte, mrs vaizey, winifred holtby
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