Anderby Wold was Winifred Holtby’s first novel, published in 1923. It opens with Sarah Bannister, neé Burton, driving with her husband to visit her brother John and his much younger wife, Mary. The occasion is a family celebration to mark the ending of the mortgage on Anderby Wold Farm. As she travels, Sarah muses uncharitably on her sister-in-law, which makes the reader inclined to favour Mary. Later, you begin to understand Sarah’s point of view. Mary is the heroine. It’s hard to believe she’s only twenty eight because in ten years she has turned around the fortunes of the farm and paid off the mortgage, while at the same time making herself queen bee and lady bountiful in the village.
‘You’ve no sooner got your shirt in t’wash but she’s after you to see if you want a new one', sighed Ted Wilson.
But even he agreed that she was wonderful.
Obviously someone so apparently perfect is poised for a fall.
One dark and stormy night she meets young David Rossitur and carries him home to be nursed through a cold. He’s a fiery socialist and Mary disagrees with everything he says, yet she enjoys their arguments and mentally contrasts him with her kind but dull husband. This attraction of opposites was to be used again with Carne and Sarah in South Riding. As a result of David’s impassioned speeches and newspaper articles a more practical socialist arrives on the scene who tries to organize the farm workers into a union. This starts a chain of events which proves disastrous for several of the main characters. It’s well known that Holtby had progressive views yet here, as again in South Riding, she shows the difficulty of changing old established ways. While David is a genuine if wrong-headed believer in what he professes, the ‘socialists’ who cause the trouble act out of pure spite. So the reader is obliged to sympathise with the forces of reaction, which is uncomfortable.
No spoilers for the dramatic ending but this is a bleak novel. I still enjoyed reading it for the depiction of Yorkshire life: the landscape; the rituals of the farming year; the dialect; the gossipy, reputation-ruining tea parties; the huge, cholesterol-heavy high teas. It reminded me of Dorothy Whipple’s High Wages and I preferred it to The Crowded Street.