Winifred Holtby’s ‘South Riding’ – and Soldiers – and Horses

I found a fascinating article the other day on Heritage Calling about Winifred Holtby. It set me thinking, and remembering. There was that bit I wrote after reading South Riding. I’d almost forgotten about the horses! If you’ve never read it, and you fancy something to keep you out of trouble in the current circumstances, give it a go. I was interested in Carne particularly, because of how he comes to embody the old world that must be swept away to make space for the new. Here is something I wrote at the time. I think the quote from South Riding is both beautiful, and tragic. Especially when viewed alongside the soldier-horse relationship’s similar fate.

In post-war Britain, but for a few exceptions, the soldier’s horse had become an irrelevance. Those who remained its champions were, like Carne and his fellow veterans,  increasingly dismissed as a reactionary and misguided minority.[1] Winifred Holtby’s novel South Riding captures the complexity of this period between the wars. Here progress sweeps away the ‘old world’, and with it horsemen like Carne, but we are left questioning whether the changes wrought are necessarily for the better:

She could not see the ghosts marching through their minds as they laughed and listened. … That time we got that lift in a mule-wagon, along the Rouen Road, and the driver half-boiled and the mules took fright and we ran right into a staff car and the mule put his head in at the window and ole Turnip Face thought he was having D.T.s … All their dreams for the future, all their memories of the past, swarmed around them, wounding them, mocking them, as the comedian replaced his gloves, whistling pensively, and strolled again off the stage. It was their memories that they applauded.

[1] ‘Everyone knows Colonel Blimp. … Blimp gave the order for the charge of the Light Brigade … Blimp it was, too, who wrote to the papers in 1934 to insist that the cavalry go on wearing spurs after they were mechanized…, Seymour-Ure C., in Bryant M. ed., The Complete Colonel Blimp, Bellew, London, 1991, p.13.

[2] Holtby W., South Riding, An English Landscape, Virago, London, first ed. 1939, 2000, p.106-107.

Horse Silhouette


Find out more about Winifred Holtby here:

Many have heard of the Bronte’s, but are you familiar with Winifred Holtby, one of Yorkshire’s lesser-known literary daughters?Read more

via The Story of Winifred Holtby and the Yorkshire Wolds — Heritage CallingS

Author: janeflynnsenseandsentimentality

I am an independent researcher and writer affiliated to The University of Derby, UK. I was awarded a PhD in 2016 for my thesis: 'Sense and Sentimentality: The Soldier-Horse Relationship in the Great War'.

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