‘the thing that matters is to take your life into your own hands and live it, accepting responsibility for failure or success. The really fatal thing to do is to let other people make your choices for you, and then to blame them if your schemes should fail and they despise you for the failure.’
Muriel, the books main character spends most of the book working towards this understanding of her life, a life where ‘men do as they like’ but women ‘wait to see what they will do’.
I had read a couple of other of Winifred Holtby’s novels many years ago, “South Riding” and “Anderby Wold”, but this one had evaded me. So it’s thanks to the 1924 Club for this late discovery. Click on the image below to find out more about the club.
Of the three books I have read for this reading club, this is the one I enjoyed the most.
Muriel grows up in a small Yorkshire village with all the benefits and restrictions this entails. Most of the restrictions are laid down by her domineering, social climber of a mother for whom “respectability” is everything. We follow Muriel up to and through the First World War as she aspires to find a husband or some role in life away from marriage. The chapter headings all refer to major influences and responsibilities in her life (her sister, her mother, etc), except the last and shortest chapter entitled “Muriel”. The gradual realisation by Muriel about her life is handled superbly, as she moves through life dedicating herself to others until she finally faces up to herself and her predicament. A predicament faced by most women at that time, whose only purpose was to make a “good” marriage.
I lived in York and Leeds for nearly 30 years so the area portrayed was very real to me, even though the mixing of real and imaginary places could be a bit confusing at times, to anyone local. The scenes around the bombardment of Scarborough during the First World War are particularly vivid as the War is brought brutally right into people’s homes.