Thursday, March 12, 2015

Books at the bus stop

It's not fair to winter to blame it for our woes, but woes we have and winter we have, so I'll fall in line and let it take the blame. Blogging has suffered along with overall morale. But today . . . today we saw sun, and temperatures such that a coatless walk to the library at lunch brought no Boswell-style self-recriminations for impulsiveness. So perhaps hope is reasonably in order?

That said, I'm still a bit behind-hand in almost everything, so I'll place-hold for a few more days. I spent much of last week falling under the spell of Winifred Holtby's 1936 novel of English village life and government, South Riding, on the recommendation of Proustitute and Rohan Maitzen. Dog-eared pages remind me that I intend to write properly about it soon, but for now I'll just share a pleasant moment: as I was standing at the bus stop reading the novel--which I think it's fair to say is all but unknown in the States--another of the regular habitues of my stop saw it, and, smiling, said, "It's not common to come across another Winifred Holtby fan."

To top off this brief, cheering moment of transit communion, a few days later he lent me Vera Brittain's book about her friendship with Holtby, Testament of Friendship. And as I flipped through it, a passage in Carolyn Heilbrun's introduction brought things back around to the writer who has probably drawn my thoughts most frequently through the winter, Virginia Woolf:
Holtby admired the work of Virginia Woolf, still, of course, in progress when Holtby died [in 1939]. Her criticism is notable for being the work of a contemporary woman; it is considerably more intelligent than most of the Woolf criticism produced before 1960. Holtby, for example, recognized, as no one was to do again for many years, that Jacob's Room was a war book: "It is as much a war book as The Death of a Hero or Farewell to Arms; yet it never mentions trenches, camps, recruiting officers, nor latrines. It does not describe the hero's feelings on the eve of battle; not an inch of barbed wire decorates its foreground. . . . She could not know in what terms Tommies referred to their sergeant-major nor what it feels like to thrust a bayonet through a belly. What she did know, what she could imagine, was what life looked like to those young men who in 1914 and 1915 crossed the Channel and vanished out of English life forever."
And now I want to go read some of Holtby's criticism . . .

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