Winifred Holtby's name has been popping up in my reading this year. She was discussed in Virginia Nicholson's Singled Out about Britain's surplus women after World War I, which first piqued my interest. She was born in Yorkshire in 1898. During the war she was a member of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps serving in France. After the war she was educated at Somerville College, Oxford where she met Vera Brittain. The two became great friends each pursuing careers as writers and sharing a flat in London until Brittain married. Sadly Holtby died of kidney disease at the very young age of thirty-seven. Vera Brittain wrote Holtby's biography, Testament of Friendship, which I hope to find a copy of.
Holtby is well known for her novel, South Riding, but she was also a prolific short story writer. I recently came across Holtby's Remember, Remember: The Selected Stories of Winifred Holtby and snapped it up. Holtby wrote about her work:
"I have no illusions about my work. I am primarily a useful, versatile, sensible and fairly careful artisan. I have trained myself to write quickly, punctually and readably to order over a wide range of subjects...At odd moments I write works of the imagination--stories, satires, poems and plays. They are very uneven in quality. They have moments of virtue."
The editor of the collection goes on to say "Nevertheless, in spite of her modest and businesslike attitude, she took pains and pride in her stories." The collection is broken up into sections: Autobiographical, Domestic, Fantasies, Women's Lives, Abroad, and Uncollected and Unpublished Stories. I decided to just choose one story at random, "The Right Side of Thirty" catching my attention in "Women's Lives". I wasn't quite sure what to make of the story, as it read less like a story than a meditation on age. It's obviously autobiographical, and in the end I found it an interesting read and particularly poignant since Holtby herself died so young.
In the story she talks about being invited to a party for a newly published volume of memoirs by a writer 'still on the right side of thirty'.
"But when I read further the publisher's announcement I discovered that the advertised memoir writer is still in her twenties. Her misguided publishers have fallen into an all too common error. They appear to think that the right side of thirty is the callow side, the side of immaturity and ignorance, of helplessness, the side in which one experiences what Tessa in The Constant Nymph truly called the 'undignified state of being a child.' They think of life as a splendid progression up to the pinnacle of thirty, and a mournful slither down the other side. They share the illusion that youth is the season made for joy, that every one past forty lives in hourly peril of going gaga, that with the coming of the first grey hair all pleasure perishes, that innocence lies in ignorance, and that ignorance is bliss."
She goes on to talk about how often youth is prized and age disdained when it's only with age that we truly gain wisdom. She writes "the security of age lies in its knowledge of life." Wise words from someone who was only 32 when she wrote them.