National Provincial is first and foremost ‘a social-political novel, a sprawling panorama of West Riding life and politics in the mid 1930s’ (Rachel Reeves, MP for Leeds West in her Preface); the feminist plea is made almost obliquely because the author takes feminism for granted: it is thus a subtle feminism.
This 600-page book begins with an enticing description of Mary’s arrival home (Lettice Cooper draws us so inexorably into the Aire world that we are gripped from the first line), her difficulties with her invalid mother and then her re-entry into local life. Just like Mrs Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters and Winifred Holtby’s South Riding, published in 1936, the novel evokes Yorkshire life in all its facets, as well as the everyday experience of a young woman living there.
But the climax of the book is a strike (as in Mrs Gaskell’s North and South). And the main focus is on snobbery, and very British kinds of snobbery, Like Dorothy Whipple (another Northern writer) Lettice Cooper is amused by all this although ‘her main focus is political: she is strongly committed to the centre-left and distrusts all extremists, especially the Communists’ (Reading 1900–1950).
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