Books Less Read.
Two elements make up the Society’s name: ‘Georgian’ and East Yorkshire’. Tobias Smollett’s novels are set in the Georgian age as William Hogarth illustrated it: earthy, crowded, human, real. George Orwell thought Smollett Scotland’s best novelist. Try Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphry Clinker.
Walter Scott’s most convincing novels are those set nearest his own time and in landscape he knew. Redgauntlet is set in south-west Scotland and tells of a third Jacobite rising following the failure of the ‘45; a fiasco marking the end of the old world of which Scott had written and confirmation that the new had come to stay; the great transition which occurred during our period.
Oliver Goldsmith wrote arguably the finest eighteenth-century poem, The Deserted Village; one of the most durable eighteenth-century plays, She Stoops to Conquer; and what remains one of the century’s most readable novels, The Vicar of Wakefield - not of course the Wakefield to our west.
Many will have visited Shandy Hall at Coxwold. Laurence Sterne wrote Tristram Shandy, perhaps the most atypical eighteenth-novel, which all have heard of, fewer have read. It repays the suspension of expectations and an open mind. I owe a personal debt to Sterne; while vicar of Sutton on the Forest he conducted the wedding of two of my several-greats-grandparents.
That brings us almost to East Yorkshire, and nearer for the moment to our own time. R.D.Blackmore, best known as the author of Lorna Doone,set on Exmoor, set Mary Anerley on and near Flamborough Head and in the old town of Bridlington.
In the villages of Holderness Edward Booth set his exquisitely written, deeply humane novels of rural life before the First World War. No writer better describes Holderness weather. Booth is one of the twentieth century’s most neglected novelists. Try The Cliff End; The Tree of the Garden; Fondie.
Winifred Holtby set South Riding largely in Withernsea and the villages nearby. Anderby Wold, set near her native Ruston, and The Crowded Street, set in Cottingham, are less often read, but well worth reading; her poems are less well known still, collected in what is now a rare book, The Frozen Earth.
Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe takes us back to our period, but perhaps not wholly out of East Yorkshire. A close reading of its early pages discloses that its hero may have been the first and certainly the most celebrated fictional Old Pocklingtonian.
Reading list compiled by Stephen Deas, 28 March 2020.