Windyridge. A Yorkshire Novel By A New Writer.
Few folk are fortunate enough to experience the pleasant disillusionment that has befallen Mr. Riley. According to his publisher's note, appended to Windyridge, the new novel that represents the first-fruits of his pen, the author had no thought of either printer, or public, when he wove his tale. The kindly purpose of whiling away the hours for a stricken friend, alone, actuated him in the first instance, and but for the urgent entreaties of the privileged audience, the book would have perished unread by the outer world. Mr. Riley himself, apparently, had small faith in his offspring, and it was in a spirit of jest, rather than in earnest, that he submitted it to a publisher. Its immediate acceptance, coupled with an offer for any other works from his pen, proved a surprise as complete as it was refreshing. That the reader will hardly share in this emotion conveys a compliment of the highest order.
Mr. Riley is a business man, director of a well-known Bradford firm, but there is little of the commercial element in the story he sets before us. Rather the spirit of the countryside, and the irresistible call of the moors, invests it with such charm as only a few books possess. The Yorkshire-lover will frankly delight in it; and one pictures the South-country reader battling manfully with the bluff West Riding tongue, that makes of every page a homeland to the native, born within sound – dare we say? – of Leeds Town Hall.
The game of unmasking the anonymity in which a writer elects to veil his scenes, or personages, is not always defensible, but it is certainly fascinating. When, for instance, we find "Airlee" and "Broadbeck" described as rival and adjacent West Riding cities, the temptation to fit the cap more nearly becomes well-nigh irresistible. And a shrewd guess as to the true identity of the "Airlee mercury", that also makes a fleeting appearance in the tale, is inevitable. "Marsland Gap" and "Fawkshill" and "Windyridge" itself, are equally titillating to the topographic soul – and "Romanton", described as the goal of a walk over those heather-clothed "tops" the writer loves so well, will only suggest one place to the rambler in our Yorkshire dales. "Fawkshill" – a car ride out of "Airlee" – forms the starting-point of the story Mr. Riley has to tell. And it is to this commerce-marred spot that Grace Holden, artistic photographer and designer of magazine covers, comes in her flight from London and the roar of the streets.
TYPICAL YORKSHIRE "FOWK"
Fawkshill is spoiled, and its once fair foliage blackened, by the smoke of the city's chimneys. Nevertheless, it is near Fawkshill, up a tiny by-lane from the tram terminus, that Grace seeks the haven-home her tired soul is seeking. A tiny, two-roomed cottage to let, set in a fold of the purpled moors, and she shakes the dust of Chelsea from her feet for ever.
Grace Holden is a modern heroine. Thirty-five, capable, energetic, and dreamy; a Martha and a Mary by turns, she forms the medium through which the author tells his tale, and it is through her eyes that we see the glories of the moorlands, and the whimsicalities of the moor folk, that make up the thread of the book.
Daily happenings and the delights of the changing seasons; tales of the neighbour folk and dishes of village gossip, spiced with the breezy telling, serve as the main ingredients of Windyridge; but the experienced reader is allowed to scent a love idyll in its earliest chapters, and it is to the sound of wedding bells that this story of a London woman's hegira1 closes.
MOORLAND AND VILLAGE PICTURES
It is not, however, for its dramatic action, or its interplay of character, that the new novel lives in the memory. It is the moor picture, and the kindly Yorkshire village folk: the homely mother tongue, and the quaint characters that serve to earmark the story from the mediocre run. Mother Hubbard and farmer Goodenough, Barjona Higgins, and the buxom widow who so courageously takes him in hand: the whole village community, live before our eyes.
On the side of the "gentry", the old Squire, and the cynic, the vicar and the doctor, form a coterie whose conversation bristles with the controversial points of the hour, from Suffragettes to hobble skirts. Indeed, Farmer Goodenough's hearty foreword to the guests crowded round his Christmas table, might well be quoted as a foreword to the book itself. "Now you know you're all welcome. We're not allus botherin' folks to have some more, when there's plenty before 'em, and all they've to do is to reach out for 't; but if you don't all have a good tea it's your own fault, and don't blame me" – and the author might apply the same sentiments to his book. The reader has only to reach out; there is plenty before him. Mr. Riley's succeeding ventures into literature will assuredly be looked for with eagerness by those who have read Windyridge.
A New Publisher.
It is not often that the first book to be launched by a new publishing house is from the pen of an unknown writer. But the new house of Messrs. Herbert Jenkins (Limited), of 12, Arundel-place, Haymarket, shows signs of being inclined toward novelty and enterprise in publishing, and that in a manner which looks like making for prompt success. The first book to be issued under the new imprint is one easy to enjoy, but hard to classify. Its title is Windyridge, and its author's name is given as W. Riley. The publisher's note settles the question of the author's sex, for it describes him as "Mr. Riley". But for this, one might have been led, by sundry flashes of intuition and other features of its text, to have attributed the book to a feminine hand.
Its irony is gentle to the point of tenderness, its sentiment is of the kindliest and most delicate, and the supposed narrator – the book is written in the first person singular – is a woman. Be that as it may, here is a book about which one prophecy may be made with safety: it will be read, quoted, and enthusiastically admired by a multitude of people; and that for the simple reason that it will reach the hearts of a multitude. It is that – sufficiently rare – kind of a book; unpretentious, vitally human, rich in kindly, gentle humour, and withal, mellow understanding. It was originally written, we gather, not for publication, but to cheer and divert friends in trouble. Perhaps that accounts for its direct human appeal. Windyridge will be much talked of and much read this autumn; and its publishers are to be congratulated upon the very auspicious start they have made.
Windyridge. By W. Riley. (Herbert Jenkins Ltd. 6s.)
Cast in the form of a diary account of how a lady artist, sick of the noise and turmoil of London, rented a cottage and lived for a year in Yorkshire, Mr. Riley has given us as sweet and simple an idyll of rural life as one could wish. Truthfully does it portray the longing for the land – "the call of the heather" – of the Yorkshire moors, and sweetly does the book discourse on human nature, with its foibles, its sacrifices and its goodness. We are told it is the author's first novel: if this is so we congratulate him on his fine piece of work, and the public on its acquisition of a potential source of fresh delight, for Mr. Riley is bound to write more. There is some dialect in the book, but not too much nor too difficult to understand. Windyridge is a charming book, and we prophesy great things of this clever author, who writes with restraint as well as power, and with understanding as well as love of human nature.
Windyridge. By W. Riley. (Herbert Jenkins. 6s.)
Windyridge has the freshness of a brand-new author and a brand new publisher upon it. It is a very sweet and pleasing book, purporting to be the experiences of an attractive woman of thirty-five who flies from London because the cries of the suffering City were too loudly and unceasingly in her ears, and she could do little to help. In the Yorkshire moorland village she discovers, as its squire has warned her, that the Devil is no City gentleman, too busy to come North. He works away on Windyridge; but angels fight there too, and the beautiful fortitude and kindness that the girl meets keep her heart up. Marriage and happiness come to her in the end, as was foreseen by all astute readers directly the cynic appeared upon the scene. This same cynic is sometimes inclined to be tiresome and ponderous: but he does not spoil a very fragrant, charming book.
The publisher's note on Windyridge by W. Riley (London: Herbert Jenkins, Ltd. 6s.), speaks of "Mr." Riley, but we are inclined to suspect that it ought to be "Miss" for Windyridge is plainly a woman's book. The publisher's note also speaks of W. Riley being a new writer, and, that being so, this is really a magnificent start in the art of writing fiction. The story is a very homely and simple one, having no plot worth mentioning, but for all that, the reader's attention is held from start to finish. In the main, the story is an account of a young lady who escapes from the strenuous life of the city and finds refreshment in the simple life of a Yorkshire village which the author calls "Windyridge". The young lady, Grace Holden, takes a cottage, sets up as a photographer and artist, and soon wins her way into the hearts of the villagers, becoming the friend and advisor of all and sundry. Naturally her appearance in the village creates no end of gossip and speculation, but, in the end, these give place to a real love for the stranger. The Squire, Mother Hubbard, Reuben Goodenough, the farmer who is constantly quoting what t'Owd Book says, or what he fancies it says, and Barjona Higgins are all strongly-drawn characters, though the "Cynic", who captures Grace Holden's heart and marries her in the last chapter, does not strike us as a live creation. Mother Hubbard, excepting for her name which is reminiscent of the old nursery jingle, is a really splendid character. A Methodist class-leader, with strong theological views of her own, she pervades the whole book and sweetens every page of it. The last few pages of the chapter containing "The Parable of the heather" we read aloud to a Methodist gathering the other night where a conversation on the second chance was being carried on, and it created a great impression. Mother Hubbard's theology was very comforting. We very heartily commend Windyridge to those in search of a pure, wholesome story. It is a choice book, fresh, and well-written, and it is the first book published by this new firm, of which Sir George H. Chubb is the chairman.
The immediate success of a first novel by a new writer is sufficiently rare to call for some remark, and Mr. W. Riley, the author of Windyridge, deserves all the bouquets that are being bestowed upon him, while congratulations are also due to that recently-started publisher, Mr. Herbert Jenkins, for immediately scenting the possibilities of the story. It is an amusing fact that most reviewers spoke of the novel as the work of a woman. This is not surprising, since the book is written in the form of an autobiography, by the heroine, Grace Holden. Moreover, Mr. Riley has a very "lady-like" style. I hesitate to say that he understands women, because it is a bold thing to say of any man. "Woman", said George Meredith, who had a reputation for knowing something of the sex, "will be the last thing civilised by man." But in Windyridge Mr. Riley seems to me to succeed very cleverly in entering the mental kingdom of woman, and depicting, too, a very charming specimen. Reviewers are not the only people who made a mistake as to the sex of the writer, for the publisher of the book, Mr. Herbert Jenkins, was so convinced that the work was feminine that he addressed the author as Miss Riley. And "Miss Riley" he will be for me now and henceforth. While there are innumerable instances of women adopting men's pseudonyms in their work, there are very few instances of men posing as women. I know of two cases – the late Mr. William Sharp and the very much alive Mr. Oliver Hueffer. I expect there are other instances, but I cannot at the moment recall them.
Windyridge was a literary sensation when it was first published in 1912. It was re-printed many times by publishers Herbert Jenkins but, like its modest author, Willie Riley, who wrote purely to amuse friends and had to be persuaded much against his will to submit the MS for publication, for over 50 years it has remained largely forgotten.
With this new edition, the original text reproduced in its entirety and attractively complemented by photographs taken by Riley himself, Northern Heritage Publications has resurrected a long-lost masterpiece, in its day hailed as the new Cranford and offering a new generation of readers the opportunity to become acquainted with a book of great charm and humour.
At this point I must put up my hand and admit to being a long-time Riley devotee: fortunately, following the huge success of his debut novel, the author went on to produce many more, in the process, to his own evident amazement, becoming a household name. A search in second-hand bookshops has all too rarely been rewarded with the discovery of a Riley gem, of which there are a total of 39. There still remain many titles I have been unable to track down, however.
All of which makes this splendid new edition especially welcome. But adding even more to the pleasure is the informative introduction by Riley scholar David M. Copeland - almost a book in itself! - detailing the fascinating "story behind the story" and Willie Riley's life, from his birth in 1866 to a Bradford mill manager, to his death in 1961. For 20 years Willie and his four brothers ran a magic lantern business, gaining fame and fortune in the early years of the cinema. At the age of 46 Willie gave up commerce to concentrate on his new career as a professional writer, going on to achieve even greater success.
Copeland relates how Willie accepted a challenge to write a story from a woman's point of view, and so Grace Holden, a young Londoner who "feels the pull of the heather and moves to the isolated Yorkshire village of Windyridge" was born. He succeeded so well that early reviewers were under the impression that the author was female: "Although the publisher's note on the wrapper speaks of Mr Riley, one suspects from the internal evidence that the author is of the other sex; the men in the book are a woman's men, the gentle sentiment of the story and its whole outlook upon humanity are essentially feminine," asserted The Bookman.
It's these homely, down-to-earth qualities that made Windyridge and its successors such a hit with the public - the "soaps" of their day! Willie Riley wrote compelling, true-to-life tales of Yorkshire folk with a diverse cast of characters much loved by readers who couldn't get enough of his books: in response to persistent demands, he wrote a sequel to Windyridge and in his lifetime was acclaimed as the "father of the Yorkshire Novel," with over one million sales to his credit.
Willie Riley's re-emergence as an author of great merit is well over-due and deserved.
Is there such a thing as Christian fiction?
There is a sense out there that Christian fiction is almost a 'must-have' that you should add to your lifestyle – maybe as a replacement for secular fiction. Perhaps the test should not be 'is it written by a Christian?' or 'does it deal with Christian issues?' but is the story underpinned by Christian values and is God brought into the pages? Windyridge is underpinned by Christian values and morality on every page. Church, chapel and the name of God are used appropriately throughout the book, and a chapter called 'the Parable of the Heather' is exactly what it claims to be - an early twentieth century parable.
The Bible is referred to regularly even if some of the characters don't know it very well (One character claims that 'a stitch in time saves nine' is from the good book!)
The story deals with life and death, suffering and evil and portrays good characters and bad. Yet on every page there is the sense that none of these words will harm me, mislead me or cause me to stumble. In fact the end of the book is almost a good sermon!
In style it reminded me a little of Conan Doyle and I found myself disappointed when I had to put the book down because I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore. Finishing it wasn't arduous, but rather it gave me a rich sense of completion (although there was a cry inside for 'sequel').
I can only say that I found Windyridge to be a premier example of the sort of Christian fiction that I would endorse to anyone. It is a page-turner, a good read and a heart-warming story. I am so glad that David Copeland introduced me to the book, and overcame my hesitancy to get into bed with Christian fiction again. If you read it, it will of course be David who introduces you to the book too!
If you are looking for good fiction or Christian fiction or even good Christian fiction, look no further than Windyridge. Enhance your knowledge of twentieth century literature, widen your understanding of Yorkshire village life and just enjoy yourselves skipping amongst the heather and walking down the village lanes of Windyridge.