The Hull Connection

Two women writers from our period with Hull and East Riding connections are Winifred Holtby (1898 to 1935),and Stevie Smith (1902 to 1971).


The late work of Holtby just squeezes in to the 1930 limit for the conference, but she is a worthy subject for scrutiny.  in addition to her fiction, Holtby was well-known in her lifetime as a journalist, campaigner for the rights of African nations, and a feminist. She had a fascinating, and much speculated about, friendship with Vera Brittain whom she met at Oxford after World War One. Sadly, Holtby’s early novels, Anderby Wold (1923), The Crowded Street (1924), and The Land of Green Ginger (1927) are outside our time limit, but her 1930s novels Poor Caroline (1931), Mandoa! Mandoa!(1933) are perhaps more highly respected now than they were at the time. Her masterpiece is considered to be South Riding, finished just before her death in 1935, published posthumously, and the subject of TV and film adaptations.


Stevie Smith’s first novel, Novel on Yellow Paper, was published in 1936. Her two subsequent novels, Over the Frontier (1938) and The Holiday (1949, but written during the war) did not, however, mark a continuing career as a novelist. She was, as she says, ‘at truest pitch a poet’, and her poetry is loved (or not) by many.

There is now a burgeoning interest in Stevie Smith. The first ever international conference on her is to be held on March 11th 2016 at Oxford University, organised by PhD scholar Noreen Masud and Dr Frances White.

While ‘Not Waving But Drowning’ is her most well-known poem, there is much to be found in her work. She enjoyed a late flurry of success in the 1960s, adopted by the counterculture, and was acclaimed by a new young audience. As Andrew Motion said of Stevie, ‘she makes silliness serious and seriousness silly’.

There is an ever growing body of scholarship on these two ‘daughters of Hull’ (even if adopted rather reluctantly!), and the Hull History Centre holds archives on each of them.