“Truth is Not Sober” - lead story by Winifred Holtby in her collection Truth is Not Sober and other stories first published 1934 - Blackthorn Press has republished this collection with a very informative introduction by Jack Bliss
Plus brief remarks on two other weird and wonderful stories by Winifred Holtby
It is a very good reading life month for me when I discover one new to me writer I love on first read. This Month the addition of Mollie Parker-Downes to Winifred Holtby makes two. “Anthroplogist’s May” and a hilarious story about matricide, “Why Harold Killed his Mother”
I am wondering, did Winifred Holtby probably pick the title story for her collection or did the publisher.?
Born June 23, 1898 - Rudston, England
Died - September 29, 1935 - London
1936 - Her highest regarded novel South Rising was published posthumously
Winifred Holtby was a tireless campaigner for the rights of women, minorities and was deeply disturbed by the rise of Fascism. If she were living now living in America she would be a supporter of the progressive ideas of Bernie Sanders. Jack Bliss goes into depth on her politics. She spent time in South Africa and was appalled by the treatment of Africans.
“Truth is not Sober” is the eleventh story from collection I have so far read. I am so far alternating one of her stories with one of Mollie Parker-Downes at a rate of two a day.
Holtby’s stories are strange, deeply creative and each one different. There is no simplistic “moral” in her stories. I do get the message of a repudiation of generalizations about people, about trying to impose your values on others.
There are two other stories that I loved that illustrate her talents in addition to the title story.
“ANTHROPOLOGISTS' MAY” seems like something Aldous Huxley might have written. Here is the opening stage setting
“IN May, 1933, Mrs. Brown, of Tooting, having completed her spring cleaning and replaced the open hearth of her drawing-room by an elegant electric radiator, rolled up her brass fire-irons in some old newspapers, put them in the lead-lined antique chest in the hall, and subsequently forgot all about their existence. In May, 3149, Professor Ignatius Labariu, the distinguished anthropologist, was examining the relics dug up by an excavation party on the site of the vanished suburb of Tooting, in order to gather material for his monumental treatise on “Modes and Social Codes of the British Islanders,” when he came upon the fire-irons of Mrs. Brown. The newspapers were crumbling to dust, but before they completely disappeared he contrived to capture a few fragmentary lines of print by instantaneous ray photography, together with one almost uninjured portrait. These exceedingly valuable and unique remains of a byegone civilisation excited him intensely, and since the ways of anthropologists had not altered much within 2000 years, he proceeded, after careful examination, to build up from them a theory of the May customs of the British Islanders about as accurate as most anthropological reconstructions can hope to be.”
From here we learn of Professor Labariu’s interpretation of the recovered newspaper articles. This brief fiction is just tremendous fun. I don’t doubt a good bit of satire is lurking in these pages.
“Why Herbert Killed His Mother” is more than a little strange. It focuses on what happens when a Baby Boy is just too idolized by his mother. As a less than well informed guess i speculate it is a barb at the then popular in England most beautiful Baby contests. It is also an account of child rearing methods. To me it substantiate my thought that there is warning of repudiation of generalizations about people, about trying to impose your values on others in her stories. I Will leave this also very fun and funny plot unspoiled.
“Truth is not Sober” begins with an account of a writer of popular “realistic” novels about real people like your family and neighbors that are easy to follow. Remember James Joyce’s Ulysses came out in 1922 and Virginia Woolf had recently published several novels and who could actually enjoy reading such works? Some Writers were depicting the horrors war, famine, poverty and Fascism was emerging in the UK and Europe. Most wanted simple novels about ordinary people living decent lives. The writer had become very successful and his publisher prosperous through his works.
One day he stops in at a pub, he meets a quite not sober man named Truth who begins to mock his writings as shallow works ignoring the realities of life. Truth opens his eyes to the thousands of years of exploitation and misery that has produced the modern world. There are numerous very interesting examples from all over. The writer is shaken but says ok this does not stretch to life in England right now. Of course Truth gives him concrete examples of misery he never saw.
The Writer’s next novel horrifies his publisher used to a far different kind of book. He refuses to publish it saying the writer must go back to his old ways.
I look forward to finishing the collection.