The Sunday Salon: My Favourite Viragos

I have so enjoyed Virago Reading Week. It wasn’t just my reading (more about that in a moment).  I was so impressed with all the creative ways bloggers chose to take part!  Thomas at MyPorch designed a banner and then held a giveaway.  Jane at Fleur Fisher asked who’s your favourite Virago heroine?, and shared her own thoughts on that subject.  There were tons and tons of book reviews.  And then people’s pets entered the picture, like Darlene’s adorable border collie preparing to cook, and Jane’s cute terrier posing with several different Viragos.  Our hosts Rachel & Carolyn burned the midnight oil, taking turns publishing daily wrap-up posts (just visit their blogs to read them).  Viragos were everywhere this week, and it was loads of fun.

For my part, I read two books:  Winifred Holby’s Anderby Wold, and Mollie Panter-Downes’ One Fine Day (the links take you to my reviews).  Both were everything I’ve come to expect from a Virago Modern Classic:  fine writing, strong female characters, and themes about society, change, and the role of women.  I also described how I got started collecting Viragos (and eventually started reading them, too!)

Then on Thursday, Rachel asked, “What’s your favourite Virago?”, and I thought answering this question would be a great way to wrap up the week’s events.  Rachel bent the rules a bit in her post, choosing three favourites.  So I think it’s OK for me to choose more than one as well, right?   Of the 35 I’ve read so far, two stood out as 5-star reads:

South Riding, by Winifred Holtby

This book is set in Yorkshire and includes two strong heroines:  Sarah Burton, a young head teacher, and Emma Beddows, the first alderwoman in the local government.  As I wrote in my review, “Sarah and Emma aren’t exactly rivals, but they fail to realize how their joint influence could do greater good than each of them on their own.  Towards the end of the book they begin to grasp this, leaving me imagining the many ways these two women worked for good later (yes, I forgot for a moment that they weren’t real people).”

The Custom of the Country, by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton loved portraying the Old New York society in which she herself came of age.  Her heroines are well drawn, and for me Undine Spragg is the most memorable so far.  She is concerned only with money and herself, and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. She reminded me of the “bitchy” soap opera character, who you just love to hate.  But this book doesn’t glamorize Undine’s society; rather, Wharton shows its darkest side.  It’s a fascinating book, and you can read my review here.

All in all, Virago Reading Week was a rousing success, and I for one hope it becomes a regular event!


Read more from The Sunday Salon here.


9 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: My Favourite Viragos

  1. It has been fun hasn’t it? I’m glad to read your endorsement of the Custom of the country. I’ve struggled with some of the Whartons that I’ve read although she is a popular VMC author. A colleague has lent me this in a non VMC edition and I must read it – it’s been on my desk for months!

  2. I read my first Wharton earlier this year, when my book group chose ‘The House of Mirth’ and absolutely loved it. I’ve been wondering which one to read next, it looks as though ‘The Custom of the Country’ ought to be top of the list. Thanks for the tip.

    • Annie, Custom of the Country would be quite interesting juxtaposed against House of Mirth. Two memorable heroines whose fates turn out quite differently. Enjoy!

  3. Brilliant post, Laura, and thank you for your lovely comments and enthusiasm. You have been a spectacular participant, and I love your two choices – I must get around to them soon. South Riding in particular has piqued my interest as it has received such praise this week!

  4. Pingback: Virago Round Up: The Final Countdown! | Book Snob

  5. I enjoyed reading your wrap-up and about your top favourite reads. I really must try to read ‘Custom’ as I quite enjoyed it as a BBC radio play a few months ago. ‘South Riding’ aslo seems to be very popular in the blogosphere, especially with an imminent new series, so I have added this one to my TBR list.

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