Olive of Sylcote by Willie Riley (1918)

We’re backtracking a bit here, to the author we read a couple of months ago: Willie Riley. But it’s good to get another reader’s response to a novel I am sure has not been read for many a long year!

Next: Henry Williamson.

Review by Helen N:

I found it quite a “stiff” read at first – not knowing the date of its composition initially I wasn’t expecting such a self-consciously literary style. In places it is very overwritten . This is the beginning of Chapter IV:

“Beneficent Providence had ordained that two roads should connect Sylcote with the unexciting village of Headley Bridge, and its kindly intention was seen in the newer of the two, which, although slightly circuitous, was monotonously level, and so attracted nearly all the vehicular traffic.”

Set against this is his obvious love of the Yorkshire countryside which he describes with affection – though still in his elaborate style:

“Soft and springy was the grass in Rigton Gill and cool, too, though here and there the slanting rays of the sun dodged the trees and lay in long yellow shafts upon the green turf.”

The story is rather predictable, a young man Gordon, arrives from London at a loose end and falls for the entrancing Olive who is more or less expected to marry John, a worthy young farmer. Of course Gordon fascinates Olive but he is a fairly principled young man for all his gift of the gab and the reader never fears that any harm will come to  Olive through him.

There are two other strands in the story, both more melodramatic. Olive’s father, Nathan, has a secret which concerns her mother who died just after Olive was born. When it seems likely that the Station master knows the secret and may reveal it, Nathan gives Olive her mother’s diary to read so that she can know the truth, and against all his expectations she  is neither angry or rejecting and he realises that he was wrong to keep the truth from her for so long.

There is also an element in the story of a sort of genteel snobbery. Both Olive’s father and friends of Gordon feel that she is “too good” for John and should marry the more upper class Gordon. Luckily Olive, who by this time we know to be a girl of sound common sense, will have none of this and follows her heart to a satisfactory happy ending.

The other strand of the story concerns Nora, an unpleasant woman who is determined to get John to marry her and in her desperate machinations brings about a very dramatic crisis to the story involving murder. Although her jealousy and possessiveness are very strongly portrayed she never comes to life as poor Nathan with his fears and unhappiness does.

The story end with lovers united and Gordon returning to the South, a sadder etc man.

I would be interested to know if the format of this book is one which Riley repeated and if, as time went on, his style simplified allowing him to describe more feelingly the landscape he obviously loved.

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One thought on “Olive of Sylcote by Willie Riley (1918)

  1. Sylcote is the village of Wath, and Headley Bridge is Pateley Bridge. Rigton is Ramsgill. This book was first published in 1918 and was still being published in 1943, one of the most long-lived novels of Riley.

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