Witch-Hazel by Willie Riley (1928)

Review by Jane V:

Divided into three books to show the passage of the years, the novel tells the story of three young people growing up in Yorkshire in the 1920s (?): a clairvoyant girl, a spoilt young master of the big house and a foundling boy.  The girl is ‘related’ to the spoilt young man because her mother was his wet nurse and she feels a deep loyalty and protective sisterly love for him.  She has the gift of visions of future events which she believes are sent by God.  The young man who walks in off the wild moors proves a capable and trusty worthy person and is a foil for the young master.

The novel follows their fortunes through a period of seven years – their growing up years – their intertwined lives and the power of Christian faith and selfless love.  It is as packed with characters and events as a Dickens novel.

The theme is perhaps two different types of love in action: Christian and romantic.

Especially in the first book the author is all too present intruding on the narrative in the first person and throwing frequent asides to his readers: comments on the feelings of his characters etc; enquiries as to whether the readers knows that part of the Yorkshire moors where his story is set.  His style can be irritating to a modern reader because he frequently uses a double negative (‘Hazel was not unhappy’ etc).  Riley makes references to literary works within the fabric of his narration but quotes only in part and never in inverted commas.  These scattered literary references throughout the novel come across as a self conscious need to make his reader aware that he is well read!  As the novel progresses the author seems to find confidence and to become more involved with the characters.  He uses more dialogue and less reporting as the story advances.

It is a good tale of two types of love: romantic and protective although it is difficult for the reader to see why Hazel should be so fond of Neville the young master of the big house who is weak and vacillating, by his own admission a ‘cad’ and apparently beyond saving.

However, it is an engrossing story and one can imagine it being a favourite with book clubs and Boots lending libraries back in the early 20th century.

3 thoughts on “Witch-Hazel by Willie Riley (1928)

  1. The reappearance of Willie Riley! It certainly seems that you have to be able to deal with the religious element in his writing as it appears rather an important one – but I imagine this was more popular back when he was writing than you would find nowadays!

    • Yes, he’s back! I think that really and truly is the last review. Religion is so integral to his novels in a way that would not happen in a mainstream novel today. I think that nowadays this would place a novel in a special ‘Christian fiction’ category.

  2. This is a novel of middle Wensleydale; set around Redmire and Castle Bolton villages. The castle is Bolton Castle. It was first published in 1928.

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