The Land of Green Ginger : A Virago Modern Classic, Paperback Book

The Land of Green Ginger : A Virago Modern Classic Paperback

Part of the Virago Modern Classics series

4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Joanna Burton was born in South Africa but sent by her missionary father to be raised in Yorkshire.

There she dreams of the far-off lands she will visit and adventures to come.

At eighteen, tall and flaxen-haired, she meets Teddy Leigh, a young man on his way to the trenches of the First World War.

Joanna has been in love before - with Sir Walter Raleigh, with the Scarlet Pimpernel, with Coriolanus - but this is different.

Teddy tells her he's been given the world to wear as a golden ball.

Joanna believes him and marries him, but the fabled shores recede into the distance when, after the war, Teddy returns in ill health.

The magic land turns out to be the harsh reality of motherhood and life on a Yorkshire farm.

Yet still she dares to dream.


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Review by

Joanna Burton was born in South Africa but raised in Yorkshire, and as a young woman had dreams of traveling around the world. But then she fell in love with Teddy Leigh, and married in haste because of the war. When Teddy returned, she realized how little she knew of him and came to understand the life that awaited her. Teddy was in poor health, and unable to follow his early dream to become a minister. The couple had a small farm but were not successful farmers. They could barely provide for themselves and their two daughters.When a group of eastern European laborers establish a camp on the outskirts of their village, Joanna and Teddy befriend one of their leaders, Paul Szermai. They offer him lodging in their home as a way to bring in extra income. Paul's presence is welcome at first, but then causes a rift between Joanna and Teddy. Joanna tries to meet the needs of Teddy, her daughters, and Paul, as well as keep up with the farm and household chores, but it all proves a bit much. She imagines correspondence with old school friends, who have long since stopped sending letters:<i>She used at first to write long letters to her friends, Agnes Darlington and Rachel Harris. But as the chickens increased and the prosperity of the farm decreased, she had less and less time somehow to answer letters. Therefore the letters which she never answered dwindled and dwindled. She seemed utterly removed from the world she had known before her marriage. (p. 38)</i>Winifred Holtby paints a portrait of Yorkshire village life, with a rich cast of characters from all classes. She shows the stark economic divide between the upper and lower classes, sometimes by describing them directly and sometimes through witty descriptions of a scene:<i>The passengers on the crowded tender living Tilbury dock buttoned their coats tightly against the keen October air. Third- and first-class passengers, huddled together, regarded each other with the suspicion that precedes the separation of sheep from goats by the unequivocal barrier of a steel railing.</i>Holtby also depicts most of the villagers as small-minded and cruel. Rumors about Joanna and Paul abound, especially after Teddy insists they attend a dance together when he is not well enough to go. And even though there is a scene, Joanna still doesn't quite grasp how she is perceived by others. When Joanna is finally forced to face the reality of her situation she says to herself, "Bidgood had been right. It was not the truth but people's idea of the truth which made it possible for one to live in society."Circumstances force Joanna into a dramatic decision, but one left me hopeful that she would one day realize the dreams of her youth.

Review by

(16 Sept 2011 – from Ali)LIke South Riding, this is rooted in the landscapes of Yorkshire, but in this case the characters escape – or yearn to escape – to more exotic climes, symbolised by the odd street name in the town – The Land of Green Ginger. After a little casual anti-Semitism, we follow Joanna, child of a missionary but shipped back to her aunts to be raised, falling for the first man who seems able to match her whimsy, trapping herself unwittingly into a life of hard grind and harder to keep reputations. Neither belonging to the gentry or the village, the failing gentleman farmers are associated with the other outsiders, the Northern European foresters brought in after WWI, to whose fate they must bear witness. Will Joanna ever encounter the islands of her dreams? This powerfully feminist work outlines brutally the choices available to those women not brave enough to strike out on their own, and the fate of those who try for domesticity.This was the new, “pretty” reissue done by Virago, and doesn’t have the customary introduction or afterword, which I did miss.

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