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Letters to a Friend

Winifred Holtby met Jean McWilliam in a WAAC camp at Huchenneville in France very near the end of the First World War. McWilliam was the camp commander, and Holtby her new hostel forewoman. They took to each other instantly, became firm friends, and lifelong correspondents. Through a world overshadowed by war in both directions, they kept up a lively discussion of events, politics, literature and life, even when McWilliam relocated to South Africa in pursuit of her teaching career. Seeing each other very rarely in the flesh, their relationship was played out in the written word poignantly and entertainingly. "I shall be really disappointed if I go through life without once being properly in love. As a writer, I feel it my duty to my work - but they are all so helpless and such children. How can one feel thrilled?" These vibrant letters are Holtby's side of the correspondence, and outline the extraordinarily varied elements of her personality: her dynamism, her political savvy and commitment, as well as her bright wit, and her tenderness. They also bring to life some of the most important of her literary friendships, especially those with Vera Brittain and Stella Benson. Her pithy and self-deprecating comment on her progress in writing, and on the literature of her time, amounts to a hugely valuable document in itself, let alone the wisdom of what she has to say about life and living it. "Novel-writing is not creation, it is selection. Once characters have been born they assume a complete life about which everything exists, waiting to be recorded. The whole of art lies in the omissions." One of the finest letter-compilations of the between-the-wars period, this searching and candid book was first published in 1937, two years after Holtby's untimely death.
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