Book launch: Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s General Belinda (1924; 2019)

Nicola Wilson writes:

This week sees the re-publication of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s sixth novel, General Belinda, with a book launch at Great Harwood library in Lancashire, the town where Carnie Holdsworth grew up.

General Belinda was first published in 1924 and has been out of print – and difficult to get hold of – ever since. Students on Class Matters (EN3CM) know that I’ve been working to get Carnie Holdsworth back into print for nearly ten years now, and this will be the fourth of her books to be republished by small, independent publishers: Trent Editions  and Kennedy & Boyd.

Ffion Evans, one of our recent DEL students, copy-edited the manuscript for this new edition, which includes an introduction by Dr Roger Smalley.

General Belinda is not as well-known as Carnie Holdsworth’s other works that are now back in print: This Slavery (1925; republished by Trent, 2011); Miss Nobody (1913; republished by Kennedy & Boyd, 2013); or Helen of Four Gates (1917; republished by Kennedy & Boyd, 2016). But it is peculiarly interesting and entertaining, and valuable as a rare critique of domestic service – at the time, one of the major forms of employment for young working women – written by a working-class woman. It’s also the first and only one of Carnie Holdsworth’s novels to deal with domestic service in any detail. Belinda, the protagonist, is a ‘general’ (a maid-of-all-work, meaning the only servant to be employed in a household) and the book offers a devastating critique of the conditions many interwar servants were faced with behind closed doors.

Formally, the novel is a mixed bag. Carnie Holdsworth wanted to reach a wide audience, and she experimented with different genres across of all her works, seeing how best to square feminist socialist politics with her desire to reach a wide audience reading popular fiction. General Belinda is at times light-hearted, at other times deadly serious, in exposing the wide-ranging, systematic abuses of domestic service and the precarious, exploitative relationships that oftentimes young and unmarried girls were exposed to. Another strand of the plot outlines the tragedy and waste suffered in World War One (Carnie Holdsworth was a pacifist, and her husband, Alfred, a conscientious objector). But comedy is never far away from the surface, and the plot relies on a strong comic tradition of sending up those in authority. Belinda – much like her contemporary, Jeeves, of P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster – pretty much always gets the upper hand.

For more information about this event, go to:





About English Literature at Reading

The Department of English Literature at Reading has been an internationally recognised centre for research and teaching in English Studies for over a hundred years. Our teaching system, with its emphasis on seminars and tutorial work, encourages our students to discuss ideas with tutors and other students in a relaxed and supportive atmosphere. All of our students have access to dedicated study advisors; our academic placement scheme and 'professional track' programme provide invaluable preparation for subsequent careers.
This entry was posted in Department of English Literature news and events. Bookmark the permalink.