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30Jul

Ethel Carnie Holdsworth: campaigners push to revive fame of working-class novelist

Thought to be the first blue-collar female novelist, Holdsworth once outsold HG Wells. Now reprints and an alternative blue plaque aim to restore her reputation

Ethel Carnie Holdsworth wrote in 1914 that “literature up till now has been lopsided, dealing with life only from the standpoint of one class”. Now the Lancashire mill worker and author, a forgotten name who is believed to be the first working-class woman in Britain to publish a novel, and who in her heyday outsold HG Wells, is set to be celebrated with an alternative blue plaque and a return to print.

Born in Oswaldtwistle in Lancashire in 1886, Holdsworth began working in a textile factory at the age of 11. She also wrote poetry, saying that the rhythm of the looms helped her compose her lines. Dubbed the “Lancashire mill girl poetess” by the local paper, she came to the attention of journalist Robert Blatchford, who gave her a job on his magazine, the Woman Worker. Holdsworth published her first novel, Miss Nobody, in 1913 and went on to write a further nine. She also set up anti-fascist journal the Clear Light, and helped other working-class women learn to read and write. She stopped writing novels in 1946, worn out by the process according to her daughter.

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