The nineteenth century was an era of self-improvement for many working-class people. Whether or not they chose to engage in activities that encouraged this notion is a complex matter. As already discussed in previous posts, Alice Maud Chase considers herself to be upper working-class, possibly even lower middle class by the middle of her life. From the cultural activities and hobbies that Alice engages in it would appear that she wanted to better herself and others.
Religion forms a large part of Alice’s life, and it is obvious that she connects religion, happiness and self-improvement; ‘father and I have never neglected our worship in Church and that is the real secret of never being bored’ (p.47). Alice further notes all the ‘great preachers’ she has seen and heard too, from the ‘Bishop of the Mediterranean, the greatest preacher of all [to] Dame Clara Butt on the Clarence Pier’ (p.50-51). Their powerful speeches clearly held great significance for Alice. Furthermore, Alice preaches to her grandchildren to do, have and think; ‘good thoughts, good words, good deeds, good prayers, good books, good friends, regular worship and Bible readings’ (p.47). Alice evidently viewed such things as a way of bettering yourself.
To listen to Dame Clara Butt sing Land of Hope and Glory visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYrdooOautE. Dame Clara Butt was an English contralto and she recorded this particular piece in 1911.
Alice’s decision to get baptized further highlights the bond between religion and self-improvement for her. Alice had been brought up in the Baptist belief and her husband was Church of England, but she had not taken the decisive step of joining her church by adult baptism. Her decision to get baptized once she is married is symbolic of her commitment to her church and husband. She explains how by 1960 (when she wrote the memoir) she had been ‘a practicing member of the Church of England for fifty-five years and not regretted it’ (p.43).
Religious activities were not her only form of leisure though. Alice lists the mountains she has climbed: ‘Hevelyn (3,118 feet) three times; Old Man of Coniston (once); Langdale Pikes (three times); Plynlimmon (once); Cader Idris (once); and Snowdon (twice), but I don’t count it as a climb, as we used the mountain railway’ (p.50). Alice does not choose to spend her time in Public Houses or the popular music halls of the century. The activities that she engages in all appear to be self-improving.
Her upper working-class position in society and desire to improve herself and others is reflected further when she expresses her opinions of those who do spend their time in Public Houses. She speaks of four men who lived down her street;
‘They got drunk most nights… All these men were good businessmen and all day they worked hard, kept their homes in comfort and their children loved them. I knew them all to speak to and was not at all afraid of them. They drank for pleasure and it was their only pleasure. There was literally nothing else to do… The pubs were the only place of entertainment and the beer was strong… There was a dreadful lack of any effort to keep these people happy and occupied. They worked until 8 or 9pm and then drank solidly until 11pm. There were many other things lacking the working classes now enjoy… and people who talk of the ‘good old times’ should have lived in them and learned better’ (p.49).
Alice is evidently sympathetic and understanding towards the working classes. She acknowledges that the men down her street were good fathers and providers and blames their drinking on a lack of alternative forms of leisure. This shows a gentler side to Alice’s opinionated character, perhaps Alice has family members who led a similar life style.
Changing patterns of recreation are definitely evident within Alice’s memoir, written in the 1960s when the working classes were entitled to benefits not available in Alice’s childhood: including unemployment pay, old age pensions, widow’s pensions, children’s allowance, sick benefit and free medicine and medical help (p.49). Alice explains how World War I played a key role in bringing such social changes about; ‘it meant work and bread for all, widows and orphans were cared for and National Insurance and the DOLE came into being’ (p.50). However, Alice also notes the change in people’s attitudes too since these modifications were brought about and regrets they take these for granted; ‘I am glad the world is so much better off, but I am sorry that people have such short memories. No one seems particularly grateful’ (p.50).
Alice draws attention to the changing youth of the1960s too. Possibly she worries about her own grandchildren becoming ungrateful. Children ‘are too tired to walk to school, but are taken in the school bus or have a bicycle to ride there and home again. We had to walk everywhere, and a ride in the country was a heavenly treat… The children to-day don’t know what real joy is like’ (p.31). She also explains how ‘the terrible upsurge of crimes of violence and the chronic dishonesty of the young people of our time is due… to the decay of the Sunday School and the neglect of the “Ten Commandments”’ and how instead of ‘Our Lord’s command to “do unto others as you would like them to do to you”, there is a general tendency to “do or you will be done” (p.54).
It is obvious that for Alice, engaging in Christianity and abiding by its teachings is morally, socially and culturally correct. Failure to do so resulted in the following faults amongst the youth of the 1960s according to Alice: ‘the young parents of to-day are fearfully ignorant of the “Moral Law”. This is the result of three generations of secular teaching only, in our schools, and the decay of Sunday worship’ (p.55).
Alice is aware of the cultural and social changes around her: ‘times have changed and not for the better, despite the Welfare State’ (p31). Perhaps, Alice feels that through her memoir she can prevent her own grandchildren from becoming ungrateful and conforming to the rest of the youths of the day. Alice does this by preaching to them what is morally right and wrong and by setting examples from the cultural activities that she has engaged in. Alice truly believes that Sunday School and faith in the Church will be ‘reborn and flourish anew when the right moment arrives’ (p.55) and maybe then society will right itself in her eyes.
Image 1: Dame Clara Butt, Queen of Song – http://www.musicstack.com/records-cds/dame_clara_butt
Image 2: Dame Clara Butt – http://www.last.fm/music/Dame+Clara+Butt
Image 3: Snowdon by train – http://www.flickr.com/photos/63164772@N05/7164205397/