Letitia Simpson (1926-2012): Habits and Beliefs (Part 1)

Letitia Simpson’s memoir is full of detailed descriptions of recreation and religion. She writes frequently of holidays both abroad and at the seaside and things she does as a hobby. Religion in this memoir is described interestingly as Letitia writes about considering religious conversion to Roman Catholicism and later in the memoir, she demonstrates a constant flirtation with this idea.

Letitia was born and raised in the Church of England. However, London was one of the places, like Liverpool and New York City, to take in many Irish immigrants. Letitia has first hand experience of mass Irish immigration through most of her parents’ bar and house staff being Irish. One Irish barmaid, Kitty, was a devout Roman Catholic and asked Letitia to accompany her on a revisiting of Ireland. Letitia describes Kitty’s practicing of Catholicism as: “Unlike many of our barmen, she did not go to confession only to return and ‘sin’ with impunity” (31) Kitty went home every year to her home town of New Ross in County Wexford in the Irish Republic. It is here where Letitia first conceives the idea of converting to Catholicism through visiting the Cathedral of Wexford, St Aidan’s. What dissuaded her was, whilst on a tour of the convent where Kitty was educated, a nun asked if she was a: “Roman Catholic’ no I was not, I replied “I’m Church of England” She paused for a moment, saying, “Oh, my poor child,” What is it? I asked. “If you’re not a Roman Catholic, there is no hope of you going to heaven,” I looked aghast. “And is your mother of our Religion?” “No” I said. “Then there is no hope for her either” A deep cloud descended on my little brain” (37).

From what Letitia writes here, it is not the nun saying that only Roman Catholics can go to heaven that stopped her converting, it was the fact that, by embracing the Church of Rome and the Catechisms of the Church, it would mean that her mother would be damned, causing a “deep cloud” to come upon her. The Church has relaxed since the time of Letitia’s encounter with the nun, through the Second Vatican Council and reforms brought about by His Holiness St John Paul II. However, the Church in Letitia’s childhood would have been more traditional and more high. The ideas about other churches and religions were stricter too and were all still viewed as heresy (they still are now, but to a lesser extent).

The conviction of the Church has proved too much for Letitia here and has caused her to stick to the Anglican Church. Ireland, in the 1930s, leaned heavily on its Catholicism. According to George D. Boyce: “Ireland was supposed to be made into a Catholic and Gaelic nation.” This suggests that Catholicism was one of the main features of Irish culture along with its Celtic background. This would give reason for the staunch Catholicism represented through the nun, as being a staunch Catholic made you patriotic as well. Therefore, Letitia may have disliked the rules being forced on oneself if one is of the Catholic faith and this may also have dissuaded her to convert.

Children surround nuns at the Bessboro mother and baby home. MARIE STEED
  https://www.irishcentral.com/news/irelands-mother-and-baby-homes

Although never fully converting to Catholicism, she still accepts some of the Church’s ideas. On her mantlepiece at the pub years later, she mentions that she has a, “little statue of the Virgin Mary with a candle either side. I was not a Roman Catholic, but a serious-minded girl, and this was probably the aftermath of my visit to Ireland” (75).  From what Letitia says here, one can see that Ireland and its staunch Catholicism has had a life long influence on Letitia, enabling her to use religious statues and idolatry, something that the Church of England tones down. She also claims to have embraced the conviction and values of the church by referring to her being seriously minded. This implies that she admires a lot of the practice and values of the Church of Rome and, although she does not identify as one, she accepts Catholic values in her way of life.

Bibliography

Bourke, Joanna. Working Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity (London: Routledge, 1994).

Boyce, G. D. (2000). Safe and Sound. The Irish Review, 25, 174-177.

Burnett, John. Plenty and Want: A Social History of Food in England from 1815 to the Present Day. London: Routledge, 1989.

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3828397 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Light, Alison. Common People: A History of an English Family (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2015) [19th & 20th centuries – very good model for work we are doing on author blogs] 

  McBrien, R. P. (1970). Catholicism. London: Cassell Ltd.

Rose, Jonathan.  The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. [Very influential survey of reading habits and cultural ambitions based on autobiographies collected by Burnett, Mayall and Vincent] 

 Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47-70 http://www.jstor.org/stable/2709910 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Savage, Mike, Social Class in the 21st Century (Pelican)

Simpson, Letitia. My Day Before Yesterday, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, Vol 4

Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247 http://www.jstor.org/stable/4284976 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

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