Marion Owen (b. 1909): Habits, Culture and Belief

‘how glad I am now […] to have had this experience when young’ (Owen, p. 46)

Independence was important to Marion and from the moment she left school at sixteen and entered the workforce her she ‘began to stand upon [her] own feet’ (Owen, p. 46).  When Marion Owen was in her late teens she was ‘given more freedom of movement’ (Owen, p. 45) but she had to let her parents know where she was at all times. During this time Marion and her sister had become ‘somewhat serious minded and arty’ (Owen, p. 24). They were both attending Art School during the week and therefore they spent a lot of their time in ‘picture galleries and museums’ (Owen, p. 44). Marion ‘knew the Tate’ (Owen, p. 44) like the back of her hand and she ‘saw everything that Playfair produced dozens of times’ (Owen, p. 45).

Tate Gallery

Jonathan Rose argues that critics are ‘discovering that what we call “high” and “popular” culture can both spill across class lines’ (Rose, 1992, p. 58). This can be seen in Marion Owen’s memoir as she did not grow up extremely wealthy and her family have dealt with economic struggles. However, she has always placed value on things which could be considered high culture such as art, literature and theatre. Marion loved attending the theatre and saw shows such as ‘D’Oyley Carte Opera Company’ (Owen, p. 46). As she reflects on this time, she acknowledges that whilst we now have ‘T.V.’ (Owen, p. 46) it is not the same as seeing a live performance. Marion and her sister became friends with an ‘arty’ (Owen, p. 45) young man and they all explored museums and galleries together. They ‘discussed life, with a capital L’ (Owen, p. 45) showing that Marion had an interest in the philosophical as well as her artistic interests.

Robert Donat

Despite being incredibly well read and having such a keen interest in art, Marion believes that at this age she was ‘remarkably immature […] and perhaps did not want to grow up’ (Owen, p. 45). This is because she did not have any particular interest in romance or men and she thought anything to do with love was ‘sloppy’ (Owen, p. 45). However, Marion’s first experience with love was seeing ‘Sir John Martin-Harvey’ (Owen, p. 46) and ‘Robert Donat’ (Owen, p. 46) at the theatre. Marion saw their performances and she fell for them causing her ‘heart to flutter’ (Owen, p. 46). This shows that theatre was significant in many aspects of her life.

Louis Heeled Shoe

Fashion was important to Marion as she tried to follow all of the trends such as ‘flesh coloured silk stockings’ and ‘pointed toed shoes with Louis heels’ (Owen, p. 39). Owen states that when she was in her late teens it was her ‘ultimate aim’ (Owen, p. 39) to own these items. Despite being interested in fashion, Marion did not think she had much style and tended to just copy her ‘sister’ (Owen, p. 39). In the early twentieth century clothes were easy to make as dresses were ‘rather like the proverbial sack with three holes in it’ (Owen, p. 47) so Marion made most of her clothes herself. Marion shows how the strict rules around what women should and should not wear have existed for a long time as to show any sort of cleavage was ‘sacrosanct’ (Owen, p. 47) so most young women wore ‘rather high necklines’ (Owen, p. 47). Marion shows the importance of scent within her memoir as considered herself quite a ‘perfume snob’ (Owen, p. 20). She once experienced how it felt to own expensive ‘Coty’ (Owen, p. 46) perfume. From then on, she decided she would wear ‘nothing else’ (Owen, p. 46).

  • References
  • Owen, Marion. ‘I follow my nose: a potted autobiography’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library
  • Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. (Vol. 53, No. 1, 1992, pp. 47-70)

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