Home and Family: Childhood Experiences

Home and family are predominant themes throughout Edna Bold’s memoir. She begins by discussing how she remembers her family from an early age and what her first experiences as a child growing up in Manchester were like. She begins the memoir with a foreword dedicating it to her grandnieces and nephews, and concludes the memoir by apologising to her friends and family who do not receive any mention throughout.

Edna grew up in the small district of Beswick in Manchester with her eleven siblings, her parents, and their maid, Hannah. Her father ran a bakery in the town which was not connected to their home, as some would assume. Their maid, Hannah, was not found on any of the Census data that I could find online which usually means she did not live in the family home and commuted each day.

1939 England and Wales register for Edna’s family.

Edna uses many of her sub-headings to dedicate them to her friends and family, proving how loyal and passionate she was with them and that family was a very important value to her. Firstly, she introduces ‘our maid… Hannah’ (page 4). She includes the maid multiple times throughout the memoir, mostly as a result of Hannah taking the children places or being a vital part of the memory. Even though Hannah is not technically a family member, she must feel like one after spending each day with the children of the family. She is also deeply related to the home in a sense that she is what keeps the house running when Edna’s father is at work and her mother is ill.

Secondly, Edna writes an entire sub-heading named ‘Bread’ which refers only to a boy called Jackie Bennet and his family, including his father’s occupation and each of his siblings. Although he is not bodily related to Edna’s family in an obvious way, he must feel like family to Edna for her to feel as if his remembrance in the memoir is important.

1911 England and Wales census for Jackie Bennet’s family, Manchester.

The above image shows the 1911 England and Wales Census. The names on the list include Mr J H Bennett (Jackie’s father), John H Bennett (known to readers and Enda as Jackie Bennett), Lucy Bennett and James Bennett (Jimmy Bennett) and two other family members all living in Manchester, and some of the children were even born in the Beswick district of Manchester, similar to Edna Bold.

Dorothy, Edna’s cousin, was one of the only people in the memoir to get an entire sub-heading named after her. This shows how special Dorothy was to Enda and how close they must have been in childhood. She tells us, ‘My cousin Dorothy was more like my sister than my cousin’ (page 18). Edna continues to explain how she believes she is a lot closer to her cousin rather than her own siblings, including her twin brother. She believes she is very different from many of her family members, but Dorothy is one of the only that she feels close to, despite being different in a physical manner: ‘She was a much finer, much handsomer edition of myself’ (page 18). Due to this, Edna must have felt as if she always wanted to be around Dorothy because she looked up to her or adored her in a way that she did not feel about her siblings as she believed that they were unusual.

Another of Edna’s favourable family members was her father, Edward, who also managed to get his own sub-heading. It is clear to readers that Edna cherished her father in many different was. She states, ‘I loved my father more than I loved God’ (page 24). The infatuation which Edna shared with her father was despite his violent streak. The fact that she has included a reference to God proves that the family were religious in some sense, although after this mention, she does not give another reference to God or the Church.

Edna clearly states how she was not interested in any of her other family members, other than her father: ‘Where was my mother? Where was my brother? Where were we sitting? What was the time of day? I don’t remember. Some deep content, some extraordinary rapport blanketed non-essential details from memory. I was more curious about my father than anyone else. Gradually I collected his ‘dossier’. (Page 25). Edna eventually ends up collecting a dossier for her father’s life, thus proving that she was most interested in his life in comparison to her other family members. Throughout her memoir, Edna expresses her feelings towards loneliness greatly. The quote above states how her father was the only person around or available for her to sit and talk with or go out with, rather than the rest of her family who were constantly absent in her childhood. It is evident that the feelings from Edna’s father were reciprocated back to her. David Vincent states in his text, ‘We can now be certain, for instance, that the wife of a domestic artisan was frequently not only her husband’s emotional and sexual partner, but also his business associate; that his children were not only the repository of his values and skills, but were also, as Hans Medick puts it, ‘the capital of the poor man’.’ (Vincent, 1980, page 223-224) Even if Edna’s father lost everything, the only thing that would matter to him would be his family, for they share a part of him that nobody ever could.

Her father is one of the most talked about family members throughout the entire memoir. Edna tells us; ‘My father aspired to send me to dancing class, but my puritanical mother would have none of it’ (page 54). It is evident that Edna’s father is the most supportive of her and her dreams, and more nurturing to her than, for example, her mother. It is clear that Edna’s mother was very old-fashioned and did not approve of her children seeking enjoyment in anything that was not of her standard.

The theme of love is present throughout the memoir. She states, ‘My consciousness of the English family, the English countryside was acute. I adored my own family, my Grandmother’s family and Marjorie Louise’s family’ (page 41). It is obvious that Edna felt greatly for her family, despite her difficulties with many of her family members throughout childhood. We see that her emotions are strong towards her family, it is portrayed through the verb ‘adored’, which suggests that she had a very happy and affectionate childhood.

Another example of this is when Edna states some of the happier times in her childhood memories: ‘At home we made our own music. Everyone sang, parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins’ (page 42). The list that she provides of each of the family members that take part in the singing activities is endless. This again allows readers to understand that most of her childhood involves entertaining activates in which the entire family participated in, meaning that even the family members which she did not care for, she still enjoyed this activity involving them all.

Bibliography:

Bold, Edna. ‘The long and short of it. Being the recollections and reminiscences of Edna Bold’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:85, available at https://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/9420

Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247

NB: all pictures and images have links of their source.

Proof read by Beti and Shauna.

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