“I was born in Highgate, London on the 30th March 1933 and christened Patricia Bertha Wright” (1).
Patricia Saville’s earliest recollections of home life are centred around the family. As a child, Patricia lived “in the ground floor flat at 32, Stapleton Road, Finsbury Park, London” (1). Patricia’s earliest recollections of home life were typical of a working-class Londoner. There was the upstairs bathroom with the “dodgy boiler” (3) and Patricia’s own bedroom with a picturesque view of the garden through the double doors. Patricia’s home is central to working-class life as it provided Patricia a space to socialise and play as a young child.
Patricia gives a vivid and picturesque description of her first home with its “large entrance hall.” (1) This description is typical of any 20th century working-class home. The working-class family as David Vincent highlights has a role too “as the basic unit for acquiring and consuming the means of existence” (1980, 223). This is indeed the case for Patricia. Family and home life dominate her memoir. It highlights how integral they are as part of working-class life.
Mike Savage argues that, “class is geographical” (2015, 261) and segregated in certain areas. This is indeed the case for Patricia living amongst a working- class community. Patricia’s own home becomes central to this with only the ground floor of her large Victorian house occupied by her family.
Patricia’s memories of her home life are also culturally influenced through her mentioning of Monday as being “always washday” (1). From Patricia’s perspective, washday provides a strikingly interesting insight into English culture. London on washday through Patricia’s perspective became as Mike Savage puts it “a magical and aestheticized city” (2015, 262). It was also a very feminine day. We have the domesticity of the women washing the laundry whilst the “breadwinners” of the household went off to work. Highgate appeared (especially on washday) as the epicentre of class identity through both its “place and location” (295). This relates to a mass population of working -class women and children who would gather in what is known as a cultural phenomenon through a projection of domesticity in World War II London.
Patricia also gives an elaborate description of her father as the working-class man in the years before the war. He was described as a very easy-going man who hated to be ignored. He would oftentimes burst into “reams of poetry” when he felt he was never being heard. He was also “blind in one eye” (2) as a result of falling out of a tree. However, the most notable aspect of Patricia’s father’s life related to the menial jobs he used to carry out. Because of his disability, he decided to invest in a “window cleaning round” (2). He carried out his operations with “a double ladder and bucket over his shoulder” (2). As you can imagine this must have been very difficult for him. But in reaping the rewards of his work he must have been, as Patricia writes, “a very strong man” (2). He was typical of a working-class tradesman who had what Mike Savage describes as a “strong sense of independence. He had the “culture of a ‘freeborn Englishman” (2015, 27).
By contrast, Patricia’s mother is described as a “very fiery lady” (3). Patricia is very brief in her description of her. This almost hints without her saying that she favoured her father a lot more than she did her mother. The most notable aspect of her mother was her pride in her domesticity as she had a “one-manship in her incessant cleaning and polishing” (5). This conformed to the working-class life of 20th century London with the father as the conventional “breadwinner” and the mother as “domestic goddess.”
A significant event in Patricia’s young life was the unimaginable death of her sister at 13 weeks of age due to cot death. David Vincent writes about death in working-class culture and notes that autobiographers are often unwilling to “discourse at length” (1998, 228) about this aspect of their private lives. This is indeed the case with the death of Patricia’s younger sibling. Patricia spends a short amount of time writing about this. Indeed, Vincent also argues that autobiographers’ “command of language proved inadequate” sometimes to describe private incidents such as a death in the family (1998, 227). Although this incident is shown to be devastating for the family, we also are acquainted with the innocence of Patricia as a young child. To her at the time her sister “looked as if she was asleep” (5). It is as though the right words cannot be found for such a devastating event.
Proofread by Tom Dinsdale.
Written and Published by Brian McCloskey.
End of Part 1.
Gagnier, Regenia. “Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.” Victorian Studies 30, no.3 (1987): 335-63 Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3828397.
Savage, Mike. Social Class in the 21st Century. Great Britain: Pelican Books, 2015.
Saville, Patricia. “The Daughter I Never Had”, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4.
Vincent, David. “Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class” Social History, Vol.5 No.2 (1980): 223-47 Available From: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4284976.