‘Sunday had its special routine. We went to Sunday school with our little companions, but when I was older we went to church…….Then home to the traditional Sunday dinner and very delicious it was. Cooked in our little kitchen, Alice and I spent the afternoon quietly with our books whilst mother and Dad rested’ (p19).
Winifred Till paints a very idyllic picture of her family life as a child. Despite her family’s lack of wealth, she describes scenes that highlight her family’s blissful existence during her childhood. Winifred’s description of her childhood is something that surprised me as the late-Victorian period is a period that is notorious for its difficult working and living conditions for working class families. However Winifred’s family life during her childhood defies the conventional assumptions people make in today’s society about working class childhood in the late-Victorian period.
So what is it that makes Winifred’s childhood one that she can look back on so fondly? Looking at her memoir Winifred makes her admiration for her mother and father abundantly clear. She does so by describing how both her parents sacrificed so much in order for Winifred and her adopted sister Alice to have a happy and comfortable childhood. Winifred describes how hard her mother worked in the home to be able to provide her family a comfortable home life: ‘Without a doubt much of the work in the house was tiring or dreary but the women of my mother’s generation took it in their stride’ (p4).
Winifred also describes the reasoning for why she believes women during the time of her childhood did not work: ‘Firstly it was an understood thing that when a woman married she gave up her own interests and devoted the rest of her life to the management of the home, and the needs of her husband and children’ (p22). This reasoning for the confining of women to the domestic sphere is very unpopular in modern society, and with many feminist theorists who study the Victorian period. However in Victorian society it was in fact a vital element in working class family’s survival: ‘the increased prosperity of working-class households from the late nineteenth century was created not only by higher wages, but also improved housewifery’ (p65). This quotation comes from Joanna Bourke’s Working-Class Cultures In Britain 1890-1960 and highlights a key element to Winifred’s idolisation of her mother in her memoir. Winifred very much admires her mother for her abilities as a housewife, ‘by my mother’s careful management we pulled through but many families got into debt’ (p22). Judging from Winifred’s memory of her mother she saw her as a woman with a source of power in the home rather than her position in the home being one of subordination. This can be seen through Winifred’s mother’s abilities as a housewife, it distinguishes her from other mothers in the memoir.
Similarly to Bernard Taylor’s account of fatherhood in his memoir described in Julie-Marie Strange’s book, Fatherhood and The British Working Class 1865-1914, Winifred admired her father for his nature, his hardworking attitude and dedication to his family. Yet she does not cliché her descriptions of admiration for her father. Instead she shows her affection for her father by giving examples of working class men who are not hardworking, and dedicated to their families such as her Aunt Emma’s husband, who ruins his family with drunkenness.
2-0763-TILL, Winifred, ‘The Early Years of a Victorian Grandmother’, TS, pp.39(c.13,000 words). Brunel University Library.
Bourke, Joanna. Working-Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960. London: Routledge, 1994.
Strange, Julie-Marie. Fatherhood and The British Working Class, 1865- 1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.