‘As for me – I was off to conquer the world.’ (Gomm, 163) This quotation, right at the very end of Amy’s memoir, sums up her ability to defy the struggles of a typical working class girl despite the hardships throughout her childhood.
Amy Gomm, born in 1899, was the sixth of eight siblings. Her memoir recounts her life as a working class girl and mostly her family life. Amy’s father worked as an engineer/electrician whilst her mother worked in the ‘big house.’ The memoir written by Amy, also depicts her sister, Laurie’s memories. The memoir describes life growing up in Charlbury, Oxfordshire and eventually Amy’s move to Ealing in 1920.
David Vincent argues that for working class girls ‘there is some evidence that girls were more subject to their parents’ influence and, as might be expected, more concerned to enquire into the financial prospects of their suitors.’ (237)
Amy’s memoir proves that is not quite the case. It is clear that her mother strongly influenced Amy and her sisters but Amy seems to want to take control of her own life and knows what direction in life she wants to go. There is no mention of a suitor in Amy’s life, which I find interesting as she is defying the typical expectations of a working class girl of the twentieth century. I like how Amy is more interested in finding a career that she has genuine interest in rather than settling for a life of domesticity like some working class girls of the early twentieth century. In her memoir, we see Amy eventually train to be a secretary.
‘Water Under the Bridge’ is an extremely fitting title for Amy’s memoir as her childhood shapes her life. We see her struggle as a child with education and with work and her mother’s illness but her move to Ealing in 1920 to work seems to be the most important aspect of her life.
In her memoir, family is of central importance. Amy’s mother is such an important figure in the family and the memoir describes the tragic loss of their mother. Amy’s father is described as a respectable working man. However, the loss of his wife disrupts his identity as the breadwinner.
Janet Fink writes about how loss and masculinity define and shaped working class children: ‘questions of loss feature with regard to men’s identity, breadwinner role and self-esteem and suggest, in turn, their significance for understanding the meanings of family troubles through the lens of masculinity.’ (42)
This is fitting for Amy’s memoir as whilst the mother is alive, both the mother and father work hard to provide for the family. Working life was clearly important for the family. However, after their mother dies, Amy notes the behaviour of her father changing. Through the death of one parent, Amy tragically loses both of her parents. Amy’s mother had a more influential role on the children than the father did. When both parents had to work, it was the older sibling’s job and their Aunt Laura’s job to look after the children ‘but they weren’t mother.’ (3) This is especially poignant for Amy’s memoir as she recounts whilst the war was going on, they were fighting their own war in the shape of their mother’s illness.
One of the reasons I decided to choose Amy Gomm as my author is because of the style she writes in. As explained in the memoir, one of her jobs is a shorthand typist. This is extremely interesting to consider as in most memoirs, the memories shape them but Amy’s memories and her writing style shape her memoir. Amy’s memoir depicts life as a working class woman and how for a woman the home was important; ‘women considered themselves lucky to get work.’ (Gomm, 13) I like how Amy defies the gender norms of the twentieth century.
Falke writes how working-class autobiographies “are themselves fruitful objects of literary analysis and singular texts of literary worth.” In my future blog posts, I will discuss Amy’s literary style in more depth. In the foreword to the memoir, Amy explains how the memories shared with Laurie are authentic despite Amy’s tendency to exaggerate ‘We can’t promise you the whole truth. How could it be? You can be sure it’s nothing but the truth, though.’ (Gomm, 2) It is clear in the memoir that Amy’s literary style was advanced as she divides her memoir into titled sections.
Through her writing skills, Amy’s memoir provides a vivid account of her childhood and life growing up in Charlbury. The memoir details accounts of family life, education, Amy’s love for reading and the several jobs she had.
If you enjoyed reading my introduction post, have a look at Josh Emery’s introduction on William Wright.
324 GOMM, Amy Frances, ‘Water Under the Bridge’, TS, pp.163 (c.55,000 words). Brunel University Library.
Burnett, John ed. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the1820s to the 1920s.London: Alan Lane, 1982
Fink, Janet. Representing Family Troubles Through the 20th Century. Bristol University Press, 2013.
Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247
Ealing 20th Century – lovelyoldtree.wordpress.com
Map of Charlbury, Southampton – Charlbury-Shorthampton-old-map-Oxfordshire-1900-20SE-repro-