Regenia Gagnier states that, ‘most working class autobiographies begin not with a family lineage or a birthdate but rather with an apology for their authors ordinariness.’ (p338). This ordinariness however cannot be applied to Kathleen as her memoir is far from ordinary hence why she makes no apology for writing it. Kathleen lived an extremely varied and different childhood and this is one of the main reasons for her writing her memoir;
‘The second reason was that I appeared to have lived a very different childhood from almost every one of my friends who were of my generation. In the nineteen twenties and early thirties travel was far less widespread than it is today.’
‘The third reason I enjoyed doing it.’ (preface. np)
Within her preface Kathleen outlines the main purpose in her decision to write her memoir. Having had a broad and cultured childhood Kathleen was eager to put pen to paper and let the world know her story as a young girl from an army family.
Born in England in 1920, Kathleen spent much of her early childhood years travelling between her father’s army posts. Spending time in Hong Kong, India and Quetta (Pakistan). Kathleen takes us on a journey from England to distant lands through the imaginative eyes of a curious child.
Kathleen provides vivid descriptions of not only the great scope and landscape of each country but also of the fascinating people she crossed paths with – from her servant Amah in Hong Kong, to the varied individuals she met on her journey to Quetta.
‘As the train was really making heavy weather of the climb and going so slowly it was possible to see some of these people quite well, and we noticed they had much paler skin than the Indians in Karachi and learnt later they were mostly Brahuis.’ (p48).
It is Kathleen’s intricate and descriptive writing that really demonstrates the purpose of her memoir. Kathleen wanted to provide an account of her varied childhood which differed so greatly from not only children of her age but many adults who did not experience the ability to travel during the early 20th century. In a nostalgic style, Kathleen provides an in-depth travel log of her experiences abroad. She looks back with great fondness on her childhood describing her and her sister as, ‘needless to say, Betty and I were excited at the thought of once more going abroad’ (p32). Kathleen enjoyed exploring and relished in the sights she saw. This excitement and love for travel is present throughout the text and undoubtedly enables Kathleen to recall her past so vividly.
Unlike many of the other Writing Lives authors, Kathleen is of a relatively high social class status. She had servants for much of her life and through her father’s position experienced a pleasant and privileged childhood. She certainly enjoyed experiences limited to a small fraction of society! This indicates her possible decision to compose her memoir as she wanted to provide people with an insight into parts of the world they may never get to see, with different forms of scenery and lifestyles. Kathleen focuses on her own experiences for the most part, however she draws upon and references the experiences of her family and fellow army families. Kathleen aims to take the reader on a historical journey of the old British Raj and hopes her memoir will act as a historical record, teaching people not only a form of world history but also broadening their minds to different cultures.
Kathleen does not write specifically for one person which is interesting as many memoirs are written for close relatives and individuals. Interestingly, Kathleen focuses solely on her childhood, this indicates that the sole purpose of her memoir was quite simply to educate.
Kathleen ends her blog as her father dies, an interesting way to finish as her father’s death implies the end of her time spent overseas. It is with a heavy heart that Kathleen describes her Father’s death as ‘the end of my childhood’ (p98), suggesting that her varied childhood came to an abrupt end and her love for travel may have subsequently been compromised from this moment. Kathleen describes a reason for writing her memoir as quite simply something she enjoyed, suggesting that by recalling and retelling the tales of her childhood she received great fulfilment.
Lindley, Kathleen M: ‘A time to be born’ Typescript. 98pp 1976, Brunel University Library.
Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363
Girl Writing. Harold Knight (1874-1961)