In the previous blog on Life and Labour the focus was primarily on Letitia’s mother, Mrs Dawson, However , the memoir also mentions the work of her father and herself. With her father being a publican, it is pretty obvious what his job entailed. As I mentioned in the first blog, her parents were first given a pub that was hard to handle by the brewery as a way of testing their ability to handle rowdy customers or other hard to handle factors of running a pub.
One of the problems they faced was prostitution which was common in the London public house scene. Letitia writes: “There was the constant problem of prostitutes, they were allowed in, but it was made quite clear, at the beginning, no molesting of men in the pub was allowed.” From what Letitia is saying here, there are implications that her parents ran their pub with a firm hand yet showed signs of tolerance as they did not completely refuse prostitutes from the establishment providing they behave themselves. In fact, Letitia mentions some warmth towards one prostitute named Marie and shows compassion towards her: “There was one lady, who lived locally, came in our place over the years. She knew the rules and never abused them, Marie was almost a friend, as a young child when I came down to say ‘Good-night,’ she always got a kiss along with my Mother. If there was such a thing as a respectable prostitute, she was such a lady.” The fact that Letitia kisses Marie before retiring to bed demonstrates the tolerance and compassion Letitia has for disadvantaged people. She demonstrates a sense of understanding, as well as her mother, towards prostitutes and seems to acknowledge the fact that prostitutes solicit out of desperation and complete lack of finance or ambition and therefore deserve respect. What is extremely striking is that Letitia calls Marie “such a lady.” The word “prostitute,” “whore,” and “harlot” has often been used as a derogatory term. Therefore, by Letitia calling Marie a “lady,” Letitia demonstrates her and her mother’s universal compassion and tolerance.
Stefan Anthony Slater quotes John Gosling, an ex-superintendent, who claims that: “The […] West End at night was world’s largest flesh market.” Gosling implies that there was a mass number of prostitutes in the West End, which Paddington is part of, but he degrades prostitutes with the words “flesh-market.” From what Letitia says about Marie, Gosling seems to be a man of ignorance and bases his opinions on what he first assumes as Letitia points out in her encounter of prostitutes that not all of them are unrespectable and that it is only due to bad living conditions and oppression that they resort to this desperate measure.
Letitia does not only speak about her father and mother working at the pub but also numerous maids, barmen and barmaids. Letitia describes the staff with: “Normally, we had four barman, and a barmaid, also a girl to help in the house.” Letitia’s description, here, implies that the pub had a wide range of staff that probably may have helped with her mother’s pressure as her father had died at that point. Letitia does mention that her mother was able to get Sunday afternoons off for resting which was probably possible due to the amount of staff to cover.
Letitia writes about how one barman caught her interest. She writes: “One barman named ‘Vic’ had been in the ‘Palestine Police,’ and would tell the most fantastic stories. He was tall, well built, and handsome, rather like someone out of the ‘Arabian Nights.’” Here, Letitia demonstrates how immigration is beginning to change Britain and how the workforce in Britain is beginning to become more multicultural. Dvora Hacohen claims that “British policy towards the Jews in Palestine took a major U-turn, which was largely expressed by limiting Jewish immigration to the country.” Hacohen suggests that the British Home Office were very selective in choosing who immigrated to the country. They had to be a credible applicant. This would explain Vic being an ex-Palestine police officer as, being a police officer; he would have been regarded as a credible applicant for entrance in to Britain. Letitia, however, takes a romantic view of Vic or immigration as a whole. She used the simile of the “Arabian Nights” which suggests she has a romantic view of the Middle East as the “Arabian Nights” were a selection of romantic tales. But Letitia’s romanticised view of Vic, could be due to her having a romantic fondness towards him, suggested by, “tall, well built, and handsome.” Going back to her comparison of Vic being out of the “Arabian Nights,” she makes him seem a heroic figure which also suggests that she had a romantic crush on him.
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Slater, S. A. (2010). Containment: Managing Street Prostitution in London, 1918—1959. Journal of British Studies, 49(2), 332-357.
Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247 http://www.jstor.org/stable/4284976 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.