‘Meanwhile, let us who are old count our luck in living in a country that has removed the fears and grief’s of old age that my grandparents knew’ (p.299-300).
Kathleen Betterton’s memoir speaks out to everyone. It is a very honest and open reflection upon her life, her experiences and feelings. She is speaking out about class; how one’s life should not be determined by class but upon oneself as an individual. She speaks out for women praising the women she met in her life and acknowledging their greatness in particular that of her mother and her teachers. Her aim is for equality. Betterton reflects over current affairs, medical advancement and the changes in society that have altered for the better. Her academic ability led her to leaving home to become a scholar girl working her way up to Oxford College. She moves out of the working class to a more comfortable life and profession. The usual route for her class was to leave school and take ‘unskilled work that might end in unemployment and the dole’ (p.27).
The memoir reflects over her life, up to her present day. It is from the epilogue at the end that the reader can gain an understanding into why she wrote her memoir. It is written as a speech, her views of modern day life, with a focus on encouraging her audience to keep bettering society. She signs the end with ‘Linton 1975’ (p.300) .This suggests that she wrote the memoir later on in her life between the dates of 1972-1975 at the place she was living Linton, aged 62.
January 15th 1975 was the first International Women’s Year, launched in Britain by Princess Alexandra and Barbara Castle. It was also the year Margaret Thatcher became the first ever woman prime minister in Britain. In relation to Betterton’s autobiography these events could be significant to why she wrote. They are both significant to women’s history.
Betterton privately coached children of the wealthy before settling into her teaching roles at schools. From adolescence she was introduced to those from a more privileged upbringing; first through her own education and then through her jobs. This gave her a insight into the upper classes way of life. Her memoir highlights progression is achievable. Class is not what determines the person.
Kathleen was active in fighting for woman’s rights, she protested in May Day marches for international solidarity at Hyde Park. The majority of the people she mentions in her memoir are female. Betterton’s mother was a great influence on her. A strong character, like her daughter, she was a bold lady with a voice. It was her mother who provided Betterton with books as a child and enforced homework rules upon her.
Betterton praised teachers. She emphasises how crucial a positive teacher is and how they have a massive impact on their student’s’ lives, inevitably the future of the country. She wants her readers to acknowledge teachers and raise awareness of the remarkable job they do, dedicating their lives in educating the young. Betterton reflects on a colleague Miss King, ‘impressing on the young once her own values of thoughtfulness, courtesy and consideration’ (p.297). This shows how she believes that the teachers are those who shape a good individual, who benefits society.
Betterton speaks on behalf of the working-class, voicing the doubts and anxieties she once had. This can be seen as offering a comfort to those who have the same scepticism as herself. Like a lot of working-class writers of her time, she wrote for functional reasons as opposed to aesthetic reasons. Her memoir is also similar to other working-class writers as they tend to be defensive and seek to justify themselves. These writers wanted to put out important messages, tackle taboo issues and give people words of wisdom for a better future.
The important message she aims at her audience is everyone can aspire and better themselves. Their background or their gender is not a barrier: ‘true, we have not created the good society that we dreamed of at Oxford in the Thirties; but we have a juster one than we knew before the war, and one which offers more equality of opportunity, regardless of class or sex’ (p.298). Her purpose in the memoir is to bring attention to societal issues: how there has been a great improvement in health care, living conditions and most importantly the closing of the social-class gap: ‘class division was not as intense as previous times ‘social-classes were mixed but there was no class-consciousness such as I had known’ (p293). It is Betterton’s aim to open the mind of her audience, to change their opinion and to make them aware of how society has changed noticeably and that it can keep on bettering.
Betterton. K. (1975) ‘White Pinnies, Black Aprons…..’ Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library: Special Collection. 2:71.
‘Kathleen Betterton’, in John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography Brighton: Harvester. 2:0071