‘The present is so fun; the future so uncertain. There’s no time for the past; that past which had its own quota of sadness and of joy, of frustrations and of hopes; of living.’ (1)
Amy Frances Gomm’s memoir covers events that span from her birth in 1899 to 1920, where she would have been in her early 20’s. Laurie, Amy’s sister, took part in the experience of collating the memoir, with both sisters sharing details and fragments of their memories of the beautiful and heartwarming town of Charlbury and the hardships that the austerity during the First World War brought along in the city of Oxford. Although Laurie’s presence is fluent throughout the memoir, it is through Amy’s voice. Amy is the one with whom we feel that connection, the one who we feel we know and the one who’s voice we hear aloud in our heads when reading of their experiences. The sister’s lives in Charlbury are portrayed as unpretentious and simple. Of course, as with any familial situation, things were not perfect but it is for exactly this reason that we as readers feel such an authentic and almost pleasantly nostalgic connection to Amy’s home town.
Amy’s time in Oxford is, undeniably, less cheerful and much more of an emotional read. Amy shares with us the hardships her family endured and the depiction of a country in turmoil. Talking about the war effort, Amy states ‘Almost every street in every town in Britain was involved in the wider war effort. But across the country the experience in individual areas was very different.’ (BBC, 3). The situation regarding rationing was particularly bad in Oxford. However, she does manage to articulate the issues in a way that shows us that these hardships shaped her mindset and made her the person she was when she began writing the memoir, in 1975. She was like many working class autobiographers who wanted their stories to be authentic and raw. As Gagnier argues, they ‘insisted upon their own histories, however difficult it was to write them, and they unanimously state that their reasons for writing are functional rather than aesthetic: to record lost experiences for future generations; to raise money; to warn others; to teach others; to relieve or amuse themselves; to understand themselves.’ (Gagnier, 2)
Throughout the memoir Amy is sure to express her closeness with her sister, stating at the beginning that ‘Laurie and I, the only two left of our family, should be next-door neighbors. Let’s not give fate too much credit, though. We ourselves, have a hand in the arrangement.’ (Gomm, 1) She goes into further detail allowing us to understand that their closeness was of significance to the creation of the memoir. They would have their ‘coffee sessions’ every morning as grown women who now have a family of their own; ‘it sometimes happens that a word or a news item will set us off remembering how it used to be, when we were young. We will recall, perhaps, the events of more than half a century ago; the personalities who were our folks; who shaped and coloured our lives.’ (Gomm, 1) It is clear that their parents were of great importance to in creating these experiences and were the starting foundations of their own personal heritage.
As Amy discusses her feelings towards the past, she also manages to suggest the reason for the name of the memoir, ‘Water Under the Bridge.’ ‘The depths of grief, the peaks of happiness- they’re all water under the bridge now, to be forgotten unless we do something about it.’ (1) Consequently, this led to her and Laurie coming to a joint agreement to ‘put it on paper’ and allow the public to use the memoir as a window into the life of a working-class girl. By the way that Amy has written the memoir as a chronological story in first person, it appears that she wants her public audience to be able to truly understand the way of working-class life in the nineteenth century by taking them back into the history that was her life.
Amy’s motivation to write a memoir was predominantly inspired by her own life experiences. The trials and tribulations of a real person who has lived a real life is much more interesting than a fabricated novel of fiction. She stands by her working-class background and despite the sadness of deaths and despair, she had an unlimited amount of freedom and pure happiness. Speaking on behalf of both her sister and herself, she expresses that they did write the memoir together, however the voice of it is Amy because she ‘has the typewriter.’
Amy’s personality shines through as the main narrative voice, adding ironic humour to much of her writing. Anticipating a public audience to read their memoir, Amy jokes that if Laurie was not there to help her reinvent their memories, she may have ‘felt inclined to exaggerate.’ (Gomm, 1) It is very easy to throw yourself into Amy’s memoir and feel like a working class girl in the early twentieth century yourself.
‘Bbc world war one at home’, <http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/england/ww1/bbc-world-war-one-at-home.pdf> accessed 3 March 2017
Dedication, One of the Multitude
Gagnier, Regenia. Social Atoms: Working Class Autobiography, Subjectivity and Gender. Indiana University Press. 1987.
‘Gallery’, (2016) <http://www.charlbury.info/gallery/old_pictures_-_people> accessed 3 March 2017
324 GOMM, Amy Frances, ‘Water Under the Bridge’, TS, pp.163 (c.55,000 words). Brunel University Library.
Hackett, Nan. ‘A Different Form of “Self”: Narrative Style in British Nineteenth-Century Working-class Autobiography’. 12.3 (1989): 208-226, p. 209.