Edna Bold explicitly states in the first line of her Foreword “This book is made for my grand-nieces and nephews”(np). Bold’s memoir is dated July 27th 1978, when she was seventy four years old. The purpose for writing her memoir is not stated but the time line suggests her age was her motive. For me, Bold’s memoir is a coming of age tale. It is a journey of self-discovery and a wish for self-improvement. Bold’s success provides and inspiring tale for which people of the working class can still relate to today.
Grandneices and nephews
When reading autobiographical work we have to consider whether the purpose was for publication. For the case of Bold, it was not. Bold’s memoir is not structured in chronological order. Instead, Bold uses sub headings to talk about a specific event or person that was significant to her. She says the reason for this is “because I best remember them or because they most attract me”(np). This allows her to give a voice to her friends and family. Given that her memoir was written for her grandnieces and nephews this would help them to learn, not only about her, but their ancestors.
I found it interesting that Bold does not go into great detail about any hardship she may have faced. As mentioned in my post Edna Bold (B.1904): Home and Family, David Vincent “observed that ‘bereavement is everywhere’ in working-class autobiography. Yet life stories were not dominated by death.”. Vincent placed emphasis on working class authors leaving out their emotional experiences. In this instance, this is the case for Bold. She does not express emotional feelings, particularly when her younger brother died and her Mother suffered a mental breakdown. When she talks about the death of her family members she says “Grandmother, father and mother followed one after the other to the hereafter”(41). These events would have been significant to Bold but they are not significant to her memoir itself. This allows us to unravel the purpose of Bold’s memoir. It is an exploration of the meaning of life. Bold is able to accept death by natural causes but in the case of her brother, who was run over by a police car, she is not.
Bold’s exploration of the meaning of life is further raised when she draws on the universal question of “the existence of God”(39) and discusses Darwinism. Bold’s memoir can be used as a first-hand account of the early twentieth century as a time when religion and the understanding of science underwent dramatic changes.
Reading Bold’s memoir allows us to trace the changes in popular culture during the twentieth century. Bold discusses “Flower power”(90) and “The Whole Scene Going”(88) which occurred when bands such as “The Beatles”(82) emerged. Bold recalls “The resulting crime and obscenities were a Global problem”(91). This provides an interesting contrast to the music of “Beethoven, Mozart and Mendelssohn”(22 from ‘her day’.
Bold chose to share her wisdom and achievements with her grandnieces and nephews. Her memoir provides a portrait of working class life in the early twentieth century. From her description of her uninspiring time in education we are able to see how times have changed (See Edna Bold (B.1904): Education and Schooling). We can also see how Bold made a difference to education. When she became a teacher Bold decided that “the idea the teacher ‘up there’ and the child ‘down there’ was to disappear”(64) instead “both were to work on equal terms”(64). Bold wanted her pupils to be able to “release the subconscious impulses and hidden skills that underly all creative work.”(64). Bold allowed her pupils a freedom which she was not given in her own formal education. Bold makes the difference between ‘now and then’ explicitly clear, but she also reminds us that we all share the same experiences;
“It is impossible that any student of today, with his political and social awareness, his democratic aspirations should recognise him or herself in the restricted, sexless, voiceless counterpart of fifty years ago. Yet students of all times are much of muchness. They enjoy the ‘good life’ in common. All is provided and by present day standards liberally so. Ideas, styles, institutions change, but basic things remain. Now, as then, the beautiful countryside, the summer meadows, the sharp winter days, the old town, the ancient cathedral create an ambiance around the college shared by generation after generation.”(60).
Bold’s memoir presents the theme of the loss of childhood innocence and the transition between childhood and adolescence. Bold says as a child “I loved my dreaming life”(12) and that she and her brother “We were as innocent as Adam and Eve walking in the garden”(20). Bold recalls it was in secondary school when “the idyllic, true world of childhood was over. The child forgot itself”(36). Yet she confesses “I never lost my habit of dreaming”(32). These themes draw all generations together. Her memoir is not just an account of working-class life. It is a coming of age tale which is a theme many writers still use today.
In her conclusion Bold explains;
“A man once said to me when I was knee high to a grass hopper “you are an hedonist”.
I went home and opened the dictionary and found that ‘a hedonist is one that advocates hedonism’ and hedonism to be ‘the doctrine that pleasure is the highest good’. I would substitute the word joy for pleasure. It is a word that cannot embrace the cruel excess of this century. It is a word that cannot tolerate any negative thinking. Therefore what pain and suffering have laced my days have been excluded from these pages. The incidence of two world wars, the persecution of minorities, the atrocities perpetuated by terrorists leave scars and blemishes throughout the nervous system, sufficient to tarnish the golden thread that still remains immaculate, bright as the day it first emerged to the light of consciousness. Which would seem to be a lesser miracle in this disturbing, riddlemeree planet.”(ng)
It seems this statement from the man shaped Bold’s personal development and certainly the experiences she chose to include in her memoir. Bold reflects hedonistic views when she says her parents “accepted the puritanical reverence of work that was performed without love or real pleasure”(36). Bold was not willing to accept the “accidental conditions”(36) she was born into. The purpose of Bold’s memoir was not discuss “pain and suffering”(np) but rather to share the experiences which helped her in her quest for self-discovery and self-improvement.
Bold ends her conclusion with an apology;
“I apologise to all our close friends who make no appearance in these pages, to my brother, Harold, who receives only a passing reference, and to his sons, Peter, Paul and Brian, and his wife, Hilde, who receive no mention at all. I apologise for all other omissions, shortcomings, indiscretions or whatever.”(np)
The only evidence of Bold’s life found through genealogy sources was her date of birth. Perhaps the omission of these family members is because they are the ones she experienced suffering with, but this is something we will never know. These pages contain only the experiences which Bold wanted to share. Had she not made this decision we would merely be left with her date of birth. Thankfully this is not the case.
Bold’s memoir can be used to provide a first-hand account of the historical context of her time. For me, it holds a deeper purpose. It is a tale of the inevitable loss of childhood innocence, a wish for self-discovery and a desire to be ‘better’. Through perseverance Bold was successful, and for this she will forever stand out as an inspiring member of the working-class.
 Strange, Julie Marie. Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain, 1870-1914. Cambridge, University Press: 2010. Pg.10.
Bold, Edna. THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT BEING THE RECOLLECTIONS AND REMINISCECES OF EDNA BOLD. July 27th 1978. Found at The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, at Brunel University.
N.B. All images link to their original source.