Amy Frances Gomm (b.1899): Reading and Writing

‘From the comments and glances, Laurie knew that Lord Oakburns daughters was high on the secret list.’ (Gomm, pp.106)

Throughout Amy Frances Gomm’s memoir, she speaks positively about her pleasures in reading and writing. She claims in the initial pages, ‘I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read (to my own satisfaction) and write.’(Gomm, pp.31) She says she learnt to read at home yet she never states any novels she read herself but she does mention newspaper and magazine reading and her sister’s literary taste.

Richard Atlick argues that ‘everywhere in the memoirs of lower class readers are laments that in their youth good reading matter was hard to come by’ (Altick, pp.251). Amy certainly proves this point, eventually revealing further down the memoir that at the age of fourteen she ‘was starved of reading.’ (Gomm, pp.127) She goes into little detail explaining why this was, however does mention that it was just shortly after her mother was recovering from breast cancer therefore she had little time to give to this hobby.

Amy only really begins to talk about reading when she moved from her Oxfordshire village, Charlbury to the city life of Oxford at fourteen. Discussing the newspapers at the time she remembers, ‘The gory murders repelled me. I was content that it should all remain a closed book to me.’ (Gomm, pp.103) Even though she openly admitted that she had little interest, she briefly tells us that her parents were always quite wary of what she had permission to read, however does go on to say that ‘Laurie was less ‘free’ than I was, in those days. Nobody bothered to ‘supervise’ my reading. Had mother thought about that? I read anything I could lay my hands on, if I had time.’ (Gomm, pp.106) Jonathan Rose argues state that ‘there was no room for selectivity’ for many working class readers and that ‘one inevitably read much that was not age-appropriate’ (Rose, pp.372-3). Perhaps this was behind the ‘supervised’ reading Amy’s parents insisted upon.

A newspaper headline from The oxford Gazette in 1913. This would have been a popular paper for Amy to see once she moved to Oxford. Find this picture here

One novelist that Amy discusses who links to Roses’ statement is 19th Century writer, Ellen Wood. She tells us about how her other sister, Dorothy ‘was on book-borrowing terms with one or two of the neighbors. Mrs.Henry Wood entered our Hurst Street home, but she remained hidden when Dorothy wasn’t actually reading her.’ (Gomm, pp.106) The reason for the secret reading was perhaps due to the genre of writing Wood’s prose–mystery and crime.

‘Our parents did shut their eyes to what they didn’t want to see’ (Gomm, pp.107) Amy tells us. She frequently makes jokes that connote they believed she was a lot more innocent than she actually was. Amy tells us of the times she would help clean at ‘the club’ on New Inn Hall Street (Oxford) and how ‘it was a joy to ‘do’ the reading room. Here, as well as a wide selection of ‘Dailies’, were the ‘weeklys’ – Punch; The Tatter, The Bystander; and the ‘monthlys’ including, The Strand and The Windsor.’ (Gomm, pp.122) All these were illustrated and cartoon driven magazines that were extremely popular with the working class in the 1900’s due to its relate able nature.

Above, a picture of a PUNCH illustration of the working class in 1913. Find this picture here.

It appears that Amy was a fan of magazines, with her proclaiming that ‘at the bottom of a cupboard, I found treasure. A pile of Syd’s old magazines, ‘The Gem’ and ‘The Magnet’.’ (Gomm. 127) After doing a little research into these papers, I was able find out that they were about a group of boys who went to public school.


‘The Magnet was aimed primarily at working-class boys who would never go to a public school themselves, hence part of the appeal of the stories was to portray the unattainable, which was not merely the public-school education itself, but also, in part, an affluent and well-fed lifestyle.’ (wiki)

Find these pictures here

One particular phrase that seems to get used regularly by Amy is ‘if I had time’ which she eventually adds onto the previous sentence, explaining that early mornings and late nights ‘was the only spare time I had.’ (Gomm, pp.127) I do feel that her busy schedule unfortunately had an effect on the amount of reading she perhaps would have liked to have engaged in as a child, with her memoir not telling us much as to what really inspired her as a writer.

Amy’s later career as a typist is however, a demonstration to the large impact that literature had on her growing up. By eventually deciding to write a memoir, there is clear proof she always had a passion for writing and literature.



Altick, R.D., 1998. The English common reader: A social history of the mass reading public, 1800-1900. Ohio State University Press

Rose, J., 2002. The intellectual life of the British working classes. Yale University Press.

324 GOMM, Amy Frances, ‘Water Under the Bridge’, TS, pp.163 (c.55,000 words). Brunel University Library. (2017). The Magnet. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Apr. 2017].

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