‘Nobody supervised my reading, at this time. But it didn’t matter. There was no time to read’ (31).
As discussed in my previous post, Amy Gomm had an avid love for reading throughout her teenage years. Despite her parents attempts to hide newspapers from Amy and her sisters, this did not stop Amy getting her hands on any newspapers or magazines she could find. The Gomm parents’ ban on newspapers for the girls in the family suggests that they wanted the girls to be sheltered from tragedies in life that would have been depicted in this type of literature. Yet, Amy rebels against this wish and thoroughly enjoys reading whatever she can get her hands on.
Amy tells her reader she would clean a room in a pub where they had weekly reading rooms that covered, ‘Punch; The Tatter, The Bystander; and the ‘monthlys’ including, The Strand and The Windsor’ (Gomm, 122). Given the time period and the type of literature the magazines were producing, it is fitting Amy enjoyed these works as a working-class girl. Brad Beaven asserts, ‘social class, then, helped shape preferences, not only in the choice of literature but also the institutions used to loan or purchase the material’ (186). Beaven argues that women would have been more prone to borrow books from libraries than men. However, with Amy Gomm, her reading habits are limited to what she can access at home or during her later experiences of school in Oxford.
Particular magazines that Amy enjoyed to read were entitled the ‘The Magnet’ and ‘The Gem.’ She describes how ‘at the bottom of the cupboard, I found treasure. A pile of Syd’s old magazines, ‘The Gem’ and ‘The Magnet’ (Gomm, 127). These magazines were published in a collection called ‘The Boys Own Magazine’, also known as ‘The Boys Own Paper.’ The collection was created to appeal to a juvenile audience but it began unsuccessfully until it was targeted at a male audience only. According to Wikipedia, the magazine was used ‘as a means to encourage younger children to read and also instill Christian morals during their formative years.’ This simple fact did not steer Amy away from reading it and furthered her reading experience as she was still able to enjoy something that was not for a female readership. Throughout her memoir, Amy defies gender stereotypes. The other most obvious example of Amy defying gender stereotypes is through her achievement of getting a job as a shorthand typist. Her own father believed that this job was immoral but that did not stop Amy from ensuring she would defeat the stereotypes. You can read about this more here, in my Life and Labour blog post.
Reading was obviously a very important part of Amy’s life. However, when life gets in the way, reading that once seemed so important must be put to the back of Amy’s mind. As her family discovered their mother was suffering from breast cancer, this meant looking after her as much as they could. This tragedy meant Amy was ‘starved of reading’ (127). After the discovery of her mother’s illness Amy tells her reader, ‘nobody supervised my reading, at this time. But it didn’t matter. There was no time to read’ (Gomm, 124). Here, Amy highlights the ultimate tragedy her family was experiencing that eventually resulted in Amy not having time to read. Her life suddenly became consumed with looking after her mother. Also, particularly in Amy’s home, books were not as accessible and she read whatever she could find. However, with her mother’s threatening illness, her reading opportunities were limited.
As I’ve often mentioned throughout my posts, Amy is well read and can write to a high standard. Her memoir strongly reflects her writing abilities. Her passion for reading and writing influence her choice of career as a shorthand typist and secretary – which you can read about here in my Life and Labour blog post.
324 GOMM, Amy Frances, ‘Water Under the Bridge’, TS, pp.163 (c.55,000 words). Brunel University Library.
Beaven, Brad. Leisure, Citizenship and Working-Class Men in Britain, 1850-1914 Manchester: Manchester UP, 2005
‘The Boys Own Paper’ – /en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boy%27s_Own_Paper#/media/File:BoysOwnPaperIssue1Jan1879.jpg
‘The Gem’ and ‘The Magnet’ –