“I loved to curl up in the fireside corner with a book, I could read before I went to school, and there was nothing I liked to do better, so that when my mother said to me as often as she did. “Go out and play in the fresh air for a little while, Rosie, you will ruin your eyes with your head always in a book”, I thought she was cruel” [p. 8]
We already know that Dora was talented with literary skills, such as reading and writing (see Education and Schooling post), but she also expresses in her memoir her love to read both fiction and non-fiction. Due to the changes in compulsory education during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s (see Education and Schooling for more information), Dora would have had access to education until the age of 13. The teaching of reading was made vital in both elementary and Sunday schools at this time, so that “Each individual should have access to the word of God through reading the Bible” (Gomersall, 1997:62). Therefore, it was common for children like Dora to have the basic reading skills. With Dora’s admission to grammar school however, we know that she would have been more advanced with this skill, after passing her entrance examinations in dictation, English, Literature and Mathematics.
Dora expresses her love for reading in her spare time, and lists her most loved texts, “My favourite reading matter at this period in addition to the classics which we read at school, were books by one, Angela Brazil, with such titles as, ‘Harum Scarum Schoolgirl’, ‘Headgirl at the Gables’, ‘The Fortunes of Phillipa’, etc” [p. 33]. Angela Brazil’s work that Dora discusses focuses on British Boarding schools in the early 20th century (Spencer, 2013). It is said that due to the nature of this subject, many working class girls use these texts as an access and escape to this middle class schooling, “In which young women could envisage the daily business of growing up with minimal interference from the older generation” (Spencer, 2013:387). Dora expresses her boyish qualities in the memoir, “I must have been a great disappointment to my mother, and father too, … that I was a tomboy, so different to Martha who had been a sweet gentle girl, never seeming to get dirty or tear her clothes” [p. 3], and this may be why she engages with Brazil’s literature so much. The schoolgirls included are described as a: “Gender-busting bunch, chafing furiously against the notion that there wasn’t anything their brothers could do that they could not” (Hughues, 2015); expressing character types that are so similar to Dora.
Dora also expresses her enjoyment with reading magazines, “The magazines I most enjoyed were, ‘The Schoolgirls’ Own’, and ‘The Children’s Newspaper’. I devoured these publications eagerly every week, the trouble was that I read them so quickly and even a thick book lasted no time” [p. 33]. The Schoolgirls’ Own was first published from 1919, and featured stories as well as articles on day-to-day life, such as, how to improve at tennis, “How to ‘spring clean your cycle’, and some hints on making presents ‘for your chum’s birthday’” (Spencer, 2013:392). It is suggested that this content is a way for society to use popular fiction to affirm dominant role models and to educate “The readership into gendered versions of the ‘British Character’ (Richards, 1989. Cited in Spencer, 2013:392). Additionally with The Children’s Newspaper, the text was educational while still promoting dominant ideals of that time, including Christian, patriotic and imperialist views (Sansom, 2007). This was published weekly for 46 years from March 1916, and is still being published online by Look and Learn magazine (Sansom, 2007).
It is clear from the title of Dora’s memoir that she is also interested in poetry. The memoir is named ‘Those Happy Highways’, taken from a line in a poem by A. E. Housman: “Oh for “The Happy Highways where I went / And cannot come again.” As A. E. Housman so poignantly phrased it” [p. 1]. The main theme of this poem is “Deeply-felt nostalgia for the simplicity and unity of the past” (Housman, 2017), which is such a strongly recurring theme in Dora’s memoir. The reading of and engagement with poetry and other literature, shows Dora’s advancement from the basic reading skills that were provided to most working class children. As I have discussed in a previous post (see Education and Schooling), many children were taken out of school once the compulsory education was met to aid with the family economy. Dora had a similar experience as she was taken out of school at the age of 14, however, this does not hinder her reading, as we can see how she still engages with literature and carries on this passion at the time of writing her memoir.
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357 HANNAN, Dora R., ‘Those Happy Highways: An Autobiography’, TS, pp.36 (c.20,000 words). Brunel University Library.
Gomersall, M. (1997) Working-class Girls in Nineteenth-century England. Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Housman, A. (2017) A Shropshire Lad. Pan Macmillan: London.
Hughes, K. (2015) Angela Brazil: Dorm Feasts and Red-Hot Pashes. The Guardian. [online] URL: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/14/angela-brazil-pioneer-of-girls-boarding-school-fiction Date accessed: 08/03/18
Sansom, I. (2007) Why Do I Cry? The Guardian. [online] URL: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/jul/21/booksforchildrenandteenagers.featuresreviews Date accessed: 08/03/18
Spence, S. (2013) Boarding School Fictions: Schoolgirls’ Own Communities of Learning. Women’s History Review. 22(3) p. 386-402
Hughes, K. (2015) Angela Brazil: Dorm Feasts and Red-Hot Pashes. The Guardian. [image] URL: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/14/angela-brazil-pioneer-of-girls-boarding-school-fiction Date accessed: 08/03/18
Maund, A. (2011) A Shropshire Lad. The Housman Society: Appreciating the Life and Works of Albert Edward Housman. [image] URL: http://www.housman-society.co.uk/shropshire-lad.htm Date accessed: 08/03/18
The Advertising Archive (2018) The Schoolgirls’ Own. [image] URL: http://www.advertisingarchives.co.uk/index.php?service=search&action=do_quick_search&language=en&q=the+schoolgirls+own Date accessed: 08/03/18