Rosa Bell (b. 1902): Reading & Writing

Being of a working class background did not essentially mean that you had to be excluded from the world of literature. The pursuit of learning is a life long activity and many authors express how reading has shaped who they are. Reading and writing to Rosa, however, appears to have only been a priority whilst she was being educated as well as something she took up in her very late years. As mentioned previously, she was a devout Christian so the Bible was the main book she read regularly and time and again she would quote certain hymns or prayers in her memoir. Rosa did become a teacher too at some stage in her life, this evidently can suggest that she read other types of literature and had committed her life to learning. The fact that her teacher got her to read in front of class can be evidence that she excelled significantly in language. It is interesting and quite poignant that her memoir is written clearly enough to be understood but she casually uses her Cumberland dialect whilst talking about her loved ones and her childhood. Reading and maybe becoming a teacher could have contributed to her being a good writer.

There was one instance when she name dropped a famous novel: “I have here a prize given to me in 1914 – the Book I found little interest in until now – it is called Jane Eyre.” (pg. 134) However, she never said how it became significant to her or share any concerns about it. She did state that writing her life story as an elderly woman was a gut instinct:

“There are times in our lives when we hear of all the Gossip and the unkind things people say, do they ever think that there is someone who has tried all her life to be patient and to endure the Crosses which have been laid upon her.” (pg. 78)

Her duty to provide for her home and family were ultimately more important to her during her earlier years, which may be the reason why her memoir does not make any clear references to reading for leisure. Regenia Gagnier writes specifically in “Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender’ about how people’s attachments to their work or home life could often interfere with how often they could write: “In conditions of long work hours, crowded housing, and inadequate light, it was difficult enough for them to contemplate themselves, but they had also to justify themselves as writers worthy of the attention of others.” (pg. 338) This could also explain why unlike a large portion of female memoir authors who wrote mainly in the domestic space, Rosa had only found the opportunity to read and write after her family had either flown the nest or passed on and her career days had ended.

Further Reading:

  • Bell, Rosa. R.h.n. Remembers. Brunel University Library, July 1987.
  • Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363

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