MOLLY KEEN (B.1903): HABITS, CULTURE & BELIEF

Although those of the working class faced limitations with regards to what cultural and leisure activities they could partake in, many working class people in early twentieth century took advantage of whatever opportunities they could, making the most of their lesser means and finding ways to amuse themselves as well as to better and improve their lives.

Given that the majority of her memoir is based upon her childhood memories, the leisure activities Molly endorses as a child, the role of religion within her life and her acquired habits would have been strongly influenced by her immediate family. However, as she grows older and gains more personal and financial independence, Molly is able to expand and enjoy new recreational activities.

Describing the “wonderful make believe games” (p.5) games which Molly and her siblings played together, “pretending they were daughters of wealthy parents”(p.5), demonstrates the creativity of the Keen children but also conveys their awareness from a young age of their social class and how “playing hoops”(p.5) and diabolo, and “marbles”(p.5), were most commonly games which working class children would partake in, devoid of more luxurious toys which were only a privilege for the middle classes.

However, a spirited and amiable child, Molly never talks negatively of the restrictions of being working class. Instead, she, with boundless energy, appears to have inherited from her parents an appreciation for the small, simple things in life, including precious time with family and a love for nature. Perhaps the latter assimilated from her maternal grandfather, an accomplished market gardener “whose produce was sent to Convent Garden” (p.14), and whose garden Molly describes as a “paradise for children to play in”(p.14), Molly frequently attributes to the beauty of nature throughout her memoir, “the red roses were perfection” (p.14); “cherry trees…a veritable fairyland” (p.22); “a lovely green meadow”; her excitement upon watching the eclipse of the sun; how much she enjoyed having her “own patch of garden to attend” (p.4).

Eager to please their children as best they could within their means, Molly’s family did enjoy many pleasurable outings.  The family enjoyed numerous outings to Burnham Beeches and Kew Gardens which was a “favourite” (p.6) to all. Another occasion of amusement for Molly was a trip to see a nature film together. Molly’s mother once took them “to Chiswick Empire to see Chaly’s Aunt,” (p.12) a privilege which they all thoroughly enjoyed. However, despite the fun and games had with her family, Molly  appears to have had limited access to further leisure activities outside of those funded and organized by her parents. She does mention how “Jack joined the Boys Brigade” (p.6), although no mention is made of any Girl Guides establishment which many working class girls joined and were entertained by.

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Hounslow Train Station-transportation used by Molly’s family in their daytrips to Kew Gardens and Burnham Beeches
Molly enjoyed the privilege attending a show at Chiswick Empire with her mother, Helen Keen
Molly enjoyed the privilege of attending a show at Chiswick Empire with her mother, Helen Keen. The Empire closed in 1959.

Religion plays a significant role in Molly’s life, not surprising due to the fact that despite being of the Protestant religion, her first school was the Roman Catholic Church attached to the church, and her family was sure to attend church together every Sunday.  Molly talks of the good vicar, “a loveable man who inspired his congregation” (p.13), thus it is evident that religion helped to form Molly’s personal identity and encouraged self-improvement. “Those services were a pleasure to us not merely a duty to go to.” (p.13) Moreover, Molly took delight in “delivering [church] magazines” (p.21) with her Aunt Lou – another activity which benefitted her morally and helping to shape her into a righteous, worthy young woman.  Molly mentions how her first school friend, Rosie, was a Roman Catholic. They “used to exchange notes regarding religious observances and differences etc.” (p.8) highlighting the significance of religion in Molly’s life and her interest in the church from a young age when she first started school. We also are made aware of how Molly enjoyed visiting Uncle Tom and attending his “well-preserved Norman church” (p.21) where he had “his own pew with a large box in it which contained his personal books” (p.21). Additionally, on the church altar at St Paul’s was a, “plain gold cross Uncle Tom had presented this to the church in memory of his wife” (p.21). This reflects the significance of religion and the church for Molly’s entire family considering how the death of a loved one was marked by contributing memorials to the church. Molly evidently regarded religion as a means of improving herself morally and spiritually and learning to lead a noble life.

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St. Paul’s Church, where Molly Keen and family attended weekly services every Sunday.

Changing patterns of recreation are evident towards the end of Molly’s memoir, as she is maturing and entering adulthood with a profession providing her with an income to contribute to her family household but also to spend as she chooses. Having joined the camera club in her teenage years, she continued with this hobby, as well as enjoying “privilege travel tickets” (p.30) as a perk of working at the railway; playing tennis and spending time “making a magya blouse”(p.31) which was supposedly “fashionable at that time”. (p.31) Notable is the fact that she later “had two happy holidays with a friend…went to north wales one year and Belgium the next” (p.34). Those of the working class generally would not have been able to afford foreign holidays, so Molly’s holiday to Belgium reflects an ambitious woman not allowing class restrictions to hinder her from travelling further afield.

Image 1:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hounslow_Town_tube_station

Image 2: http://www.chiswickw4.com/default.asp?section=info&page=conclegg01.htm

Image 3:http://i.ebayimg.com/t/St-PAULS-CHURCH-BATH-ROAD-HOUNSLOW-MIDDX-1916-PMK-/00/s/MTAwMVgxNjAw/$T2eC16NHJHIE9nyseGODBQvcKjLnzQ~~60_35.JPG

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