Molly Keen’s memoire begins at her birth in 1903, indicating Keen to be just eleven years old when The First World War broke out across Europe. This is significant because during this age, usually, children are meant to enter puberty and gain a sense of independence and identity, but the War postponed such freedom, and threw many families into tough and dark times, where Keen’s brothers were separated from the family.
The main aim of this memoire is to describe what domestic life, as a woman, was like before, during, and after The Great War. By doing this, Keen describes her family with much admiration and love. She emphasises the kindness of her brothers, and their bravery when they enlisted. Her mother is articulated as very loving, but unfortunately ill; however, her sister Winifred appears to be the most respected by Keen, due to her domestic assistance towards their Mother’s health, and the upbringing of their youngest sibling, Ivy. One of the purposes of this memoire is to show the reader how useful and essential her sister was in terms of gluing their family together during these distasteful times. The illness that their mother endured, and also Molly herself faced pneumonia for a short while, became the main catalyst in Molly’s desire to become a nurse. Regenia Gagnier, in her article Social Atoms: Working Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender, believes that “Working class autobiographies, often by people about whom little is known but the one work, have been declared lacking in the self-revelation and concomitant literary indices of literary autobiography” (Pg. 336), but Keen challenges this idea by revealing her desire to become a nurse at the end of the memoire, which brings a feeling of hope and prosperity, which was non-existent after the outbreak of war. Another aim of the memoire was simply to describe her childhood, as her writing style is exceptionally modest and non-biased because she is recounting her early family life.
The motivation behind writing this memoire derives from Keen’s ambition to become a nurse, not only as an occupation, but as a symbol of love for her mother, who sadly passed away due to her sickness on December 19th, 1919. She would now try her best to help all who were ill, just like her mother was, depicting Molly as selfless, and a hopeful survivor of World War One. Keen also will have been motivated to write the memoire to recount the luck her family had during the War, meaning how both of her brothers enlisted, fought, and survived the War. Keen will have wanted the reader of the memoire to gain an understanding of how domesticated family life was, particularly for women during these years, that surround and include the Great War, through: her sister’s willingness to nurse their mother, raise Ivy, and generally accept and take on a maternal role in the family, in the absence of their ill mother. She also shows how domesticated life was before the war, through her descriptions of her father, who had to graft exceptionally hard in his life, due to his transport being a push bike. Due to his success as a sign writer, he was required in many different places across the South of the country, not all of which were close. His hours were long, but he still managed to be loving and fatherly; which further insinuated the necessity of Winifred’s domestic and maternal identity. However, Keen does not state who this memoire is written for, and what her target audience really is, however I believe it is mainly aimed at women, due to her descriptions of stereotypical feminine elements and interests in her life, including: clothes, hair styles, and the life routine many women faced, whereby the would become housewives and take on the maternal role in the family. David Vincent, in his article Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class, stated “An autobiography is not a record or a reconstruction of the past but an interpretation in which the events, the activities and the thoughts of a lifetime are subjected to an overall analysis, each aspect accorded a symbolic value in the formation of the individual’s personality” (Pg. 25), which proves how Molly’s descriptions of her extended childhood and The Great War ultimately formed her identity, ending with her becoming a nurse; the end of her postponed childhood. Finally, Molly speaks for all families that have been affected by War, and those that have had family life directly affected by illness.
Gagnier, Regenia, “Social Atoms: Working Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender”, Victorian Studies, Vol. 30, No. 3, 1987, pp 334-363
Keen, Molly, “Childhood Memories 1903-1921”, Brunel University, 1987
Vincent, David, “Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class”, Social History, Vol. 5, No 2, 1980, pp 223-247