The audience that Molly Keen is aiming her childhood memoir at is unclear, as she appears to simply list many of the personal events that occurred in her life; such as family days out, the separate marriages of her siblings, the death of her beloved mother, and finally her ambitious career change into nursing. I believe Molly’s purpose when writing this memoir was not for publication or financial success. I believe that she wrote it in an attempt to seek closure from her childhood; which she will have struggled to have due to the unfortunate death of her mother. Molly’s mother suffered from illness throughout Molly’s childhood, which unfortunately means that Molly will have been worrying about her death for most of her life, so when it actually happened, it will have been difficult for her to grasp.
Molly also aims to to describe what the stereotypical domestic life, as a woman, was like during these times. Molly does this through her sister Winifred, who appears to be the most respected by Keen, due to her domestic devotion 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, is also a huge factor 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.
I believe that Molly will have been motivated to write this memoire by the sad passing of her mother due to her sickness on December 19th, 1919. Following her mothers death, Molly becomes a nurse, and thus shows how she wants to try her best to help all who were ill, just like her mother was, to prevent them from suffering as her family did. Furthermore, this depicts Molly as selfless, and a hopeful survivor of World War One, thus showing the importance of her childhood in the formation of her identity. Keen also will have been motivated to write the memoire to recount the luck her family had during the War, because her brothers enlisted, fought, and survived the War. The war played a huge role in Molly’s early life, but due to her young age, she might not have completely understood what was actually happening, and thus she wrote her memoire later in her life to show her emotions that she felt at the time. Molly stated, “how we hated that awful moment of goodbye not knowing if we would see them again” (p.27), which creates the idea that Molly wrote her memoire for her family to understand how close their bonds are, due to how their family survived such troubling times.
Molly also appears to aim to show how domesticated life was before the war, through her descriptions of her father, who had to graft exceptionally hard in his life, as his “hours of work were long” (p.1), and 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. However, he still managed to be loving and fatherly; whilst Molly’s mother would work constantly, completing the domestic aspects of their family. In their separate roles, Molly is able to describe the cohesive spirit the family shared, and also how their family appeared to be in line with the stereotypes of working class families, whereby the father would work, and the mother would raise 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 relates to Molly Keen’s memoire because of her detailed descriptions of the events of her childhood. In particular, Molly presents the ‘symbolic value’ of the death of her mother as a key factor in her new career as a nurse, and thus shows the value of her mothers death in the formation of her identity and personality.
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