Edna Bold (B.1904): Life Writing, Class & Identity – Writing Lives

Edna Bold (B.1904): Life Writing, Class & Identity


The narrative form that Bold most uses is that of self-examination. Regina Gagnier saw this narrative form as incorporating the “value of introspection and writing as a tool of self-understanding; they seek to write their lives as middle-class narratives, especially with respect to […] progress”[1]. Although Gagnier wrote mainly about the 19th century Bold uses this narrative in her memoir. According to Gagnier, in this narrative the writer possesses a belief in “personal creativity, autonomy, and freedom for the future”[2]. Bold’s describes growing up in Manchester as a time of self-discovery and development. Bold rejected the “puritanical”(36) views of her family and did not enjoy her time in formal education;

“To love life, to live life was not the prime function of EDUCATION, though out-of-school interests in music and literature gave a nod to culture and a liberalising influence on academic policy”(36).

Class is a central part of Bold’s memoir which provides an account of her “transition from working-class to lower middle-class”(32). This transition occurred when she went to secondary school. Although Bold did not enjoy formal education I believe she continued so that she could ‘better’ herself. This is evidence that Bold uses the narrative of “progress”[3] which Gagnier describes.

A female dance class from the 1900’s.

Bold’s quest for freedom, and her personal creativity is evident through her leisure habits. Bold recalls “the sense of freedom and release”(57) she felt from dance and the “feeling for line and movement” she felt in her artwork (See Edna Bold (B.1904): Habits, Culture and Belief). Clearly these activities helped Bold in her search for self-discovery and they certainly gave her a sense of “freedom for the future”[4]. Gagnier writes that this form of memoir was the most ““literary” of working-class autobiographies”.[5].

Social changes

Bold’s interest in music provides a social analysis of the changes in her lifetime. There is a contrast to the music of “Beethoven, Mozart and Mendelssohn”(22) which she describes as “recording angels of the profound, the sublime, the mysterious”(22), to that of “The Beatles”(36). She makes reference to the “flower power”(81) culture which emerged from the “scene”(88). Bold says;

‘Flower Power Demonstrator’,1967.

In the snazzy, sound tormented interiors of the boutiques like Pigland, Target, Tuffin, Pot and Paraphenails, Take Six, Glory Hole, Granny takes a Trip, Teale and Tuffin, Hat Gear, to name but a few, tills clashed and tinkled as the new rich, teenagers of the early sixties spent their pennies. Plastic flowers and jewellery; bangles, beads and bells; medallions, chains and rings, joss sticks, pot pourri, candles; purses, pouches, bags; sandals […] The ‘gear’ was all, a  language in itself. It indicated the groovy, the trendy, the hippies, the fresbies […] To be adolescent was to be a swinging chick and ‘dig the scene’”(89).

Bold says “The resulting crime and obscenities”(91) which came from the ‘scene’ were a Global problem”(91).

Bold’s narrative could also fit into that of commemorative storyteller. According to Gagnier writers “preserve memories of a way of life that is changing or has already ceased to be”[6]. This is the case for Bold but she does not always regret the changes. Bold portrays the changes in schooling as a positive when she states “It is impossible that any student of today, with his political and social awareness, his democratic aspirations should recognise him or herself in the restricted, sexless, voiceless counterpart of fifty years ago.”(60)

Class Identity

Joanna Bourke argued that class status was determined by family background, “men and women calling themselves working-class were drawing upon an identity based not only on their current position in society, but also on a position inherited from their parents and grandparents”[7]. This is the case for Bold. She explains her Grandfather was “inarticulate and illiterate”(46) and that he “worked as a farm labourer from the age of nine”(46). Bold’s father suffered “financial embarrassment”(32) after a business crisis which meant Bold and her family had to live with her Aunt Lizzie. Bold was aware of her working-class position but she was not willing to accept the “accidental conditions”(36) which she was born into.


Bold’s memoir is about her progress as an individual but she was also part of a large family which creates a sense nostalgia in her memoir. The tone of her memoir is often nostalgic when talking of her childhood. Bold recalls she loved her “dreaming life”(12) as a child but “The child forgot itself”(36) when she moved to secondary school. Her memoir is particularly nostalgic when taking about her cousin Dorothy who she shared all her childhood experiences with. Bold says Dorothy “was more like a sister”(18);

“We walked to school together, played together, Sunday schooled, picnicked, performed in concerts, walked in processions, decked in white, inhaled the perfume of the glorious flowers we carried in baskets, celebrated May days with our self-chosen queens and at the sharing of each year shared our Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles’ parties and celebrations”(19).

At times this nostalgia turns humorous. Bold recalls learning about sex, which she calls “seks”(21). Bold says the “fear and revulsion”(21) was the reason she and Dorothy “never ‘reproduced’”(21). This shows the purpose of Bold’s memoir was for self-examination. Bold is looking back on her life and she able to see where she grew personally.


Bold’s memoir is not structured in chronological order. Bold says she chose these experiences “because I best remember them or because they most attract me”(np). This reflects the purpose of her memoir which was, in Gagnier’s terms, for self-examination.


[1] Gagnier, Regina. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies, 30.3 (1987). Pg.367.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Pg.348.

[7] Bourke, Joanna. Working Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity. London: Routledge, 1994. Pg.21.


N.B. All images link to their original source.

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