May Rainer. Home and Family. (b.1909) – Writing Lives

May Rainer. Home and Family. (b.1909)

‘Homes are not neutral things’ (George, 6)

May Rainer’s memoir is filled with anecdotes about her family members. She starts her memoir with the story about her Grandfather during the war, stating that she thought he was a hero. (Rainer, 5) Her memoir is titled ‘Emma’s Daughter’, which shows the connection she had to her mother, Emma. She was so strongly connected to her mother that she felt it necessary to identify herself as her mother’s daughter.

The memoir mainly focuses on Rainer’s life during her adulthood as she created the life she wanted in that time and she was able to do more with herself, like travel. When she was younger and poor, she knew that that was not the life for her, and she wanted more from life. When she was a child growing up during the early 20th century, she was aware of the sexism she experienced in the home being a girl. Rainer had an older brother and because of this, she experienced sexism in the household. From an early age, Rainer was aware that she was different from her brother as she would be made to do housework while they went out and did whatever he liked. ‘I was always the one who got the, stay in, and wash up, run the errands treatment, my two brothers got away with it all the time’ (59) This quotation suggests that she was staying in the house to do work whilst her brothers went away to do what they liked. Rainer’s tone in this quotation sounds quite angry and frustrated that she was left with the housework because she was a girl. This must have caused her to argue with her brothers, or resent them a little bit for being able to go outside to play when she was stuck in doing the chores, even though she was younger than them.


vintage woman suffragette poster (1)

Rainer writes that ‘it was quite unfair at home I always had to do the chores and go for the shopping. I wonder sometimes why Women’s Lib took so long to get here’ (Rainer, 31). Rainer knew she was made to do the chores and get the shopping because she was a girl. Rainer was angered that she had to do housework just because she was a woman, but she was also angered at what her family said women were capable of doing. Rainer identifies as a feminist throughout the memoir, and I see evidence of this when she writes about the one chore her brother was actually made to do. She writes that his task was to clean the knives and he was only made to do it because they were ‘manly tasks’ (Rainer, 31). She writes that she wonders why men and women still have different tasks to this day.

Rainer’s upbringing in the early 20th century shows how differently men and women were treated at that time. She was aware from a young age that she was treated differently because she was a girl, which shows just how differently they were treated.


George, Rosemary Marangoly, The Politics of Home: Postcolonial Relocations and Twentieth-Century Fiction, Cambridge University Press, 8th August, 1996

Rainer, May, Emma’s Daughter, May 20th 1977, Brunel University, July 1977, Vol 2. 0644

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Gagnier, Regenia. 30.3 (1987): 335-363 [Good on genre and identity.


Note- I recently made contact with May’s nephew who used to walk down to the market with May to eat scones that she had baked from her father’s recipe. I believe that May always kept contact with her family, and was very proud of her parents.


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