Family for Olive was a focal point in her life, although an aspect of it that she explores with much ambiguity. Moving to Canada to be with her husband is an obvious example of her devotion to family life, she moved there because her husband promised it would be beneficial to her parents and it would mean being by his side. Prior to such dramatic gestures though she begins her memoir simply by describing bits and pieces of her family tree. Starting with grandparents from her parent’s side of the family, Olivie gives us an account of their names and birthplaces: ‘Grandmother was only a tiny woman, standing about 5 feet tall, but she not only did the dairy work, but made a herb drink…’ (7) Olive never shows speaks of personal feelings towards family members but we can see that she was aware of her families contributions towards the working world and I think this is her way of expressing fondness for them.
In Judy Giles’ Women, Identity and Private Life in Britain, 1900-50, she says:
Working-class women were inscribed both in social practices and in cultural discourses with a limited range of roles: as overburdened victims of poverty, as sexual predators or as more susceptible to moral danger. Hence working-class girls acquired a knowledge of what constituted feminine behaviour from those relations they experienced and understood as ‘private’ life, and in particular in their relationship to their mothers and fathers.” (49)
With this quote we can understand the social pressures women had in the early 20th century to keep a ‘private’ life to themselves and to only display to the public a carefully constructed public guise known as a ‘public’ self. The pressure to keep her private sphere to herself is probably the reason Olive writes from a ‘public’ self, in order to stick to the status quo. Her public self is the writing that relays information through an objective funnel. However this objective style is a great way of examining the working-class home culture of the era Olive lived in.
Unfortunately there is very little talk of any domestic tasks Olive participated in during her time in England. However if the reader wants meticulous detail on how working-class life operated in Northamptonshire during the early 20th century then there is plenty of it in Olive’s autobiography. From subjects such as how shoemakers did their craft: ‘a work bench, a small hammer, a pair of pinchers to pull the upper over the last, and a few small tacks to hold it in place until the insole could be put on…’ (6) To step by step instructions on how she made heels in a heel making job. It is clear that for women at the time in small villages there was not much to do in ways of entertainment and so Olive documents the banality of everyday working life. Olive however also shows contempt to the distractions of the late 20th century by saying: ‘so many interests are taken up by people that this lovely chapel is now a toy warehouse, and I’m glad my mother didn’t live to see that.’ (11) She says this from her retrospective 1977 outlook so perhaps she missed the simpler times of her younger years.
Olive left school at the age of 13 and states that, ‘It is hard in villages for girls to find work,’ (12) So when work did make its self available, women would take it even if the working conditions and pay were terrible. At her heel making job, Olive and the women she worked with earned only 7d per 100 heels, which is the equivalent of 3 pence in today’s money. () The working conditions were so bad that Olive recalls: ‘One girl got TB and later died in a sanatorium at Rushden. Another had rheumatic fever and I just escaped that, but was in bed six weeks, all my joints being wrapped up in cotton wool.’ (13) Luckily, Olive eventually got to work for her auntie as a dressmaker once a higher demand for dresses came in.
At the start of this post I stated that Olive explains her family tree in ‘bits and pieces’ and I meant this quite literally. It is hard to keep track with just how many family members Olive did have due to high mortality rates of the times and her erratic way of writing about family members in a non-linear manner. Olive speaks of her how her grandmother, ‘had ten children but only three sons and one daughter survived.’ (7)
Infant mortality rates in the early 20th century. ()
Once in Canada, Olive’s family became very self-succifient because they owned and worked on a farm. Olive had two baby girls in Canada. As expected we are not given much detail on how the children are raised, but Olive does tell us they grew up to give her many grandchildren which is one of the only times subjectivity shines through in the autobiography and we can see true happiness.
Giles, Judy. Women, Identity and Private Life in Britain, 1900-50. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995. Print.
Gold, Olive Doris, ‘My Life’, The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1987). Vol 2. Number 321.