Family is a central focus in Mountford’s memoir, both to his childhood and adulthood. He suffered with poverty as a child and as a parent, but persistently overcame it. As a child he notes that despite being poverty-stricken his family was a joyous Christian one. The result of a problematic childhood then was solely based on the class of his parents and the impact it had on him socially. Despite this, he never mentions any social problems within the household, and this appears to be a testament of how close and supportive his large family was through the thick and thin. Whilst family is a strong theme throughout the memoir, it is poverty that is the underlining factor to it all as he once again enters stages of tutorship and addresses the modern audience about the vastly different working-class family of the 1910s.
“I can’t see people living on a bowl of soup with a little bit of meat if they are lucky, or plates of boiled rice. NO.”
There is definitely a correlation between family and working class in the memoir, as his childhood is burdened with poverty and his adult life is centred on finding work, maintaining work, and providing enough for his family in order for them to not have to go through the same issues as himself. Samuel acknowledges this: “What better rewards than to know that they have been taught how to live a good life and have each got their own families happy and contented and not the fight or struggle that we had to put up with.” (page 2). We see a contingence of familial improvements here, as Mountford grows up and tries his best to give his children the best childhood possible and as a result enjoys seeing them create families of their own in a better time where the poverty-struggle is no longer present.
We see that Mountford struggles with work throughout his life: “No work to be had or very little. I myself had a good share of that, one week in, three weeks out, that is if I was lucky” (page 2). He draws a strong contrast between his own family life as a child and the one he has constructed for his own family, though it is clear that he struggled to financially provide just as his parents did.
Mountford’s memoir is significantly different to many other female auto-biographers of a similar time, because he focuses on the life of his children but he is seemingly absent from the nurturing aspect. He is clearly the breadwinner of the household, and attaches a lot of passion into the idea of providing. His wife is the nurturer and is responsible for the inner familial workings that are left out in the memoir: “My wife patched and mended, making as always light of her work” (page 2). Statistics shown that between the years 1901-1921 only 14% of married women were in paid employment, and instead stayed home to look after the children and remain in the domestic sphere. Though we don’t hear much about Mountford’s wife, he is very appreciative of her throughout the memoir, and we see that when times were rough she undertook her motherly role and patched up clothes, and helped to adjust their family to the fluctuating state of poverty at the time whilst Mountford was in and out of work.
Mountford’s memoir is written chronologically, so we get to experience a fair share of his life from the beginning to the present, although I do enjoy hearing about his childhood because of the fond, nostalgic tone.
“Let me explain that all through these stormy days and nights our family was a happy one, and although nothing was plentiful, we lived and played a Christian life.”
The portrayal of Mountford’s family life is sentimental and we see that through the ‘stormy days and nights’ it didn’t affect the social standing of the household. Just like his own family in later life, his family is strong despite any financial burdening. The mention of the ‘Christian life’ is testament to the time, and shows how religion played an essential part to the morale of a financially suffering household, who only had each other to rely on.
Mountford, Samuel, ‘A Memoir’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:244.