Alice Maud Chase (1880-1968): An Introduction – Writing Lives

Alice Maud Chase (1880-1968): An Introduction

My chosen author is Alice Maud Chase, born on the 21st June 1880 and died on the 5th April 1968. The story of her family history stretches from 1777 – 1960; setting the scene for her life story. She is a born and bred Portsmouth girl, and only leaves the town for a brief period of two years to go to Malta. Her maiden name – Maud – was changed to Moody by her grandfather, William, in the nineteenth century. He had deserted the Navy at some point during the 1790’s. Why? Alice Maud Chase is never sure. She puts it down to three possible reasons; ‘perhaps it was a very unhappy ship, or had a brutal captain, or he may have got drunk and missed it when it sailed’ (p.2). Any of these are plausible. But, what is admittedly strange, even to her, is his desire to re-join the Navy. This he did under his new surname – Moody – to avoid being hung for desertion. He was never caught – which is just as well or Reuben Moody, Alice Maud Chase’s, father would never have been born, along with his eight siblings. And so the story of Alice Maud Chase begins…

1900 map of portsmouth
Portsmouth, city map, 1906. Portsea and Gosport, where Alice lived, are highlighted in red.

Alice is the daughter of Reuben and Priscilla Moody. Priscilla is Reuben’s second wife and half his age. His first wife – Eleanor – died of Tuberculosis, aged 35. Of the fifteen children, he and Eleanor had, sadly, only four survived. Priscilla and Reuben went on to have another nine children and, again only five survived.  Alice remains in Portsea for the majority of her childhood until, aged nineteen-and-a-half, she and her family move to Gosport, Portsmouth, where she spends the rest of her life.  Her Dad now aged seventy-two, goes to Gosport to start a new life and business. There she meets her husband James Chase, a soldier, and they live a fairly happy, healthy and ordinary existence with their three children, May, James and Christine.

Alice Maud Chase is a devout Christian. She includes Biblical quotes throughout her memoir to explain her feelings and possibly to justify them. She does not have much writing experience behind her, so it appears that her Biblical references provide her with the emotional lexis she needs. Possibly she feels it is improper to talk about her deep feelings in her memoir, as did many other working-class autobiographers. David Vincent explains in his article; ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class’ how when working-class ‘autobiographers were faced with the challenge of writing about the more intense and private incidents in their emotional lives, their command of language frequently proved inadequate’ (p.227). To conquer this they would ‘import or construct Biblical lamentations’ to express their feelings (p.227). Alice Maud Chase is no exception; ‘whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might’ this particular reference taken from Ecclesiastes 9, 10, refers to when she is told off as a child by her father for telling her sister to sew the dolls clothes they are making quicker as ‘anything is good enough for dolls’ and she is left feeling ‘very guilty’ (p.22).

Furthermore, she is a strict liberal; this, she has no problem expressing her feelings about. She makes it perfectly clear that the liberal party, is the only party, and preaches to her grandchildren that they too should be liberals. It is strange that she can talk of politics with such passion and dedication, yet not her family. She probably felt it was the ‘proper’ and more ‘interesting’ thing to talk and write about. David Vincent further comments on how ‘autobiographers felt themselves unable, or felt it improper or unnecessary to write at length, or even at all, about aspects of their family experience’ (p.227).

So what attracted me to the life of Alice Maude Chase? Initially it was the name change from Maud to Moody by her grandfather. I immediately thought that I have a broad spectrum to research her and her family, as they have two surnames. Aside from this, her conversational, comical tone makes the memoir an easy and enjoyable read and her down to earth, honest approach gives her memoir a very informal, personal feel. She successfully avoids the egotistical writing style that some memoirs have been accused of – round of applause in order! This is possibly due to her target audience – her grandchildren. With the purpose and audience of her memoir being family, there is no great need to impress. One final aspect that drew me in was the wider context which surrounds Alice Maud Chase’s life. She is present throughout both World Wars and her family story stretches from the reign of George III to Elizabeth II. This, I thought, must be worth a read!

Image: 1906 map of Portsmouth – 

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