My story is about two villages” (1).
Olive Doris Gold starts her autobiography with this very literal line. Her direct and objective approach to life is a distinctive theme in her writing. It makes me think that the aim of her memoir was to provide an accurate yet personalised portrayal of life in Northamptonshire and Cardston, Canada. Although Olive attempts an objective approach she does state: ‘Some of the things I am writing about I remember, as I was born in 1897, and the rest has been told me by my parents.’ (1) This means that not only is some of the autobiography based on subjective accounts of her parents, but these accounts are filtered through her memories too.
William Hazlitt described William Wordsworth as ‘the most original writer of the present day, only because he is the greatest egotist… He does not waste a thought on others.’ Yet Olive is somebody who writes of her surroundings and never surrenders too hard to her ego and instead lets her life be shaped by her family and work. This lack of egotism indeed makes Olive’s literal writing less exciting than an officially published autobiography, however this just confirms to me that she was not writing to illicit a reaction from the general public, but for historians and family members interested in the life that was led in those villages. Olive was not a flower on the wall who merely wrote down what she saw though, she indeed had her own anxieties and beliefs that she stubbornly stuck by — such as religion and money worries during the First World War. ‘What if my father was out of work?’ (14) she stresses.
Writing through both World Wars is one aspect of Olive’s work that intrigues a wide audience. However she does not approach the war in a typical manner by writing of the dramatic warlike events happening at the time or the effects they had on civilians. Instead she talks of how mundane the war made daily life and we see the war through a domestic perspective. Olive says, ‘Those who remember the First World War will recall the restrictions of those years…’ (15) Which is the most she has to say about how the war affected her everyday life. Olive’s domestic world may intrigue readers that want to know what the working class life of women was like in the midlands or Canada (farm-life) during her lifetime.
Olive seems to have had a stubborn nature that refuses to conform to any tragedy or plight around her. After her potential lover Billie died, Olive does not dwell on it but immediately moves onto her husband and works on forming a life with him. In Canada where Olive was looked down upon for being a Methodist and not Mormon, she yielded to her beliefs and refused to convert to Mormonism to make her life easier. It is impressive that Olive lived a seemingly normal life despite all the afflictions around her during the war. Her anchored beliefs show she was a trusting woman who stuck to her word.
Even though Olive was not a fickle woman, her sturdy belief system is perhaps why she remains modest throughout her autobiography. It is rare for Olive to delve into her personal feelings and how they were affecting her as a person and this is perhaps because of factors such as her sex and class. These restrictions that bind Olive are areas that she does conform in; as a woman she does not delve too deep into her own ego because of how domineering the patriarchal system of the time was. Ultimately, Olive’s autobiography is read as a restricted view on what it was like to be a working class woman in the early 20th century. Restriction that is caused from the meta-narratives she was born into: sex and class — yet despite this, Olive has such a strong personality that we manage to see some of it seeping through the cracks of these 20th century limitations.
Gold, Olive Doris, ‘My Life’, The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1987). Vol 2. Number 321.