Alice Maud Chase (1880-1968): Reading & Writing – Writing Lives

Alice Maud Chase (1880-1968): Reading & Writing

Alice Maud Chase has read various texts throughout her lifetime including novels, poetry, hymns, newspapers, fairytales, school textbooks and most notably the Bible. The Bible appears to have had the greatest influence upon her life. She includes Biblical references and quotes throughout her memoir. This suggests she wants to encourage her grandchildren and possibly other readers to look up the quotes she includes and read the Bible. Alice is not afraid to make her opinions clear regarding those who do not read the Bible; ‘a person who has not read the Bible is not educated. He or she is not even half educated’ (p.55-56).

It is obvious that Alice considers the Bible to be one of the ‘good books’ she has read (p.47). However, she does make a lot of references to other texts that she must also regard as good reading. She has read; the Bonny Boys of Britain, The Family Herald, Reynold’s newspapers, Alice in Wonderland, Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, The Child’s Guide to Knowledge, Bible and Gospel History, Line upon Line (1st and 2nd Volumes), Magnall’s Questions, British Manufacturers and Little Arthur’s History of England. She states that she knew ‘them all off by heart and could have taken an oral examination with ease, but I could not have written it down’ (p.21). This reflects her fragmented education at school and how she was predominantly self-taught.

There is only one text which Alice dislikes. The Review of Reviews – she describes it as ‘the driest of all reading’ (p.20). And there is only one text that she considers to be negative reading – murder trials – as she knew her mother would not approve. However, this does not stop her from reading them as she explains, ‘the trial of Florence Maybrick and of Mrs Pearcy I followed with deepest interest’ (p.20).

Alice reads along with her older sister and they read aloud to each other as children. She boasts within her memoir how she and her sister could both read from an early age; ‘yes we could both read at five and a half and six years and eight moths’ (p.15). Alice also reads alone, particularly as she grows up, however she continues to discuss the texts she reads in private with her sister, her friends and her boyfriends; even regularly meeting up with her boyfriend when she was nineteen at the ‘Public Library’ (p.34).

It is obvious from the style and tone of her writing that she is relatively well educated and well read. The Bible has the greatest influence on her writing and life in general. Alice constantly refers to the Bible and includes quotes from it, in order to express her opinions and emotions; ‘Mama told us the story of Jesus healing the blind man by putting mud on his eyes and then telling him to “go wash in the pool of Siloam” (St. John’s Gospel, 9, 5-7)’ (p.14). This particular reference relates to how Alice wanted to cure her sisters ‘tuberculosis of the eyes’ (p.14). Alice also preaches to her target audience – her grandchildren – that they must read the Bible and abide by its preaching.

little dorrit
Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

Charles Dickens appears to be a particularly favourite author of Alice Chase’s. She makes reference to Little Dorrit possibly because she can relate and agree with Dicken’s representation of the working-class and his moral approach. It is almost as if she bases her own writing style on his, attempting to preach to her grandchildren what is morally right and wrong. She gives a short synopsis of the plot of Little Dorrit and ends with a forceful two word sentence; ‘read it’ (p.45).

Alice’s only form of entertainment appears to be immersing herself within books from an early age. She does not make references to TV, film or radio, even though she presumably had contact with all of these in her later years. She does make references to newspapers though, particularly as a form of news more than entertainment. She recalls on numerous occasions in her childhood of being sent to buy newspapers regarding the deaths of the royal family. She remembers the ‘Death of the Duke of Clarence, Heir Presumptive to the throne’ (p.25) and the grief and shock that followed; ‘my mother was deeply shocked… Poor young man, poor Princess May, poor mother. It was a blow to the nation as well as to his sorrowing relations’ (p.25).

Alice Maud Chase is evidently proud that she has read a wide range of varied texts. She considers herself to be fairly well educated and of the upper working-class sector of society. This shows through the achievements she has chosen to include in her memoir. In particular she highlights that when she was a Sunday School teacher she ‘wrote all the words and taught the kids and wrote the lyrics’ for numerous plays – Cinderella, Dick Whittington, Babes in the Wood and The Sleeping Beauty. Furthermore, she produced ‘two “Services of Song”’ (p.50). Finally, she states ‘I tried also to form in them [her children] a taste for literature and read aloud to them some of Dickens books’ (p.53). This highlights how important reading was for her and how she wanted her children to have the same, if not a better level of education than her, so that they too could climb the social ladder.


Image 1: Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

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