Edna Bold (B.1904): Reading & Writing – Writing Lives

Edna Bold (B.1904): Reading & Writing

Edna Bold wrote her memoir, entitled THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT BEING THE RECOLLECTIONS AND REMINISCECES OF EDNA BOLD, at the age of seventy four. It is an exploration of self-improvement and self-discovery. Bold’s interest in literature helped her to develop her identity in both her personal and professional life.


An image from ‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’.

After learning about “seks”(21) from another child, Bold and her cousin Dorothy read a medical book and extracts from “a volume of the Fox’s Book of Martyrs.”(21). The Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a work of Christian history and martyrology by John Foxe. The book includes accounts of the sufferings of Protestants under the Catholic Church. Bold says the medical book and the Foxe’s Book of Martyrs taught her that “Childbirth and martyrdom were synonymous”(21) and after reading them she “never ‘reproduced’”(21).


The cover of ‘Robinson Crusoe’.

When discussing her childhood Bold talks about reading Robinson Crusoe[1], written by Daniel Defoe. Robinson Crusoe is a tale of a boy who sets sail from the Queen’s Dock in Hull on a sea voyage, against the wishes of his parents who want him to pursue a career. Bold recalls “in the case of Robinson the very epitome of horror filtered through into my first nightmare.”(13). Perhaps the fear she felt after reading Robinson Crusoe reflects her families view on religion. Bold’s family were puritanical and she read “from THE BOOK”(15) in Sunday school which she found “boring”(16).  She says her time at Sunday school only “succeeded in producing an agnostic”(16) and this is when she and her parents “began to travel different roads”(36). Bold “believed with Robert Stephenson that “A man’s true life for which he consents to live, lie in the field of fancy”(36).  Stephenson was born into a working-class family. Through education he was successful in becoming a civil engineer who constructed many famous bridges. Stephenson’s life is proof that we are not bound to our social class from birth. He undoubtedly inspired Bold to ‘better’ herself.

Bold’s questioning of “the existence of God”(39) continued into her adolescent years. Peter J Bowler writes “In the case of popular science, the early twentieth century saw important changes both in British society and in the scientific community”[2]. Bold says it was “the more timid and less resourceful [that] tried to deal with God”(37) and she wanted more answers. Bold held debates with her ‘love interest’ who she nicknamed “Apollyon”(50) (which is the Greek equivalent for destroyer) regarding Darwinism[3]. Apollyon attacked Darwin’s theory questioning “what evidence is there to presuppose that in years to come they will evolve”(52). Bold’s mentioning of Darwin’s theory highlights her previous declaration that she was agnostic. Bold was attracted to Darwin’s theory because “the nature of God and the universe”(51) was a “riddle that had so far eluded”(51) her.


Bold explains that by the time she left school she was “able to read and write”(14). She does not discuss any texts she read in education but recalls “being swamped with learning that bore no relation to itself or life”(36). Bold says “out-of-school interests in music and literature gave a nod to culture and liberalising influence on academic policy.”(36). To Bold reading was and independent activity which helped her to discover herself.

Miss Buys-Y-Man

Bold reveals her reading, radio and television interests when comparing Miss Buys-Y-Man’s “magnificent presence”(60) to;

“a pinch of Gilbert Harding, a Flora Robson, a Bernard Levin, a Michael Redgrave, a Marghanita Laski, ect. ect.”(60).

Gilbert Harding on famous television programme ‘What’s my Line? 1960.

In reflection those mentioned that are important to Bold’s reading and writing include Gilbert Harding who was a journalist and an outspoken English panellist. Harding was famous amongst the lower middle-class which explains why Bold was familiar with him. After becoming a teacher Bold transcended from working-class to lower middle-class. Bernard Levin was an English journalist who reviewed the Opera. Bold regularly attended the Opera which highlights her interest in his work. Marghanita Laski was an English journalist, radio panellist and novelist. Like Bold, Laski was a socialist thinker who believed that ecstacy was triggered by natural scenery. Bold “adored the countryside”(41) (See Edna Bold (B.194): Home and Family).

Bold also quotes T.S. Elliot’s poem “Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity”(60) when talking of Miss Buys-Y-Man saying they should have “substituted Miss Buys-Y-Man, Miss Buys-Y-Man there’s no one like Miss Buys-Y-Man”(60). This reveals her interest in poetry which is previously illustrated when she opens her memoir with her own short poem;

The opening of Bold's memoir. Pg, 1.
The opening of Bold’s memoir. Pg, 1.


Marion Richardson

Marion Richardson

Bold explains her approach to teaching was “influenced by Marion Richardson”(64)who’s “life work was in the fields of both child art education and handwriting”[4] which attracted Bold for she was an Art teacher. Bold says “for me she laid down the principle that could be applied to all teaching […] “For”, she said, “the truth is that art cannot be taught, but in sympathy it can be shared.”(64). Bold also reveals her interest in William Shakespeare when she compares Richardson’s “magic charm”(61) to “Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo”(61). This also explains her previous interest in Michael Redgrave who was an English stage and film actor. Redgrave starred in plays written by Shakespeare.


Bold’s identity was clearly shaped by her reading habits. From her decision to not have a child, to her agnostic views on religion, it is easy to see how Bold was influenced by the things she read. Bold’s wish for self-improvement developed her interest in literature because, like Robert Stephenson, she did not want to accept “the accidental conditions”(36) that she was born into.

A bridge over the River Tyne which was designed by Robert Stephenson, 1849.






[1] Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. Wordsworth ed, 1992.

[2] Bowler, Peter J. Science For All: The Popularization of Science in The Early Twentieth Century Britain. University of Chicago Press, 2009. Np. Preface.

[3] Darwinism was created by Charles Darwin. It is the theory that species originate by descent, with variation from parent forms, through the natural selection of those individuals best adapted for the reproductive success of their kind. See, Bowler, Peter J. Darwinism. Michigan: Twayne Publishers, 1993.

[4] Sassoon, Rosemary. Marion Richardson: Her Life and Her Contribution to Handwriting. London: Intellect, 2013. Pg. 7.


N.B. All images link to their original source.

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