A London Child of the 1870s
First published 1934
For the FTC, because you’re so special: I bought this book from Persephone Books…you should check them out, as they are Very Cool.
The Persephone blurb:
‘We were just an ordinary, suburban, Victorian family, undistinguished ourselves and unacquainted with distinguished people.’ Thus Molly Hughes in one of the great classics of autobiography, A London Child of the 1870s (1934) in which she describes her everyday life in a semidetached house in Islington as the youngest of a large, characterful family. On first reading, writes Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker, A London Child seemed ‘the most perfect and moving record of ordinary life in English’ and when he re-read it twenty years later ‘Molly’s book seems to me more painful now than it did when I first read it, but still finer as writing. Here is an ordinary life rendered truly, and joyfully, with a voice at once so self-abnegating yet so gay and funny and precise that we are reminded, in the end, of the one truth worth remembering, that there are no ordinary lives.’ As Adam Gopnik says, it is Molly’s pictures of everyday life that most stick in the mind: traveling by bus to the West End, making toffee in the afternoon, walking to St Paul’s on Christmas Day…
This book provides a glimpse into a young girl’s life in the 1870s, a life in many ways vastly different from our own. While Molly’s older brothers all went to school, she stayed home. Yet, Molly has no regrets…she describes her childhood as full of joy, filled with imagination and amusements. It’s interesting to read how Molly and her mom just accepted her father’s dictates about what was and wasn’t proper for Molly. Despite her mother’s untraditional upbringing, she was still fairly traditional when it came to her own daughter.
The introduction by Adam Gopnik is also fascinating, as he writes about his own history with this book and gives some insight into what happened to Molly after the book ended.
While this autobiography doesn’t tell of a famous person’s famous escapades (the reason I usually avoid autobiographies), it does give the reader a glimpse into middle class life in the 1870s. If you’re at all interested in history, this is good stuff. And since this is an autobiography, and it’s historical, and it’s set in London, I am counting it towards Eva’s World Citizen Challenge (for which I really need to figure out where I stand). I’m also counting it towards the Women Unbound Reading Challenge. There may not be a whole lot of unbound-edness happening, but it does offer some contrasting experiences.