Molly Keen Childhood Memories (1903-1921): Habits, Culture and Belief – Writing Lives

Molly Keen Childhood Memories (1903-1921): Habits, Culture and Belief

Many of Molly Keen’s habits derive from her immediate family, from the culture and beliefs they shared. The Keen family were a Protestant family, they all appeared to enjoy nature, where each child had their “own patch of garden” (p.4), as well as enjoying may games and days out together. Their family shared a close bond, and their Father created a culture of having a hard-working ethic. He worked long hours to provide for their family, which seemed to inspire Molly into working hard in whatever she did, which resulted in her becoming a nurse by the end of her childhood memoire.

Molly and her siblings would enjoy “wonderful make-believe games” (p.5), such as “hoops” (p.5) and “marbles” (p.5) which were common games amongst families. Also, Molly and her sister created another game they called “buttons” (p.5), which reflects how the Keen family would embrace their working-class lifestyle and adapt it into fun; they would not have their fun restricted by their class, but rather they would not dwell on their lack of money for brand new toys. Moly describes how she would, along with her sister Winifred, go around “pretending they were daughters of wealthy parents” (p.5), which shows they had an understanding of their class from an early age, but still would not by restricted by their financial parameters. Furthermore, the whole family shared this ambitious and joyful culture as they would have family outings to places such as to the cinema. However, her favourites were their trips to Burnham Beeches and Kew Gardens, which helped form Molly’s identity and ignorance of the demeaning stereotypes of their class from an early age. This can be seen later in her memoire where she travels to Belgium and Wales two years in a row, separately, describing them as “happy holidays” (p.34). Foreign holidays were a rarity for working-class families, particularly women due to their stereotypical domestic roles within their family. This further enhances the idea that Molly had ambition, deriving from her family culture, to enjoy her life to the its full potential, within her class ‘boundaries’.

A postcard of Burnham Beeches during the 1900s.

Religion played a huge role in Molly’s childhood, and in the shaping of her identity. She explains how her first vicar would “inspire his congregation” (p.13), and because Molly and her family attended Church every Sunday, this shows how religion had a direct impact on her life. The wider Keen family members were religious too, and Molly presents her Uncle Tom as very religious because he gave the church a “plain gold cross” (p.21) in “memory of his wife” (p.21). This indicates how the Keen family would symbolise a loved one’s death through an item in the church, and thus further shows their devotion to the Protestant religion. Molly had several hobbies that derived from religion too, as she would be “delivering magazines” (p.21) that were Church magazines, with her Aunt Lou, further articulating the family bonds she had from religious belief. Furthermore, Molly’s father was a master sign writer, but he “did local work in many local Churches both Roman Catholic and Protestant” (p.1) which shows the family culture of hard work, and its connection to their religious belief. Molly befriended a fellow peer called Rosie, whom she met at her Roman Catholic Primary School. Even tough Molly was a protestant, she was welcomed into this school run by nuns, which resulted in Molly feeling a close bond to the school. Molly and Rosie would exchange notes regarding their different religious beliefs, which shows how Molly had a strong interest in religion from an early age. Furthermore, Molly was accepting of other religious beliefs, which helped to adapt her identity during her childhood, and result in her well-rounded and kind personality.

Molly’s family culture also included having a love for nature, which derived from her Grandfather, on her mother’s side, as he was an accomplished market gardener. She also states how her father “was a great lover of nature and the countryside” (p.1), which indicated why she fell in love with nature too. Her grandfather’s garden was “paradise for children to play in” (p.14) showing why Molly’s bond to her family was partly due to their shared habit of being in nature, and their love for it. The Keen family was working-class, which implies that their love for nature had little outside factors or interventions to influence their love, but rather spending time in nature as a family, creating their own culture and habits.

Molly had other habits that were not influenced by her family, such as joining a camera club in her teenage years, as well as playing tennis for fun. Molly would also use “privilege travel tickets” (p.30), which she acquired from her railway job. This further presents Molly’s ambitious and well-rounded identity as she showed little regard for their restriction of a working-class family, as she chose to enjoy her lifestyle to its maximum.


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Keen, Molly, “Childhood Memories 1903-1921”, Brunel University, 1987

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