Jean’s mother seems to work hard throughout her childhood in the 1920s to provide a consistently clean home and daily meals. ‘All the ironing, washing up and pastry making were done on the wooden kitchen table, scrubbed every day until it was almost white.’ Jean portrays her mother as a kind woman who cares dearly for her family: ‘She would go up to his room to remake his bed and tidy up'(p. 3). Jean’s mother even cleans up after her father.
Jean’s grandfather seemed reclusive throughout her childhood and ‘came downstairs only for his meals’ (p. 3). His senility may be due to the early death of his wife and his failure in accomplishing is political dreams. Despite Jean’s realisation of her grandpa’s favouritism for her sister, there is no sense of resentment or jealousy. ‘It was obvious he loved Mary more than he did me and I suppose that it was because she resembled his wife’ (p. 6).
Jean recollects mainly of fond memories within their home, particularly in the winter months, when her grandfather tended to be more present: ‘grandpa would stay sitting in his high backed wooden arm chair and sing to me whilst I washed the dishes’ (p. 3). Jean’s grandpa did not do any chores within the house and this could be due to his age or the clear expectations of gender roles within the family.
Jean portrays her relationship with her sister, Mary, as close despite their differences. She speaks of their pastimes in bed, telling us they ‘played with each other’s hair’ (p. 4) and liked to ‘drip the candle wax is spots,’ (p. 4). Mary sleeps alone whilst Jean shares a bed with her mother. All three of them sleep in one room. This suggests the cramped space their shared house and the simple things their mother sacrificed to provide a happy childhood for the two girls.
The historian David Vincent makes a strong point regarding our understanding of emotions in the past. ‘The most sophisticated computer programme can never tell us how much a man loved his wife, to what extent he grieved over the death of a child, nor can it establish with any precision the way in which the fundamental emotional experiences were affected by the material circumstances of the family.’ (Vincent, 1980) Vincent claims that your social status does not determine or lessen your emotional experiences; your possession of money, your career and your class does not amount to or correlate with the love or the grief that a person can feel. Ultimately, Vincent states that when it comes to your personality, your family and your home, you cannot be objectified by your class position. Your status and material possessions cannot speak and do not relate to how much you can love. This is a brilliant outlook onto the lives of working-class, giving them recognition and status they deserve.
Jean’s life in the lane ‘came to a close when grandpa died’ (p. 10). She tells us that he was ‘not sorry to go’ and ends the memoir, as well as her life in Bristol, with his death. Her grandfather is said to have been ‘frail and almost blind’ meaning that ‘life had no more to offer him.’ (p. 10) Luckily, ‘he passed quietly away with no pain’ but this does not prevent the emotion the reader feels once the memoir comes to an end (p. 10).
We are left with a short paragraph of what life was like after Jean’s grandfather passes: ‘My uncle inherited the two houses at St. Michaels, but grandpa was able to leave mother the shop’ (p. 11). While waiting for the current tenants to move out, Jean, Mary and their mother moved to Bellevue, Clifton. The place was ‘alive with fleas’ but the stay was only short. ‘After three months we were able to leave Bellevue’ and they returned to the empty shop where her mother ‘would have to take up the reins as shopkeeper’. ‘A new phase of life began for us, but, looking back it seems my heart has never stopped yearning, to be back living in the lane.’ (p. 11)
188 COURT, Jean, ‘Living in the Lane’, TS, pp.11 (c. 10,000 words). Brunel University Library.
Bellevue Clifton Bristol. [IMAGE] URL:
Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247