Molly Keen Childhood Memories (1903-1921): Politics, Protest and Class – Writing Lives

Molly Keen Childhood Memories (1903-1921): Politics, Protest and Class

Molly Keen does not appear to be a particularly political person herself, however she describes the current social views of the working class through the effect of World War One, and through a brief commentary on the Suffragette movement. Molly’s main personal protest is that of nature being destroyed by the new demand for motor roads, and the effect of the industrialisation of the rural lands she grew up in. Molly and her family all loved nature, she particularly referring to several childhood memories where the family would attend her Grandfather’s garden. However, she describes how “speed had taken over where once was peace and colour” (p.16), showing how the working-class protest for nature had become voiceless when challenging the new, and modern, ‘upgrades’ of the 20th century in terms of motor-car travelling.

Two Posters encouraging Women to help in munitions factories during World War One

When Molly mentions the effects of World War One on the country, she refers to a “frenzy of anti-German feeling very strongly all over the country” (p.25) showing the effects on the social feelings of the working-class people, deriving from war politics. Before the Great War, Molly’s hometown Hounslow was a peaceful community, but the war changed this. She refers to how “A baker’s shop in Hounslow, with the owner known to be of German origin, although naturalised, had his shop smashed up and had to close business” (p.25) which articulates the protest of the working-class to have ignored any previous encounters with this peaceful shop. This does not show pride in their own country, but rather a hatred for their German ‘enemy’. Even the owners ‘naturalised’ shop could not survive the working-class protest. Isobel Maddison stated, “anti-German sentiment proliferated with the outbreak of war” (p.43), which shows how the British public instantly began to boycott of attack such shops. When this happened, it effected the working class the most because, bearing in mind working-class people could not afford many non-essential commodities, many people will have relied on shops such as Bakers and Grocery stores for their food, prior to the war, and thus shows how the War changed much of the working-class lifestyle.

However, it was obviously not just the working-class people that were affected by the war. Molly understood this, even stating “This anti-German feeling as the war progressed became more marked, it affected the smallest to the highest in the land” (p.25), and I believe this is due to the rationing the nation faced. German warships were stopping British cargo ships in an attempt to starve and weaken the country, Molly describes how “At home we were on strict rations” (p.27). Molly’s working-class family income meant they could not afford much other food outside the ration barriers, and whilst higher class families could afford more rations, they were still restricted from what they were used to living off.

Suffragettes during World War One

Molly describes the protest of the suffragette movement with pride, which insinuates her memoire is advocating the movement, and the growing involvement of women in the more ‘masculine’ working world. She shows her interest in the movement when she stated, “women had for years been fighting for the right to vote for Parliament” (p.25), which is only brief but still implies she was a part of this growing movement. Molly believed that the War had the most direct impact on women taking up jobs, rather than a more domestic lifestyle. She said once the war broke out women “rose to the occasion and showed the Government their mettle and courage” (p.25), which shows how women were prepared to begin working, no matter the circumstances. Furthermore, Molly depicts herself as a product of her time as she too wanted to work instead of becoming a housewife, which her sister did, deriving from her devotion to their ill mother and baby sister Ivy. Molly lists a few examples of jobs women began to do: “women train conductors and bus conductors, postmen, in munitions and an IOI other jobs usually done by men” (p.25), which reinforces her pride in women as their protest and dedication to the suffragette cause saved the country in the war, rather than relying on men for all fighting and several jobs at home. Molly shows her pride during the war as well because women showed they could take over jobs that were “usually” masculine.


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

Maddison, Isobel, “Katherine Mansfield and World War One”, Edinburgh University Press, 2014

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