Florence tells us little about her reading habits and experiences with writing during her memoir ‘Seventh Child’. The only text that Florence directly mentions reading numerous times in her memoir is her son Richards thesis: “When he brought his thesis home for his dad and myself to look at I read on the first page – ‘This thesis would have never been written if it was not for my parents getting me interested in Natural History when I was a little boy and have helped and encouraged me all the way through’. I went out of the room, cried a little bit, went back to the kitchen and said I didn’t expect to read that dear, Richard just said it’s all true mum” (66-67). This memory reflects the intimate tone of Florence’s memoir as she expresses pride for her children and family and being able to read their achievements.
Catherine Feely comments on reading and the everyday explaining:
‘Reading does not start or end with the act of picking up or putting down a book, however important it may be to understand the immediate context in which a text is read. Readers are also people, whose encounter with a particular text cannot be divorced from their individual histories, other reading and wider experiences’.
This certainly applies to Florence’s memory of reading her son’s thesis and how her role as a mother has impacted his writing.
Apart from this, Florence mentions little if nothing about her interests in reading, perhaps leaving her experience of reading and writing behind in the classroom. However, after contacting Florence’s sons Richard and Jonathan, they were able to give more of a personal insight into their mother’s relationship with a book. They were able to tell me their mother was not an avid reader and so have little memories of her with a book. However, Jon recalls his mother referring to author Georgette Heyer and therefore must have read some of her novels.
Georgette Heyer was an English historical romance and detective fiction novelist. Her writing career began in 1921 when she turned a story for her younger brother into the novel The Black Moth. Florence would have been 9 years old at the time, still in education and presumably be able to read. In researching the author whose work Florence potentially enjoyed I found that Heyer essentially established the historical romance genre and its sub genre Regency romance. Her Regency novels were inspired by Jane Austen, whose novels were set in the same era. To ensure accuracy, Heyer collected reference works and kept detailed notes on all aspects of Regency life. In 1931, Heyer released The Conqueror, her first novel of historical fiction to give an account of the real historical events of William the Conqueror. Florence has already mentioned she has a passion for Natural History, and perhaps her interest in Georgette Heyer’s historical work also explains her interest in the history of the Royal Family.
Florence’s sons recall their mother’s interest in the Royal Family and how she was always reading up on the current affairs, marriages and children of the British Monarchy. Florence lived through some of the most historical events in regards to the Royal Family such as the abdication of Edward VIII, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the tragic death of Princess Diana.
Jon describes how both his parents were Daily Mail readers. The Daily Mail was Britain’s first daily newspaper aimed at the newly literate “lower-middle class market resulting from mass education, combining a low retail price with plenty of competitions, prizes and promotional gimmicks”, and was the first British paper to sell a million copies a day. It was aimed at both men and women from the outset but was the first to provide features especially for women. The Daily Mail would have been publishing many of the Royal Families current affairs, which Florence was apparently most interested in.
Although not an avid reader herself, Florence’s writing is filled with such love and passion it has provided us with great pleasure as readers to discover more about her interesting life.
181 COOTER, Florence Anne, ‘Seventh Child’, MS, pp.71 (c.71,000 words). Brunel University Library found in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989)
Feely, Catherine. ‘From Dialectics to Dancing: Reading, Writing and the Experience of Everyday Life in the Diaries of Frank P. Foster’, History Workshop Journal, 69 (2010) 91-110