9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 11 January 2009
If nothing else, this memoir of cheerful, jolly family life belies the fact that a Victorian childhood was dull and that children in starched pinafores and button boots were too repressed to be naughty. Molly's exceedingly naughty brothers got up to all kinds of pranks and, except for having to suffer a long sermon every Sunday, seem to have enjoyed rather more fun and mischief than most children today. Their father sends out for a pound of the grocer's 'worst' butter so he can make toffee with his offspring and Mother is sanguine about cricket balls and broken windows, even about the 'human sacrifice' of Molly's big wax doll.
Molly has a way of describing London life that makes it comes vividly alive; when she finally gets to ride upstairs on an omnibus we feel every jolt and shake of those horse-drawn buses that you can still see in London's Transport Museum today; how much better than riding in the stuffy, velvet-lined interior where Mother sat. And try to imagine the despair of Mother when a little brother gets lost in the park ... in those days before telephones and efficient police communication, it was days before the missing child was reunited with his parents. How wonderfully, too, Molly describes food so that you can taste it with her ... a Cornish farmhouse tea (not forgetting how to make apple cake) and Christmas punch with brandy and rum (even for children!)
Molly's family is perhaps not quite as suburban and ordinary as she makes out; her mother, as a girl, had travelled quite adventurously off the beaten track. However, as the preface points out, Victorian middle-class life was often built on precarious finances. (When the gas is cut off, they hope that visitors leave before dusk.) Molly's father was a stockdabbler, his income unsettled. Her cheerful, sunny memoir ends on a sad note ... but she has censored the real tragedy of her childhood's end. The truth was that Father committed suicide, having lost his money in one of those great Victorian scandals beloved of Trollope (and Dickens and Mrs Gaskell).
I suppose it is very 21st century of me to wish that Molly had told the story warts and all!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 4 June 2012
Persephone Books' policy is to publish fiction and non-fiction by unjustly forgotten authors and their beautifully produced books are a joy to own and to read.
In this particular gem, Molly Hughes writes about her childhood in London in the 1870s (as the title clearly informs us!). Molly was the fifth child in the Thomas family, but she was the first and only daughter and in this volume of her autobiography she writes about growing up in the family's large house in Canonbury. Her declared intention is to show that Victorian children did not have such a dull time as is usually supposed. Money was often short, at times even the gas supply was cut off, but Molly claims the children were largely unaware of the family's fluctuating fortunes and the home was usually a very happy one. She recounts hilarious pranks executed by her older brothers, not all of them are totally believable, but all highly entertaining. We also read of Sundays spent in church (often St Paul's Cathedral) and holidays spent with her mother's family in Cornwall. As Molly is the only girl in the family we also learn how differently Victorian parents treated their daughters and their sons.
The book is a hugely enjoyable read and I am sure quite a lot of it is true, but clearly we do have a case of rose-tinted spectacles. If you read the preface by Adam Gopnik you will realise that Molly has altered some details. Maybe she found it too hard to recount her father's death truthfully, and maybe her love and loyalty to her parents prevented her from including the more difficult parts of her childhood. However it is still a book to be enjoyed and it does give us a glimpse into the lives of everyday Victorians.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is such a satisfyingly lovely book. We know so much about the Victorians from their writings, but this book is rather different to the usual fare. Hughes does not deny that at times life was rather hard, but she recounts in this book the absolute pleasures she experienced as a child growing up in the 1870's. She takes the staid, stuffy, moralising Victorian life we know so well from fiction and puts real life into it. It is clear, as she writes about her aunts in particular, that this staid stuffiness was not invented, but she does quite a lot to redress the balance, and to remind us that not everybody could have been that miserable and sin obsessed. Her life, as she recounts it, seems quite delightful, and she has a real knack for making everything she writes about come spectacularly to life.