Thursday 14 June 2012

M for Mother - Marjorie Riddell

Why is it that I love books about motherhood from 50+ years ago?  I'm not likely ever to be either a mother or a time traveller.  I blame the Provincial Lady books, which set me off on a literary path from which I have never looked back.  I can't remember who mentioned Marjorie Riddell's M for Mother (1954) - was it you? Own up! - but I enjoyed adding it to the fold.  This one is actually from the other perspective - the daughter narrates.  She has recently left home, and each short chapter begins 'My mother writes to me and says' - it's all good fun.  There are lots of gossipy aunts who cause trouble, and Mother doesn't believe the daughter can possibly live a successful life without a mother's tender care.  

It's not in the same league as Diary of a Provincial Lady or Shirley Jackson's Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons, but it's definitely a book you'll enjoy flicking through, if you're a fan of those books by Delafield and Jackson.  I thought it would make sense to give you a taste - here's a chapter picked more or less at random: Chapter 17 - Holiday at Home.

My mother said she was glad she had got me at home for a fortnight because she was going to feed me up.  She knew that when I was away in London I lived on baked beans.  She wasn't surprised my eyes were dull.  She had warned me every time I came home but it was like talking to the Sphinx.  She had always thought that if I insisted on starving myself to death I would just have to get on with it, but now she had changed her mind.  Mrs. Plant's daughter was the picture of health and my mother wasn't going to have people making comparisons.

I said I don't live on baked beans.

My mother said yes, you do.

Now, eat your supper, my mother said.  You've got to eat it all.  I'm not going to let you die of starvation.  I'm just not going to let you whether you like it or not.

There, she said when I had finished, you look better already.  You don't look haunted.

On the following day we went to buy a tonic.

A tonic for putting on weight, my mother told the assistant.  Yes, you are rather thin, madam, said the assistant.  For my daughter, said my mother coldly.

Then we had me weighed.  I was nine stone.  See, my mother said.

And you've got to go to bed early, my mother said.  I can't do anything about it if you will never go to bed before two in the morning when you are away.  But I can while you are home.  I am helpless when you are in London and am forced to stand by and watch while you wear your nerves to trembling shreds.  I'm only glad I can't see you.  If you will tire yourself out like this the next thing will be you will lose your job, and you know you won't like that.

I said I don't stay up until two every morning.

My mother said yes, you do.

And another thing, my mother said.  You are going to take things calmly and slowly while you are home.  When you are in London you spend your time rushing like a mad thing from place to place without pausing for breath.  Tearing about like that without breathing isn't good for you.  You will have a gastric ulcer and then where will you be?

Aunt Ethel had one in her old house at Tunbridge Wells, my mother said.  She was in hospital for weeks and when she came home her roses were thick with greenfly.

I said I don't rush about like a mad thing.

My mother said yes, you do.

You whole attitude towards things is wrong, my mother said.  Your money, for instance.  Your father is going to talk to you about that.  I told him only last night he is going to.  I shall leave it to him and not say a word myself.  But what I want to say is that you simply must not carry it all about with you at once.  And don't say you don't because you do.

I know I do, I said.  Do you want me to leave half a crown under my mattress and carry a shilling round wih me?

There's no need to be sarcastic, my mother said.

I'm not being sarcastic, I said.

You carry pounds in your handbag, my mother said.

No, I don't, I said.

Don't argue, my mother said.  I remember, she went on, when Aunt Gertrude went to London in 1938 to see Aunt Dora and somebody stole her handbag.  Aunt Gertrude has never forgotten it.  Since then she has kept her money in a woolly bag tied round her waist under her clothes.  It has never been stolen again.  If you won't leave some of your money locked up in your room, my mother said, I will give you a woolly bag like Aunt Gertrude.

Now, eat your suet pudding and stop arguing, my mother said.  I'm going to keep you alive if it kills me.


  1. Brought back many memories! At first I was hearing my own mother...then that morphed into how much like my mother I'm becoming (scary thought). Just today I told my tribe that "nobody better do anything that requires emergency attention because I don't have time for the hospital today!" They love those kinds of statements said with great authority. ;)
    I shall have to track this one down and read it.

  2. I like the sound of this. As Susan says, there are echoes of my mother there and of my own attitudes towards my daughters. Did you know Delafield's daughter, RM Dashwood, wrote a diary of life in the 50s (Provincial Daughter)? I have it, but don't want to start it until I'vr read Provincial Lady.

    1. Oh, but of course! It's great fun - not as good as the PL, but certainly not an unworthy successor either.

  3. Wonderful! Mothers, eh?!

    1. Quite! Mine will be writing something for SIAB soon...

  4. Charming, thank you Simon for the extract - as a mother of a daughter myself - I'm rather horrified at the thought that I'm getting like that. Better find a copy as a caution ;)

    1. Maybe stick it on the fridge! ;) I'm sure you'd find this a giggle - and Miranda might too!


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