Newest Review: ... and met up outside of the magazine. The women also wrote their articles under a 'nom de plume', like many of us here on Dooyoo! This book... more
Fifty years of friendship through a secret magazine
Can Any Mother Help Me? - Jenna Bailey
Member Name: historywitch
Can Any Mother Help Me? - Jenna Bailey
Advantages: Fascinating and unique content, readable, compelling, moving
Firstly I have to say this is not a poetry book despite the fact it has been listed as one!
Like many mothers with small children I am a member of internet parenting forums where I can look for help, share experiences and gain the adult conversation sadly lacking in my everyday life at home with my toddler. As a relatively recent innovation they have become a lifeline for many isolated women without a support network who are able to find sympathy, encouragement and likeminded people from the comfort of their own homes. In my case as a 'trailing spouse' in a foreign country I have found them a valuable resource for settling in, finding the resources I need and for conversation in the evenings when my husband is away and my daughter is asleep. In addition I use the internet to study for a degree, order English books and contact my family, but it wasn't until I read this book that I thought about what women earlier this century might have done without such a resource. Women were able to study at university (many of the women in this book studied at Oxford and Cambridge) and have well paid/rewarding careers but 'marriage bars' before WW2 meant they had to give up work when they married and many found it difficult to make the adjustment. New child rearing methods and a social trend of moving away from your parents on marriage meant that women were more isolated than previous generations. As a result of these changes correspondence clubs sprang up so women could communicate with others around the country and this book tells the story of the longest running example.
In 1935 a woman writing under the pen-name UBIQUE wrote to Nursery World Magazine asking for suggestions to keep her entertained and to stop her from brooding, as she was lonely and had limited access to books and other entertainments. The women who replied decided to set up a private magazine (the CCC) to which their 20 or so (carefully chosen) would submit regular articles. The magazine ran until 1990 with the women continuing to share their experiences as they grew older, using pen-names to preserve their anonymity in case anyone else got hold of the magazine. When the editor died the material was passed to the Mass Observation archive which is where the author came across it, tracking down the members and their families to create this book. Jenna Bailey has taken articles from the magazine and combined them with information garnered from her own interviews to tell just some of the stories from the CCC.
After an introduction to the magazine, its organisation, editor, members and the social situation of the time, the rest of the book is divided into seven chapters. Each chapter deals with a different stage or issue covered by the articles (e.g. childrearing, work, bereavement) and the writings of three or more members are chosen to illustrate the topic, each member having a short biographical note before their articles. A single copy of the magazine was circulated each fortnight and the women posted them on after reading. Often articles garnered comments from members as it was passed around and Jenna Bailey has attempted to keep these comments in the right place in the typed text of the book, enabling us to see the reactions of others to particular bits of news. In addition each new chapter begins with a black and white print of an article so we can see how the original magazine looked to those who received it.
I absolutely loved this book for the human tales of life and society from these extremely bright, articulate and opinionated women. ROBERTA writes in 1943 of the successful birth of her third child and the more difficult pregnancy and birth of her fourth in 1945, whereas ACCIDIA speaks of her isolation at living in the country with her five (later to be seven) children. COTTON GOODS shares her childhood growing up in a milltown in Lancashire, whilst WAVENEY shares her joy at discovering that her husband is a POW in Germany and not dead as they first thought. They weather the dangers and deprivations of the Second World War with humour and sympathy, often boarding the evacuated children of other members. After the war AMELIA gives the members a lively and interesting account of both the London Smog and the Coronation, but others share more personal revelations. ISIS is drawn to a flirtation with the family doctor who was helping the family get through the diagnosis of their youngest son's Down's Syndrome whilst ANGHARAD shares the information that her husband will agree to another child if she can raise £1000! As the women age the focus becomes their experiences of ill-health, widowhood, divorce and the shocking losses of children and grandchildren. SIROD's series of articles dealing with her grandson James' disabilities is one of the most touching pieces of writing I have ever read and I am not afraid to say that I sobbed whilst reading the last section. Gradually the members pass away and the magazine was wound up with fewer than half the members surviving. The last article in the book is a poignant piece by COTTON GOODS whose body is failing and is aware of it, describing her confusion and subsequent falls when removed to her daughter's house. Her mind is as sharp as ever but her body is failing her and this is the last article that she writes for the CCC, dying just days later.
In addition to the black and white prints at the start of each chapter there is a colour insert in the middle of the book, showing the original letters page from Nursery World magazine and the beautifully embroidered covers that the CCC was passed around in. In addition there are some photos of the members at all stages of their life. Somehow, being able to look at the faces of the women who wrote these articles adds a whole new aspect to the experience of reading this book (for it certainly is an experience!), they become a firm reality and they begin to 'feel' like friends as if we too are members of the CCC.
At the back of the book are additional short biographies of 19 ladies of the CCC and notes explaining personal, social and cultural terms in the text (I had to admit to some ignorance of what the 'Phoney War' was!).
I can thoroughly recommend this book which is currently undergoing its second reading as one which not only gives an insight into life before, during and after the second world war, but also gives us the thoughts, feelings and actions of some truly incredible women. This magazine was a lifeline for them as they dealt with their isolation and the challenges (and joys) of their lives and through it they formed some truly long lasting friendships. When their children were no longer wholly dependent on them they went back into the world of work and many of them became important and respected members of their local and national communities, such as ELEKTRA who was involved with the Marriage Guidance Association and mental health in London as well as being a member of the Greater London Council. ANGHARAD wrote plays and TV scripts, before embarking on a career writing books on evolution such as 'The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis' (1997). The majority of the members had gone to university, particularly Oxford and Cambridge and they are inspirations and role models for women of our modern generation who really don't know how easy they have it.
The only negative I can possibly come up with for this book is the wealth of material lost or left out due to copyright or family objections. Sadly we don't hear from UBIQUE again or several other of the more prolific authors and although the book is a comfortable 330 pages long there is so much more that I would have liked to have known about the women and the time. But to complain like this is looking the gift horse in the mouth, this book is a gem and a definite asset to my bookcases. It is so rare that we hear about historic social/cultural events from a female perspective and even rarer that we have their perspective for 50 years. This book is social history at its best thanks to both its content and the artful editing of Jenna Bailey.
As a brief aside I was amused to see that these correspondence clubs suffered similar troubles to internet forums today, as they suffer the brief sojourn of a member called Roxanne who seems determined to take offence to everything that is said to her and whose theme song is 'My husband will not allow me to be insulted'. In addition after a row (which no-one could remember the cause of) another member left to set up a competing correspondence club called Phoenix as it was supposed to rise from the flames of the crumbling CCC (Phoenix lasted about four years to CCC's 50!).
This book is currently only available in Hardcover for £16.99 but Amazon has it for £8.49.
The paperback will be out in February 2008.
'engaging and informative ... often touching, occasionally
hilarious, sometimes profoundly moving ...
the book is a celebration of ... real and enduring friendship'
'Beautifully written and emotionally engaging. Bailey's selection
and organisation of the material is very good indeed.'
Summary: A great piece of social history brought to life again by Jenna Bailey
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