Not Speaking

By Norma Clarke

Not Speaking is a lively and unusual family memoir, and a slice of social history.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Re-reading 'Round About a Pound a Week' - again

Re-reading Maud Pember Reeves's Round About a Pound a Week, and I have to correct what I said about porridge in an earlier blog. Reeves did, in fact, completely get the matter of the pot the porridge was cooked in, and about the way porridge would easily catch and burn when cooked. What strikes me now, reading again in preparation for a short talk at Literary London on Friday, is Reeves's quiet fury at what she and her fellow investigators found when they asked Lambeth women how they managed to feed their families on a pound a week. The answer, which stared them in the face, was that the task was impossible. The children were malnourished, living mostly on bread and potatoes.

In her chapter on 'Thrift', Reeves takes to task middle class people who admire working class 'thrift', pointing out that this 'thrift' took the form of paying a large chunk of their 20 shillings a week into burial insurance. Infant mortality was high, funeral expenses crippling. She doesn't say it was a vicious circle but that's the implication when she remarks that they would have been better off using the insurance money for food and forgetting about 'respectable' burial.

The edition I'm reading was published by Virago in 1979 and has a wonderful introduction by my friend Sally Alexander (an early subscriber to Not Speaking)


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Janet Montefiore
 Janet Montefiore says:

Yup, Reeves is very good on the details of the women's lives. Another point she makes that has stayed with me since I read it is the soap shortage, how ignorant well-meaning ladies advised the working mothers to economise by cutting the soap in half. The latter knew only too well that this was less than no use because it increased the surface area, which made soap disappear even faster.

posted 27th June 2018

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