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Archive -> Autobiography -> ‘As a Tale That is Told’ Extract 7; Page 17-18

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‘As a Tale That is Told’ Extract 7; Page 17-18

(hyprocrises of age/melancholia/owning pets)

Our family life was typical of the Victorian Age. Everything must be correct on the surface no matter what was the reality. The Mother must be a “devoted Mother”: the children “devoted” to their parents, and the parents “devoted” to one another. Our reality was very far from the ostensible reality. Looking back, and judged by present-day standards, our Mother was anything but devoted. She had a nursemaid who did all the actual work connected with the bringing up of children, and she did all the ornamental part. …she liked to have us for about half an hour before bed-time. That is all I remember of her in our very early days’ except that she was very sparing of stories and we often begged in vain for a story or a game. Once when I heard that all the maids had left the house during her absence at a party, leaving us children along, I begged that she would not leave us again. She refused. Time after time I got out of bed and went downstairs to see if the maids were there, and once I found the house empty and the maids down a yard at a door leading into a side street, talking to two young men. They were very angry and used fearful threats to prevent my telling of their escapade. From that time on the nights when I knew our /

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parents were going to a party became veritable nightmares. I remember no tenderness, no sympathy for childish ailments and childish fears. Once when a dance was in full swing in the room under my bedroom I remember being sick and calling out for my Mother. She came up only to scold, leaving me in tears, with the misery of

the scolding added to the sickness.I was not devoted to my parents and as I grew older it became a burden to be alone with my Mother. I was in revolt against the hypocrisy of the façade of a devoted family when the reality was selfishness and complete misunderstanding. I have only three happy memories of early childhood, my escapades with my brothers, our annual holiday and my love for my animal friends. I had quite a number: cats, dogs, fowls, ring doves, guinea pigs, rabbits, and I lived in a world of my own with them. I seemed to have complete understanding of them and (found (crossed out in ms)) made them extraordinarily human and companionable. Otherwise my life would have been unbearably lonely.
…..And slowly I developed a real melancholia. When I was twelve years old I was taken to a doctor reputed to be /


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clever at helping such cases, and I told him, “I could not be more unhappy if I were a widow.” The simile would not probably occur to a child today. But I was at times for no ostensible reason utterly miserable and used to cry hour after hour, and cry myself to sleep night after night.

All my life my greatest efforts have been to ward off or to endure this recurring melancholy. I believe the root cause of it was the utter unreality of everyday life, the complete cleavage between what one really was and liked or disliked, and the outward life lived according to conventional ideas and conduct. I was a rebel down to the foundations of my life, and my real self only from time to time escaped the restrictions of my surroundings, with the result that a very serious conflict ensured which ended in great and misunderstood unhappiness. This was enhanced by certain shocks which I received. For instance I remember when a parson came to stay with us for a night or two, my Mother arranged for him to take family prayers. The maids were marched in in due order, the large unused family Bible placed in front of him and the whole ceremony duly observed. As we never by any chance had family prayers in the ordinary course of events this gave me a great feeling of hypocrisy.
 



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‘As a Tale That is Told’ Extract 7; Page 17-18