Before and After: Reminiscences of a Working Life by Edith Morley

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Before and After: Reminiscences of a Working Life by Edith Morley

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A memoir which spans the late Victorian period and the first half of the twentieth century. It's concise, vivid and well-written.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 178 Date: March 2016
Publisher: Two Rivers
ISBN: 978-1909747166

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Edith Morley was born in Bayswater in 1875 and wasn't overly keen on being a girl, although she found the late Victorian conventions restrictive rather than repressive. Her descriptions of the life which young women (or even women of any age) were expected to lead is exceptional in the way that it shows the tedium and the limitations. She had one great good fortune in that her father (a surgeon-dentist) and well-read mother believed in the benefits of a good education for boys and girls. After spending two years in Germany as part of her education she went on to get an 'equivalent' degree from Oxford University (which is all that was available to women at the time) and then to become the first female professor in England in 1908, at Reading University.

The position was not obtained easily though. Initially she was the only lecturer in charge of a subject (and the only woman in charge of a subject) at the new University College to be left off the list of those promoted to professor in 1907 and it was only when she threatened to resign that the matter was rectified. All the men were promoted. Even then, her chair was in English Language - whilst her heart was (and always would be) in English Literature. Even with tenure there were pinpricks of frustration: obviously a man could not be expected to work under her. Professor Mary Beard has written the foreword to the book, which she describes as a wonderfully direct memoir and implies that whilst the battleground might have moved, the fight still has to continue.

Morley was involved in the early feminist movement and later worked in setting up the Reading Refugee Committee which assisted Jewish refugees in world War II - work for which she would be awarded the OBE. Her descriptions throughout the book are vivid, concise and memorable and have a directness which brings situations to life in a way which is not often encountered. For the first time I felt that I was really present in a Victorian childhood or with refugees. It's an interesting and varied life although the author makes rather less of it than is usual in such memoirs. There's an underlying need to give credit to others and minimise criticism which is refreshing.

Many years ago I was a woman in a position where women were still unusual and many of the struggles which Morley encountered were familiar to me, but I did feel grateful for the groundwork which she and others like her had done and which made what I did possible. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals to you then you will probably also enjoy It's A Don's Life by Mary Beard.

Buy Before and After: Reminiscences of a Working Life by Edith Morley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Before and After: Reminiscences of a Working Life by Edith Morley at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Before and After: Reminiscences of a Working Life by Edith Morley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Before and After: Reminiscences of a Working Life by Edith Morley at Amazon.com.


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