We recently watched the 1934 black & white film ‘Of Human Bondage’ starring Lesley Howard and a very young Bette Davis (with a terrible ‘cockney’ accent rivalled only by Dick van Dyke’s in ‘Mary Poppins’!).
To us – nearly 80 years on and bombarded by film and TV almost incessantly, it seemed creaky, full of silent movie camera angles and over-acted facial expressions, but some of the social interactions were interesting – particularly, of course, where women were concerned!
I found myself wondering if my grandfather and grandmother might have seen the film at the time of its release. In fact I doubt it. They’d only been married five years, he was 53, she was 16 years his junior (strangely, this age gap is echoed in the film, but there the similarity ends!) and, like so many, he had made enormous sacrifices to go and fight for his country in WW1. Prior to the War, he’d built up a Solicitor’s practice in Leeds but, between 1916 and 1918 during the time he was fighting, wounded, captured and imprisoned, his clients had gone elsewhere. On his repatriation in 1919, he had married my grandmother, Dorothy Hugill, and had to begin building up his business again from scratch. It must have been quite a struggle. He was in his fifties, had extra responsibilities, and had been through hell.
He still found time to write his essays though, and I recall one called ‘Modern Manners’ which he’d written ten years before the film was released. Not one of his most riveting, it has to be said, but some snippets are intriguing – including these observations about women’s manners at the time:
Perhaps women were becoming more confident generally. Grandfather’s generation witnessed such massive social changes – including the growth of the campaign for equal votes. In fact, only four years after ‘Modern Manners’ was written women over 21 got the vote, due to the Equal Franchise Act of 1928, and women finally achieved the same voting rights as men.