Why is Molly Hughes not better known?

Posted by Tory Historian Tuesday, November 09, 2010 , ,

Tory Historian has spent some time recently reading M. V. Hughes's books about her life in Victorian London and the later one about life between the wars in Cuffley, a village just outside London that was, in that period, steadily moving towards becoming a suburb.

The question that comes to one's mind immediately is why is Molly Hughes not better known? She used to be on schools' reading lists as Tory Historian can recall but, possibly, such things no longer exist. Only one of the books is in print: A London Child of the 1870s was reprinted by Persephone Books with a Preface by Adam Gopnik that seems to have missed much that is of particular interest in the books. Amusingly enough, Molly Hughes wrote in A London Family Between the Wars that she distrusted books that needed somebody else's introduction to tell the reader why he or she should bother with the actual text.
She should be better known for those books and her life ought to be studied. First of all, she is a delightful writer though, apparently, her journalist son Barnholt assured her that her writing was innocent of any literary style. No woman is a heroine to her children.

Secondly, her description of changes in middle class life (lower and professional) in the last years of Victoria's reign and between the wars is fascinating precisely because it appears to be artless. As it happens, we do know though it is not clear how that she made certain alterations in her account. For instance, the volume of childhood ends with her father being killed in a street accident, just as her husband was to be much later. Somehow, it has been established that her father had, in fact, committed suicide having become involved in some financial fracas. Why he thought leaving his wife with very little money and five children to bring up was the desirable course of action is never explained, not even by people who firmly assure us that it was, indeed, suicide that brought his life to an end.

Thirdly, and most importantly, she gives a fascinating account of the development of girls' education and teacher training, particularly for girls' schools. Many of the fierce debates we have now about the need for training teachers and what the outcome might be are rooted in those years when Bedford College was a pioneering establishment and Molly Hughes was head of the training department from 1892 to 1897, though she had actually got her BA in Cambridge from what subsequently became Hughes Hall.

One cannot help wondering whether the absence of Molly Hughes from so many discussions of girls' education and Victorian women's writing has anything to do with the fact that she expressed no political views. In fact, her description of the people who insisted on driving buses and other public vehicles during the General Strike is positively gleeful.


  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. I have just finished reading Hughes' autobiographies and loved every word of them. As a teacher I was astounded to see how little of the fundamentals of teaching have changed since Molly first started training.

    I intend to spread the word and get all my friends reading her, teachers or otherwise.

  3. oldun44 Says:
  4. I wanted to read it on my Kindle but it isn't on Kindle yet.

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