50 objects 37: Reactions to Old Age

Fiction and the Cultural Mediation of Ageing”  was a project run  at the Brunel Centre for Contemporary Writing  between 2009 and 2012, as part of the cross council New Dynamics of Ageing programme.

One of the research methods used was to set up eight reading groups of University of the Third Age members across London in order to read, write about, and discuss postwar novels featuring different representations of ageing. The data generated by these reading groups now forms part of Brunel’s Special Collections, and is available for further research. Aspects of the participants’ writing complements the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies, in reflecting the everyday ups and downs of the lives of ordinary people; they also give first-hand accounts of issues related to ageing and to the way society views the elderly.

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Some of the books used in the reading groups

A flavour of the content is given by a brief study of the information given by one participant. Each reader was given a unique identification code in order to preserve anonymity; this one is known as SEL003, and she participated in a reading group in South-East London. From SEL003 we have a brief life history, and three diaries recording her reading of the set novels, her views of their representations of aspects of ageing, and her group’s discussions of them.SEL003 was born in Dublin in 1938 to a well-off family, reared by a nanny, and sent to a Quaker boarding school. Her favourite school subjects were maths and handwork, and since neither she nor her mother could think of a career formed of those two things, she became a teacher. She is now thoroughly enjoying her retirement, and her writing constantly reflects her joy and optimism about her current, fulfilling, lifestyle.

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The end of SEL003’s “Life History” document

She writes in a lively, enthusiastic, style. The reading diaries cover her thoughts in general of the books, characters, and authors, but also her perspicacious comments on subjects arising, including how one’s writing style changes with age; whether it’s possible to predict which individuals will get Alzheimer’s; how society is geared towards younger people and how the young patronise the elderly; whether it’s appropriate for an agile old lady to run for a bus.

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She is insightful about character attributes and how world-view and morals change over time, and she adds in anecdotes about her own experiences and those of her family and friends.

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Reading through the diaries gives the impression of someone lively and thoughtful, who analyses the problems that ageing can bring but who enjoys life to the full.

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One thought on “50 objects 37: Reactions to Old Age

  1. Pingback: Brunel Library in 50 blog posts | Brunel Special Collections

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