Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Hobson's Choice

I've seen the film, of course, starring Charles Laughton and John Mills - I'd say it was the film about Salford, but A Taste of Honey has to vie for the honours there. At any rate, it's the film about Victorian Salford.
I hadn't realised there was also a novel. It's by Harold Brighouse, who wrote the original play, with Charles Forrest. Apparently it's quite rare. I picked up a copy published by Northern Classic Reprints, because I thought it was about time I read it. After all, it describes the area I grew up in, though anyone visiting from 1879 would have difficulty recognising it.
The proof reading was appalling - but everything else about the novel was a delight!

Hobson has three daughters and a boot shop, and the three daughters want to get wed. Maggie, the eldest, has been running the place for years, while her father spends most of his time at the local pub, the Moonrakers - and when Maggie wants something, woe betide anyone who stands in her way!
To start with, I was enjoying the book for the descriptions of the places and the rhythms of speech that I remembered from my gran. Agecroft Colliery is mentioned, which was just down the road from where I used to live, and at one point Hobson walks from Salford to Besses o' the Barn - which is a heck of a long walk for an overweight middle aged man who generally only walks between his home and the pub. On the way back, he meets one of his daughters walking out with her young man on Kersal Moor. I used to play on Kersal Moor - there were still the remains of wooden steps and pathways from the days when it was a popular location for going for walks on Sundays.
Maggie and Willie spend an afternoon out at Belle Vue, to celebrate their wedding - I remember the Zoo there closing (with a picture of a sad eyed monkey in the Manchester Evening News) and my mum used to go to the speedway races there in the 1950s.
They talk about the posh houses on the Crescent - my first job was on the Crescent, at Salford University (which didn't exist in Hobson's day, of course) and they walk in Peel Park, which I used to cycle through on my way to work, and they look down on the horribly polluted River Irwell. (There was a saying: "Irwell, Irk and ink are all impossible to drink", the Irk being another local river).
When disaster is staring Hobson in the face, someone remarks that there will be a story about it in the Salford Reporter. Or even worse, the Manchester Guardian!

Then I started thinking about the options open to Maggie. When she declares her intention to marry Willie Mossop, her father's boot-hand (who is the best cobbler in Salford and on whose work the success of Hobson's boot shop relies), her father throws them both out. So she sets up a rival business with Willie - but she has to go to a rich woman locally to ask for a loan to start up the business, and when they open a bank account it has to be in Willie's name. Women couldn't get bank accounts back in 1879. The only way for Maggie to make a success in business is to do it through a man - she has to marry Willie Mossop.

Over the course of the book, Hobson claims (and believes) he doesn't need the assistance of women and would be better off without them - until he finds that his tea isn't cooked, and the beds aren't made, and he starts spending more and more time in the Moonrakers - where he discusses keeping women in their place with his friends, who all agree that women need to be kept submissive by threats and violence.
In spite of all the odds being stacked against her, though, Maggie comes out on top, and everything ends happily.

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