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Changing Identity

Dreamed early 1910s? (probably prewar), by Mary Arnold-Forster

...I found myself in the big class-room of a higher elementary school in London. Children were sitting all round me at their desks, and I was a poor child like the rest, newly admitted from a lower grade school, and feeling very forlorn and shy. I thought that they all knew more than I did and had more confidence in themselves. I was sitting unoccupied at my desk, a copy open in front of me, and books. No one had given me directions what to do, and I began to write the "copy," but the letters that I wrote were so badly formed that I felt ashamed, and looked instead into the books.

After a time the headmaster came to me and asked how I "had employed the last hour." Alas! I had nothing to show. "Ah!" he said, "that is our little test to see how far you can organise your own work, and use your time."

"But you didn't tell me," I said, "and it's my first day."

He smiled in a superior way and began to give a lesson to the class. "Where do you all live?" he asked in the course of it. "Hammersmith," said one child, "Chelsea," said another. "Wootton Bassett," said I, and I thought they all smiled. "I am not nearly as grand as they are," I thought. "They are all very superior to me."

The class was then summoned to go out, and the headmaster led us for a long walk, taking us, as he said, for an "educational expedition" to see the beautiful old library of one of the Inns of Court.

The ancient room had lately been redecorated with modern wooden panelling, and the master explained in his professional manner, how beautifully it had been done, and at how great a cost. I could see at once that the panelling was rather poor, of the wrong period for the room, and made of indifferent wood. "Does he really think that good?" I asked in a low voice of my neighbour.

With this attitude of criticism I ceased to be the school-child and became my own [adult] self. I then recognised with a little dismay that the person to whom I had made my whispered criticism was one of the judges of the High Court, who must, it flashed across my mind, probably have been one of those who was responsible, directly or indirectly, for the choice of the panelling. "What a 'gaffe' I have made! I thought; but he was a very charming judge, and he only laughed and said, "It was thought rather good at the time." "But isn't it like the dull decorations inside the House of Commons?" I suggested. "Yes," he replied, rather ruefully, "I suppose it is, but I believe we made your husband subscribe to it, for he was a member of this Inn, you know." " I expect you did," I said, and as we sat talking I noticed that the panels in question were really only of deal [cheap softwood like fir or pine], but cunningly "grained" so as to look like old oak.

The schoolmaster was standing near and, as I felt a distaste for his explanations, and was attracted by the crowd, I wandered away and mingled with the other guests who filled the rooms. I was now wearing a rose-coloured dress of silk that fell in full folds to my feet; it seemed to me beautiful and stately, but very unlike the sheath-like fashionable dresses that other women were wearing. "I haven't worn a rose-coloured dress for years and years," I thought; "no wonder this is old-fashioned, it must have been lying by so long!"

"You must come back with us at once," said the schoolmaster, coming up from behind me; and instantly I had turned into the child again in its short, shabby brown frock, hating going back with the other children, hating the long tiresome walk back to school. The Temple Gardens had changed into a wide common, and I skipped round various big clumps of brambles, edging away as far as I could from the master's flow of improving talk. The child's mind was mine again, and mine was the child's rather scornful attitude towards all "grand" attire.

"I couldn't possibly have skipped like this in that long pink dress," I thought.

--Mary Arnold-Forster

EDITOR'S NOTE

Despite her child-self's scorn toward her adult-self, they have much in common: disliking pretention, whether talk or paneling; feeling she's the odd one out; and enjoying the freedom of being an outsider--whether skipping away from Moral Instruction, or glorying in a loud unfashionable dress. Body and even background memories change, but her character and values are tenacious.

From Mary Arnold-Forster's Studies in Dreams (1921). Undated, but from her comments on how WWI affected her dreams, I suspect it's prewar--1910, 1912? But that's only a guess.

--Chris Wayan



LISTS AND LINKS: I'm Just Not Myself Today! - age changes in dreams - kids - school - outsiders - social class - fashion - play - freedom - doubles, twins, alter egos - more Mary Arnold-Forster -

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