Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Joyce Gladwell & Mrs. Gladwell's Shawl

Joyce Gladwell 

Inspiration comes from many places, and lately for me it has come from some of my favorite authors. Joyce Gladwell is a woman that has had a profound impact on the way I think and my view of the world. Her book Brown Face, Big Master was one of those books you devour in one sitting. The best books, for me, are the ones you still think about long after you have read them and this book by Mrs. Gladwell is one of those books.

Originally published in 1969, the themes and subject matter are just as relevant today as they were back then. She writes about her life with unflinching honesty even when it is not entirely flattering to herself. I remember the first time I read this memoir how amazed I was at her courage to be so honest and open about her life, her thoughts, her emotions and her relationship with God. Faith in a higher power did not come easy for her, and one of the major themes in the book is her personal quest to discover and embrace that faith. This is not strictly a religious memoir however. She also deals with race, discrimination, her marriage to an Englishman, growing up in Jamaica and the difficulties she had adjusting to life as a married woman. 

And yes, she is Malcolm Gladwell's mother. He is a lucky man to have such an extraordinary mother, but I'm sure he knows that. He touched briefly on her book, and her life, in his wildly popular best seller Outliers - The Story of Success. It's the last chapter, and truthfully, it is what compelled me to purchase his mother's book. Three paragraphs in I forgot that she was his mother until I was reminded again on page 178 when he was born. 

Elaine Linton, Malcolm Gladwell & Joyce Gladwell

The writing is beautiful, clean and crisp. It is well-paced and engaging.  She recreates her journey through different worlds with spare but vivid prose. As she describes her hometown in the opening paragraph:

The district is very beautiful: full of colour, varied in scenery and profuse in vegetation. Day after day in our childhood we feasted our eyes on the spectacle around us with gentle pleasure. We still do, whenever we return to Harewood, at whatever stage in our lives, however splendid the scenes from which we return. Perhaps it is the charm that attaches to any scene of happy childhood; we knew every stone and every blade of grass and we were part of them. 

The autobiography begins with her sheltered and protected childhood. Her mother, Daisy Nation, had high expectations for her children. "My mother had clear ideas on the moral standards she wanted her children to have and the social status she wanted them to achieve." She recounts  her school years in Jamaica, in particular her time at a private school, St. Hilary's. Her first encounter with race discrimination came one day when she was in the school library and looked up the word negro. 

I knew in a dim way that what I had read about the inferior intelligence of the negro was not supported by evidence, at least in Jamaica. Here at school the girls of negro origin were often more successful than white girls as the former in many cases entered on scholarships and the latter because their parents could afford the fees, whatever their ability. But whatever evidence...here was a statement to the opposite effect in the authoritative pages of the school encyclopaedia. 

She goes on to write; "I felt condemned. There were people in the world who would assume I was, by virtue of my race, inferior in intellect. It became terribly important to me to demonstrate to myself and to other people that this was not true."

Her sister won a scholarship to University in London and Joyce followed two years after. On the boat to England she suffered a sexual assault at the hands of an English doctor who assumed she was there solely for his pleasure and had no regard for her as a human being. She escaped physically but not emotionally. 

In that moment I learnt something about the relationship between men and women that I had not allowed for before: that to make love and to love could be quite separate...I have never unlearnt that lesson. If the resentment and bitterness passed in time, the sadness still remains. 
She meet Graham Gladwell at college and eventually their friendship turned to love. The family that welcomed her at first became strongly resistant when they announced their plans to marry. They felt it would be wrong for them to have children of mixed race. They married despite the objections, they have been happily married for over 50 years. 

They did not have an easy time of it. Mixed marriages in the 1950s were not common and people were openly hostile to them. She recounts one story of a landlady who had rented them property before she had seen them. When she discovered Joyce was Jamaican she kicked them out. The landlord's husband apologized but he could not persuade his wife to his point of view and allow them to rent from them. At first her response was anger. Then she looked  within herself, and her faith, and asked some very difficult questions. 

Have you not done the same thing? Remember this one and that one, people whom you have slighted or avoided or treated less considerately than others because they were different superficially, and you were ashamed to be identified with them. 
This is no small task. To look at yourself, to really be honest about your own prejudices and emphases, is an incredible accomplishment. 

...for while I was victim for one moment, the next I was myself the offender. We were both guilty of the sin of self-regard, the pride and exclusiveness by which we cut some people off from ourselves. And this is common to all men.
Her words, 50 years later, are as relevant today as they were then. It is still too common for prejudice to take root in our society. Discrimination, in all forms, is still common to all men. How many of us have the courage to be that honest with ourselves? 

She never wrote another book, or least she never published another book. It is a shame. I would have loved to have heard more about the time they spent here in Boston while Graham Gladwell was teaching at MIT. She wrote briefly "Our three months there were an enchanted time. We met no no unpleasant experiences because of my color; rather, perhaps, the reverse." 

Mrs. Gladwell's Shawl was named after her. It was my way of communicating how much I appreciate her book, and how touched I was reading it. My art, crochet, is the conduit to say thank you for sharing her story.  I was moved by her words, her strength and her frankness. I admire all of those things. I would urge everyone to pick up a copy of her book and read it for yourselves.

Mrs. Gladwell's Shawl is available for download on Ravelry & Craftsy. 

If you plan on using the pattern for charitable purposes please email me at
yarnconfections@gmail.com. I may be able to offer it for free.

Thanks to Meagan for being such a wonderful model. :)

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