ABSTRACT

Such defensive action might, ironically, produce the very result it was designed to guard against. Aware that the wife's over-riding attachment was to her family of origin, excluded from the warmth and intimacy of the female circle, resentful husbands were only too likely to react by withdrawing themselves to their own consolations outside the home, in the pub and in their families of origin. The process was a circular one, the husband's withdrawal making her cling to her mother, and her action making the husband withdraw: insecurity bred insecurity.2 In Bethnal Green, even to-day, social workers still lay the blame for some desertions and divorces upon Mum's sometimes far from benign influence. The two-way repercussion of insecurity upon kinship cannot be documented from historical investigation. It is rare to find a mention like Lady Bell's: 'The affectionate relation between the young married daughter and her own home, indeed, sometimes causes an additional difficulty, as there are cases where the 1 Some extreme example of mother-centred extended families are to be found

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This moral code which surrounds kinship is sometimes harsh, imprisoning the human spirit and stunting growth and selfexpression, and sometimes observed only in its outward forms. But it need not be so. In most of these families (and Bethnal Green is obviously unexceptional in this) duty and affection seem to co-exist and, indeed, reinforce each other, duty fostering affection as much as affection fosters duty. Parents do not choose their children, nor children their parents; the relationship exists whether or not either has the qualities which might arouse affection. Both are usually accepted despite their faults, the dutiful parent not discarding the child born mentally defective nor the dutiful child the parent who has committed what is a crime in the eyes of the greater world, and what applies to parents and children applies in some measure to other relatives as well. Secure in the knowledge that they are valued because they are members of the family, not because they have this or that quality or achievement to their credit, they respond with affection which then becomes as reciprocal as duty. Affection, for its part, helps to make duty not so much the nicely balanced correlative of rights as a more or less unlimited liability beyond the bounds of self-interest and rational calculation. The mother does not enquire whether she will be repaid before she does the washing for her sick daughter, the daughter whether she can afford the time to nurse her mother through a long illness.