Since leaving school to undertake the domestic duties at home, Hilda Salusbury became very lonely. Her only real company was her Grannie since she ‘had no friends and seldom went anywhere.’ (98) Grannie and her father did not always see eye to eye, and when he found out that she and Hilda had been communicating with the mother that abandoned them, he sent Grannie away to stay in the country with her daughter. After this, Hilda’s loneliness intensified. She says ‘I saw the years ahead of me: washing, cooking, cleaning. No fun, and no future. I wept bitterly in pity for myself and because my mother was lost to me forever.’ (72) Her siblings were all still at school, Grannie was away and her father had ‘withdrawn his tenderness, understanding and affection from [her]’ (98) therefore she was alone in the house day after day and became more depressed.
Eventually, the responsibility of the housekeeping and nursing her eighty-year-old Grannie became overwhelming to fourteen-year-old Hilda. She went to spend Easter with her aunt, leaving one of her younger sisters, Alice, to the housework. Here, she was happy spending time with her cousins and even met her first boyfriend. She told him that her mother was dead and tells the reader of her memoir ‘I could not bring myself to say that she had deserted us. What today is commonplace was then shameful and a disgrace to the whole family.’ (120) It was clearly embarrassing for her to talk about what had really happened and therefore it was easier for her to lie.
From what Hilda tells us about her father throughout her memoir, it seems that he was very set in his ways and predictable in his habits. He liked things to be done in a certain way and if they weren’t, there would be consequences. She tells us of a day when he returned from work to find that his dinner was not on the table waiting for him. He was furious that Hilda was late in preparing it, and knocked her unconscious onto the stone floor of the scullery. Although she craved love and affection from her father and was quick to jump to his defence in her younger days, small details like this become relevant to her feelings towards him when she gets older. David Vincent tells us in ‘Love and Death and the Working Class’ that what autobiographers ‘had to say about each facet of their family experience was controlled by how they conceived its relationship to the overall structure of the life history they were attempting to communicate.’ (1980, 229) By including such details, the reader is able to see the bigger picture of the relationship between Hilda and her father.
The majority of Hilda’s memoir illustrates how much her family meant to her from childhood through to early adulthood. This can be seen in the way that she sacrifices her childhood, education and eventually her job to take care of her Grannie, father and siblings. Eventually, it seems that she comes to the realisation that her family (particularly her father) had taken advantage of her kindness; therefore she makes the decision to return to work and leave her father to employ a housekeeper.
In the postscript of her autobiography, Hilda tells the reader that she ‘remained on reasonably friendly terms with [her] father until his death in 1950’ (270) and saw her mum on occasion but ‘could not behave with warmth toward her.’ (270) When her memoir was published in 1990, Hilda’s closest family relationship was with her youngest sister, Laura. It seems that although she dedicated most of her younger years to taking care of her family, she made the decision in adulthood to distance herself from them and appears to have led a much happier life from doing so.
Salusbury, Hilda Ann. ‘Only My Dreams: An English Girlhood’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4
Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247 http://www.jstor.org/stable/4284976 (Links to an external site.)
Domestic servant: https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/servants-in-victorian-england/