In Anita Elizabeth Hughes’s autobiography, home and family is a major theme, explored both through her childhood and her family life then and later on her life. Her writing often focuses on her relationships with her siblings and parents and it is clear that gender and class not only affected her social life but also her family life. This can be seen from the jobs that were available to her sisters and brothers and the way their education was constructed. Anita discusses her brothers but it seems that the sibling she was closest too was her sister: “I don’t remember what my brothers got for Christmas presents but mother managed to buy Nellie and me a wooden doll” (2). Her preference for her sister may be for many reasons, one being the way they are brought up, the different chores the brothers and sisters did, and how they played: “where we had a big allotment and room the boys to play in” (2).
When Anita was younger she believed the only job opportunity available for young girls in Leyland was the mill: “My sister was the first to leave school at 12 years and she started work at the Farington Mill” (4). But her brothers seemed to have more opportunity for different jobs “Alex applied for jobs at Leyland Railway Station…as a messenger boy in the office” (4).
Childhood is focused on for more than half of the autobiography. In the late stages of her own life, having lost her husband not long before writing, perhaps she did not want to focus on their life together too heavily. Her informative, almost detached tone is used throughout the autobiography, even in reference to the death of her siblings when she was young: “My grandparents are buried there, also my parents and my two brothers aged 9 and 16 years” (5). The rare time that Hughes’ shows emotion is after mentioning the death of her closest sibling: “My sister Nellie…died…1918. This was a great grief to me” and when discussing the passing of her husband “Although doctors told me his condition was incurable I still believed in miracles” (15).
In ‘Love and Death of the NineteenthCentury Working Class’, David Vincent suggests that when autobiographers wrote about “the more intense and private incidents in their emotional lives their command of language frequently provided inadequate” (237). This suggests that talking in depth about emotion was too difficult for some authors and a matter-of-fact tone became a way for them to distance themselves from sad events.
- Hughes, Anita Elizabeth. “My autobiography” 1.357 on your author in The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography, ed. by John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1897, 1989) 3 vols.
- Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247
- Image one- The Farington Mill during the 19th Century, taken from an article discussing the history of the Mill – http://www.chorley-guardian.co.uk/news/looking-back/community-garden-marks-150th-anniversary-of-cotton-mill-history-1-5008561
- Image Two – Leyland Train Station during the 19th Century, taken from a website that displays old photographs – http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2063566