“The only obvious under representation is, predictably, by gender, only one – tenth of the autobiographies have been written by women” (Gagnier, 335)
Anita Elizabeth Hughes was born on the 17th of March 1892 in Cotesbach near Lutterworth in Leicester. It is not known when Hughes died as that date is absent in her biography, though it is known that she was still alive and healthy in 1977. Hughes had a busy childhood, often moving from place to place, and had many siblings. From her autobiography it is difficult to gage how many siblings she had due to the sporadic way she casually mentions their births and deaths: “there were four of us” (pg1); “there were seven of us” (pg1).
I chose Hughes’s autobiography for many reasons. One is my interest in gender studies. Hughes focuses on her childhood and life from the point of view of a girl and young woman at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. She talks about how she left school at 13 to work full time at a mill and hated the fact that she had to leave school. She discusses the jobs that she had from a young age, and the limitations that her class and gender had on her job prospects and how it affected her education. Hughes continues her discussion on gender through references to political movements: “the suffragettes had started their campaign and used to come on Preston market square” (pg 7). Later in life Hughes’ became involved with the religious society, The Mother’s Union.
Childhood is another major theme of Hughes’ autobiography and she explores her family life in detail. Through in the biography it is clear her childhood was extremely difficult: “wages were low and we were very poor”. Yet the hardships she and her family incurred never seem to have taken away from the fun her and her siblings used to have. Throughout her biography she mentions moments between her and her siblings that perhaps seem ordinary and mundane to the reader but she mixes these with episodes from British History. She witnessed the first car in her town, for example, and “never forget seeing the first motor come out of Leyland motor works”.
Anita Hughes also tells readers about her life once she has moved out of the familial home and met the man she was going to marry at a local dance: “then when it was over he asked if he could take us home…that was how I first met my future husband” (8). Through Anita’s relationship with her husband Frank we get an idea of the life of the British people during the war: “Then the 1914 war broke out” (8) and “Our courting was done mostly by writing letters” (8). Hughes’s memoir that gives us a real sense of what life was like for working class people. Instead of focusing on every major historical event she focuses more on her familial relationships and what being poor meant to her and her family.
- Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363
- Hughes, Anita Elizabeth. “My autobiography” 1.357 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, Vol 1, no. 357
- Hughes, Anita Elizabeth. “My autobiography”, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collection Library, Brunel University. 1.357
- Map of Cotesbach – 1885 – 1903, taken from a website that sells handmade drawings of maps- http://www.francisfrith.com/cotesbach/maps