Doris Hunt (1900) : An Introduction

I was born in 1900 in the last year of the reign of Queen Victoria, in Manchester

Doris is one of six sisters in a working class family from Manchester. It is suggestive within the text that Doris is around the age of 75 whilst looking back over the earlier years of her life as she says ‘at 75 one should know the answer to questions’ (p8).  Her autobiography takes us on the journey throughout her childhood, beginning with memories from when she was just three years old. She shares times of hardships, suffering and sadness. Although due to such times she has a high appreciation for the good memories of times spent with her family and of her educational achievements.

Woman sitting at a writing desk - Victorian illustration
Woman sitting at a writing desk – Victorian illustration

Doris doesn’t appear to use any techniques within her writing to draw in readers; she feels her story speaks for itself.  This is suggested by an average yet informative introductory line. It is again indicated by a line in the last paragraph when she briefly mentions her fiancé and their emigration to Canada. However, she goes into no detail, leaving us to wonder as she states that that journey ‘must be another story’ (p14). This suggests that she doesn’t want any additional information to take away from the story of the earlier years of her life.

The first two paragraphs of Doris’s writing mentions Queen Victoria and her earliest memories as a child. She recalls street entertainment such as ‘a fully-grown, brown, dancing bear’ and also the German brass band (p1).  This sets the context of the time for readers and also allows us to see the culture in which her childhood began.

Doris’s writing intrigued me as she lays out the earlier years of her life on the pages of her autobiography. Through her structured narrative she discusses certain aspects and factors which affected her childhood. In some respects it doesn’t seem that Doris had a very stable childhood, as she and her family were often on the move due to her father’s working opportunities. This heavily suggests to us that Doris and her family were part of the working class, although she doesn’t explicitly tell us this in her writing. Doris opens up to readers and tells us the saddening stories of the deaths of both her youngest sister and also her father. Throughout her autobiography she illustrates to us how the death of a family member, particularly her father, the breadwinner, can completely change a family dynamic.

We learn how the death of her father sends her mother into employment, the time in which Doris often referred to as ‘the end of another era in my life’ (p5). As a result, Doris (the eldest sibling) gained growing responsibilities such as having to look after her baby sister and  eventually going into part time work at the Lancashire Mills. Doris missed out on the opportunity to proceed into higher education as after her father’s death her mother could not afford the fees and couldn’t guarantee that Doris would stay in school until the age of 14. I find this especially interesting as Doris tells us that at the age of 13, whilst living in Lancashire, she had to leave school altogether. This is interesting as during the 20th century in Lancashire and its mill towns there was a common theme in which work was prioritised over education.

20th Century Working Class Family
Richard Benson’s greatgrandparents Millicent and Richard Weaver and their children in Pilsley, Derbyshire, in 1903

Doris shares stories of struggles from her childhood and family life which allows us as readers to connect with her on a personal level. This makes the tone and style of her writing come across as quite open and trusting of us; it seems as if she is telling the story of her journey without any aims or motivations.  As a reader I feel as if she is openly inviting me to learn of her past.

References

428 HUNT, Doris, Untitled, TS, pp.14 (c.5,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Images

Woman sitting at a writing desk – Victorian illustration: http://Woman sitting at a writing desk – Victorian illustration

Richard Benson’s greatgrandparents Millicent and Richard Weaver and their children in Pilsley, Derbyshire, in 1903: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/8f240d68-ca09-11e3-ac05-00144feabdc0.html

 

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