Verbena Daphne Brighton (B. 1915): An Introduction

Verbena Daphne Brighton wrote a vivid memoir called ‘Nuts in May: Memories of Care-Free Days’ which lovingly recollects a happy, comfortable childhood growing up in rural Norfolk. Born in 1915, the youngest daughter of a family of twelve, she recalls children’s games, school-life, village celebrations, and dress – a passion which seems to have stayed with her and which I share.

Verbena’s memoir is very different in tone from many working-class autobiographies. Although she grew up in a large family she does not appear to have endured the hardship described in many other memoirs. We tend to associate working-class lives with city lives and initially I had planned to write about a Liverpool author. But I was attracted by Verbena’s vivid depiction of Norfolk, an area of the country I do not know, but with which she made me feel familiar.

Verbena and sistersVerbena and her sisters are the three girls in the centre of the back row of this school photograph.

Verbena enjoyed her schooling and from her memoir generally appears to have been well-educated. Just from reading her biography, Verbena comes over as a likeable, well organised woman.

Her manuscript appears to contain some spelling errors though as yet I do not know if these were in fact common spellings at the time. It is a bonus that Verbena’s biography is typed rather than written, with no corrections making it very easy to read.

I have discovered that ‘Nuts ‘n’ May’ was published and I am looking forward to discovering if there are any differences from the unpublished manuscript. It is clear from her memoir that Verbena identified strongly with Norfolk. She includes dialect and songs and it is likely therefore that she wrote for a local readership. It is interesting that Brighton includes a strong Norfolk dialect when she quotes her family members, compared to how she writes in standard English. This gives readers of her memoir an idea of how strong her family’s accent was and evokes a strong class identity. Her memoir would be particularly of interest to people from or interested in the area of Norfolk.

Verbena’s fascination with dress was quite unexpected. I did not expect to find such lavish attention to clothing in a working-class autobiography. It suggests that in the 1920s even working-class girls could be very fashion-conscious. I am intrigued to find out more about this aspect of working-class childhood.

As there are two different versions of Brighton’s memoir, her published version and the version I discovered in the John Burnett archive collection, I have compared the two. There are not any changes to the content, but the published version is more compact and not double spaced. Nuts ‘n May includes clear pictures of Verbena Brighton and her family, which makes the published memoir a pleasure to read.

Pictures: Brighton, Verbena Nuts ‘n May (Brighton: Norfolk) 1990

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