Norah Elliott (b.1903): An Introduction

 “Give me winged words

To fly to every man,

Sharp words, to pierce the heart,

Soft words, to stir compassion,

Wise words, to paint a picture

of the past,

That you may be remembered.”

Born in 1903 on September 2nd, although for some time she believed she was born on the 3rd, Norah Elliott narrates her account of a woman’s life throughout turbulent 20th century Britain. Never staying in one place for too long, Norah travels around the country, giving accounts from Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, and even crosses waters to France and Australia! Whilst much of Norah’s writing revolves around her (rather large) family tree, dating back to her great-great grandfather Thomas Pilch (1771), Norah gives us access to her own fruitful, working-class life.

Norah Elliott’s Hand-drawn Family Tree

Written by a 75 year old Norah, this memoir gives us a detailed account of a childhood in the country. She provides us with a rich narrative on life in a mining village, the houses she lived in, her family dynamic and uplifting accounts of summer holidays and Christmases. Upon reaching the core of her autobiography, Norah takes us on her journey to Reading College, where she played many sports and studied the sciences, all whilst securing her certificate in education. It must be said that before attending Reading College, her adopted mother, who she refers to as Mrs Elliott, gave her an ultimatum. ‘If I went to a College to become a teacher’, Norah says, ‘then she would have nothing to do with me’. However, proceeding to become a teacher, Norah appears to be successful in everything she does.

Yet, following a medical misdiagnosis at the tender age of 33, Norah was struck by arthritis which affected her physically and mentally as she reveals she considered suicide. It would be wrong to say Norah’s memoir is completely upbeat and filled with happiness, yet it would also be incorrect to say she has a negative or harsh outlook on life. Rather, she is frank with her experiences and appears to expose her true thoughts about her family, both biological and adopted, her acquaintances and even her society, which she discloses in her poems.

“I used to think I could be a writer, now I have the opportunity to find out.”

Norah Elliott’s Handwritten, and Untitled, Memoir.

It is moving to learn that Norah’s childhood dream of becoming a writer never became a reality. But her poems, along with her poetic language in general, are the two aspects of her account which are most enjoyable, and live on through her memoir. Her loving, comical and sometimes harsh descriptions of the people that she meets, help us to appreciate Norah’s enchanting, and often philosophical mind. Whilst she experiences a series of unfortunate events throughout the course of her life, such as the mysterious drowning of her father, losing multiple loved ones to illness and the hindrance of her disability, she never loses the determination to succeed in life. Handwritten, vivid and heart-warmingly down-to-earth, this account manages to capture an idyllic sense of country life, yet also faces the true hardship of the early 20th century. Norah Elliott is a brilliant example of a hard-working, working-class woman.

 

Works Cited

Elliott, Norah. ‘Untitled’. The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography. Ed. John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall. Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989 (3 Vols) Nb. 2:242. Available at http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10895

‘Norah Elliott’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:242

Images Cited

‘Norah Elliott’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:242

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