Regenia Gagnier argues that there are six definitive types of working-class autobiography. I was sceptical whether Charlotte Dorothy Meadowcroft’s (B. 1901, Derbyshire) Bygones would fit into any of these categories, due to the vague and undetailed nature of her event recollection: ‘Next time we moved, was back from Derby.’ (p3) She doesn’t say where she lived before this, so we don’t know where she’s moving back from. Surprisingly, Gagnier recognises this style, identifying the writing as that of a commemorative storyteller:
‘Such texts read like travelogs by tourists in their own land – typically transients or southerners. With minimal self-consciousness, they preserve memories of a way of life that is changing or has already ceased to be, the social exotic, or sociohistorial heterogeneity of their own country.’ (348)
This fits Bygones style well. The lack of detail could be seen as Charlotte unconsciously recognising her past events, as Gagnier puts it, as ‘ceased to be,’ giving her license to leave out the specifics.
At times, Bygones has a more confessional style, which Gagnier describes as being ‘more women than men… Sensationalist – especially female narratives which exploit sexuality. Episodic. Lack analysis. Profit-driven.’ This can be seen at several times throughout her life at Stancliffe Hall, as Charlotte clearly enjoys relationship gossip.
‘Those days we was taught to respect our elders, & to remember our manners & be polite, it was very hard to bear at times. My mistress was [illegible] & her husband was a doctor, he was in France. He did come home on leave once, while I was there, I thought he was very nice & considerate, perhaps things would have been better if he had been at home all the time. A man was living in the house, his business was something to do with insurance. I did not like to see what was going on between him & madam I knew that something was wrong.’ (p11)
Although Gagnier captures some of the intention of this style, I disagree with her negative description of the style. Charlotte is certainly not profit-driven in her writing, and the other points seem close, but not right on point. Charlotte’s constant awareness of what is ‘proper’ enforces this. She obviously finds relationship gossip interesting, but it is never told without highlighting her moral stance on the issue, and some distance.
It is possible to draw some idea of class from these styles. On page one, she says ‘we was of the poor class,’ which refers to her financial status, but she doesn’t specifically mention class again. This means we have to make assumptions, based on other things she has said, on how she places herself culturally and sociologically.
On page 24, she mentions dancing to ‘Home in Pasadena’ and ‘Give me the moonlight’. This is significant because she barely mentions specific titles anywhere else in her writing, so, from that, we can assume that she’s culturally aware of pop-culture at the time.