‘Yes times have changed and the greater part for the better, but don’t believe that the old days were all bad. We were very poor, but we had a peace which you will never understand, that is why I still find great pleasure in my old age, watching the cows go back to pasture across our village green.’
from Adeline Hodges’ memoir I Remember.
I believe Adeline decided to write her memoir as a way of keeping her childhood memories and life story alive forever and to pass these memories on to her family. Regenia Gagnier writes, ‘The auto biographers insisted upon their own histories… they unanimously state that their reasons for writing are functional rather than aesthetic: to record lost experiences for future generations; to raise money; to warn others…’ (Victorian Studies, 1987, pg. 342). Though Adeline never explicitly states her purpose for writing her memoir, the idea of it being ‘functional’ is one that resonates with me. She describes in so much depth the ins and outs of a working class life style that I cannot help but believe she is trying to document a social history for future generations to read and learn from. As Nan Hackett writes on the subject of the working class autobiography, ‘It’s purpose was to document a way of life.’ (‘A Different Form of “Self”: Narrative Style in British Nineteenth Century Working-Class Autobiography’, 1989, pg. 210) Adeline certainly does this in her memoir as she consciously compares the past way of life to the modern world, for example: ‘Of course in those days children had to pay to go to school. But how different these days, thank god or man for making it so.’.
The memoir is written when Adeline is an elderly lady as she reminisces about the past. She writes, ‘What a long time ago it seems, I reckon it will nearly be seventy. Well, another break until something jogs my memory.’ Adeline is using her memoir as a way to relive her memories and this is reflected in her deeply descriptive writing style. She also dwells upon things she did not realise when she was younger but now has come to understand, for example: ‘But we did not realise then, as we do now in these affluent days, the struggle mother had to make ends meet.’. Adeline’s memoir casts working-class childhood in a positive light and she focuses on (mainly) pleasant memories; she addresses this near the end, ‘How lovely to sit and recall these things. One seems to recall all the good, for if there was any bad it was safely hidden from us.’. This could be hinting that there was ‘bad’ present in the family’s life but due to Adeline being a child at the time she did not notice it. The innocence of childhood could lead to things being hidden or omitted in her writing.
As I wrote in my last blog post, Adeline addresses her memoir to ‘my family’. This allows her to write more freely. Rather than worrying about her text being published in the public sphere, she focuses more on her private life. In the memoir she often uses the pronoun ‘we’ on behalf of her family and herself. This suggests she is using her memoir as a way to speak for a larger group of people or the working-class as a whole. She writes, ‘I hope I do not give you reason to despise our way of life, for we had a code far more to be desired than some today.’. This passage has a defensive tone to it and portrays Adeline’s high opinion of the class which she was brought up in. It also depicts her desire to show a realistic representation of working class life in her memoir, as opposed to stereotypical ideologies created through literature or media.
Hackett, Nan. ‘A Different Form of “Self”: Narrative Style in British Nineteenth Century Working-Class Autobiography’, 12.3 (1989) 208-226
Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987) 335-363
411 HODGES, Adeline, ‘I Remember’, MS, pp.250 (c.42000 words). Brunel University Library