‘I do hope, children, that I’m not boring you with all this, but you did ask for it!’
Daisy, from the very beginning of her autobiography states that her work was written for her children, and makes direct statements to her readers throughout. Her often amusing, direct addresses project her connection to her children and family, and that her work is likely to have been intended as solely for their eyes. As such, there is not a typical autobiographical structure to her writing; there are no chapters, no divisions of her work, and no set sense of chronology.
This is very much in contrast to her sister Agnes, who wrote a very clearly laid out autobiography, including chapters, subheadings, and a table of contents. Agnes explains that her memoirs were written more because of hers being an experience commonly shared amongst the people of Liverpool. She, unlike Daisy, did not appear to have a family of her own to write for, so she has clearly adopted the public as her audience. Daisy does express an awareness of Agnes’ work, and explains that Agnes’s own autobiography is her reason for omitting certain details of Agnes and her life. In doing so she is essentially promoting her sister’s work to her readers – her family.
Daisy’s autobiography is therefore most likely to have been suited to her children’s needs in terms of a memoir of her and her family’s lives. Perhaps this was what was asked of her, hence the lack of details for much outside family life.
‘…I must remind my reader, once again, that this is my life through my young eyes.’
Daisy’s autobiography is perhaps most useful for those wanting to study the sociological aspects of working class life, and is especially useful for those wanting an insight into life and schooling of the late 19th and early 20th century. Despite starting school at St Silia’s Church of England School aged 5, she recalls her time there with crystal clear precision, even remembering exact details of her teacher’s dress: ‘Miss Sawyer, the headmistress, was a gentle looking lady who dressed in a violet dress with a purple topaz brooch, and looked (to me) about ninety.’ Daisy appears to have no bitterness associated with her family being working class, indeed she prefers to refer to her family with the refreshingly proud term of ‘artisan class’.
Daisy’s great memory for detail is another reason which makes her memoir a compelling read. The ability to gain a glimpse of the past through such a well detailed and well remembered personal account is such a rarity, and is all the more extraordinary for providing a glimpse of everyday life over a hundred years ago. Even the most mundane experience is recounted by Daisy with a vividness more akin to a novel. Considering that Daisy wrote her memoir in her 74th year, it is all the more remarkable.
Unfortunately, as her memoir only spans the years from her birth until 1916 when she marries, it is not of great use to those wishing to read more about life during the world wars. It is unfortunate that Daisy did not choose to cover these years of her life, but the years that she does account for are just as invaluable as anything she may have potentially covered.
Cowper, Agnes, (1874 – 1963), ‘A Backward Glance on Merseyside’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:181
Cowper, Daisy, (1890 – 1985), ‘De Nobis’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:182
Image from: ‘S Silias Churches.’ http://www.saintsilas.org.uk/section/106 N.d. Web. Accessed 4th November 2013.