Emily Gertrude Lea (1902-1976): Purpose and Audience

Although the purpose of Lea’s memoir is not clearly stated, that she does not begin to recollect her life until she is fifty years old makes me believe that her account was produced in a moment of nostalgia. With no specific dates accounted for in the key personal events Lea recalls, we follow the timeline of Lea’s memoir through the historic events she mentions such as ‘The Great War’, Armistice and several coronations. This marks Lea’s working class writing style.


Image: Armistice is reached.

It is quite probable that Lea anticipated her work would be published through the stories she chooses to share and the way she presents us with them. Lea leaves out many personal details such as her parents’ names and occupations, as well as details of her relationship with her husband stating “I do not wish to recount my personal affairs; I will simply say that I enjoyed my brief courtship”(19) . This highlights that Lea either does not wish intimate details of her life to become public consumption or that she does not think anyone would be interested in her personal life. This is an example of the modesty found in many working class memoirs.

Regenia Gagnier notes that most working class writers in the nineteenth century had difficulty with “subjectivity – being a significant agent worthy of the regard of others, a human subject as well as an individuated ‘ego’” (338) and seemed nervous about claiming an audience for their life. Although Lea writes later, she too seems unsure that readers will be interested in her personal history and instead focuses more on historic events of national significance.

Throughout her memoirs, Lea chooses to break up her work with the use of subheadings. The first few subheadings include  “The Big Girls” and “The Tea Drinking” but the majority of the memoir is sectioned into dates. This makes the memoirs easily accessible to historians who are looking for information on exact events such as working class reactions to rationing brought in during World War One. Choosing to adopt this style rather than that of a diary allows Lea’s memoirs to be read more as a series of notes where we are able to skip between years and only read the information we are interested in, again making the memoir ideal for historians and researchers alike.

As Lea’s memoirs go on, the more personal detail we begin to lose as Lea begins to focus more and more on public events such as the coronation of Elizabeth II. Lea develops a more matter of fact tone for example “I must record… the meeting of the Queen with her Uncle the Duke of Windsor, and his Duchess this last week, after being an exile…” (23) The adjective “must” here suggests that Lea intended or realised  her work could  become public consumption explaining her new reporting style as she begins to report news that she believes potential readers would be more interested in rather than that of her own life.


Queen Coronation Picture; Purpose and audience.

Image: Queen Elizabeth 11 Coronation, 1953.


  • Lea, Emily Gertrude. ‘Reflections In the setting sun…I Remember after fifty years’ Burnett Archive of Working Class autobiography, University of Brunel Library, 2-469
  • Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies, 30. 3 (1987), 335-363


1. http://jimblazsik.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/todayin-history-11111918-armistice-day-the-end-of-world-war-i/



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