Eva Shilton (b. 1907): Purpose and Audience

No longer are the autobiographies of the working-classes seen merely as portrayals of ‘the psychological effects of social deprivation’ (Gagnier, 1987, p.1): this bourgeois view has long since been contradicted. Finding the true purpose and audience of an autobiography, however, is surely only possible on an individual, case-by-case basis.

Eva Shilton’s autobiography appears to be only a fragment of a wider collection, making it difficult to ascertain precisely what the ‘purpose’ of her memoir is, if indeed there must be a purpose to recording one’s own story. It seems, in Eva’s case, that nostalgia and simply a means to remember her past were the driving motives behind her memoir. After all, she was 71 years old when she dictated the memoir to her daughter, and was surely forgetting some of the finer details of her past. Despite this, Eva was able to present a multitude of humorous  anecdotes from her childhood. For example, Eva reminisces that on her first day of school:

‘The table was full of little trays of sand, ready for only the good children to play with, I sat up as straight as a ramrod, the only way I knew how to be good, I was dying to play with this sand.’ (Shilton, p.1)

It is remarkable, indeed, that she is able to so eloquently and meticulously detail episodes of her childhood from the age of 6 years old: I, personally, could not describe a single memory of my schooldays from that age, and yet Eva is able to articulate her entire childhood in a perfectly chronological order, painting an endearing and familiar atmosphere for the reader to imagine and engage with through her words. This alone should suffice to be an adequate enough purpose to read her memoir.

Eva, pictured here on her 100th birthday alongside her three children

An article written at the time of Eva’s death in 2015, however, sheds new light on the potential audience of her memoir. Eva was described as ‘a keen social commentator’ (Bannister, 2015), who sent copies of her memoirs to her family on a weekly basis. Her daughter, Margaret Collier, told the Coventry Telegraph that Eva ‘did masses of writing and practically wrote down her history’ (2015).

Aside from the standalone value of Eva’s memoir, then, it appears that the true purpose and audience of her autobiography may be much closer to home. As well as a means to nostalgically remember the past, it was also a way of preserving her story and passing it on to her family. And yet, her label as a social commentator also give away the intention that one day her memoir would be read in light of the environment she grew up in: literally, as a working-class autobiography, highlighting day to day life in the most authentic and good-humoured way.

Works Cited:
Bannister, A., (2015) Coventry’s oldest woman has died aged 107 [online]
Available at: http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/coventrys-oldest-woman-died-aged-8727071
Date Accessed: 15th February, 2017

Gagnier, R., (1987) Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender [online]
Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3828397.pdf
Date Accessed: 12th February, 2017

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