“Remember to always thank God for every day granted to you. I do, I have a lot to thank God for.” (p.19)
Throughout her autobiography, Margaret makes direct statements to her reader. Although she never discloses who her messages are intended for, they are often insightful words of advice. This leads me to believe that it is likely her work was intended for the eyes of her children and grandchildren, of whom she speaks lovingly of throughout. Her writing does not contain a typical autobiographical structure; there are no chapters and some of her paragraphs are six to eight pages long. Alternatively, Margaret’s autobiography is written rather informally and she tells her story in a straightforward and guileless way, offering her reader words of guidance as she does so.
Margaret begins writing her autobiography towards the end of her life, after she becomes a grandmother for the first time; “My daughter has had her first child, a lovely daughter, Alexandra.” (p.35) Although it is impossible to know for sure, I believe this event played a big part in what motivated Margaret to write her memoir. The messages she aims towards her reader are often connected to the values of the working class community and tell of the importance of ‘togetherness.’ (p.8) It is possible that it may have been Margaret’s intent to record her experiences so that her granddaughter, as well as the future generations of her family, would inherit the same values that she believed were an integral part of living a happy and honest life; “I have very dear friends and neighbours who help me in countless ways. We have not a palatial residence but it is my home… I would not have my life any other way.” (p.39)
Margaret’s autobiography is perhaps most useful to those wanting to gain an insight into the occupational aspects of working class life for a woman in the early twentieth century. After spending part of her childhood living with her Grandparents in Paisley, “in a lovely red sandstone building; this overlooked a park,” (p.2) Margaret- although only for a short while – was able to experience middle-class living. After being made to feel, as she puts it, “like a princess” (p.2) her perception of how she wanted to live was, understandably, altered. Because of this, Margaret rises above her given status as one of “the unfortunates” at school (p.5) and progresses from her “dirty nasty job” at a carpet factory (p.11) to working as a “Gown Saleslady… oh the prestige of being employed [there]!” (p.24) However, despite moving on to a more comfortable life and profession, the working-class values that Margaret speaks so passionately about throughout her memoir, are praised as playing a fundamental part in her social advancement.
Margaret’s autobiography is a very honest and open reflection of her life. She talks openly about the mistakes and poor choices she feels she has made, possibly so that others – potentially her granddaughter – can learn from them. She speaks often of feeling unhappy in her marriage; “We had married in haste and would repent at leisure, only the children held us together.” (p.22) Her wedding is not remembered as a joyous occasion, but is instead recalled rather matter-of-factly; “I married at nineteen… I had started going steady… Shortly afterwards, John, decided we should get married, we did, at a Registry Office in Glasgow.” (p.20) When she recalls this event and how she married “in haste”, it almost reads as a cautionary tale for others; perhaps a warning to future generations to act more cautiously than she did.
It is possible that the information that Margaret discloses had not been discussed with her two children prior to her writing her autobiography. But as they are both adults with families of their own when Margaret begins writing her autobiography, perhaps she no longer felt an obligation to conceal the truth about her unhappy marriage from her children. It is even possible that as she approaches the end of her life, she may have found this form of expression cathartic; “[During the war] my husband had written to tell me that he often stayed at the home of a friend he had made, a widow, whose husband and son had both been killed during the war. Shirley Grace… I often wondered what was behind this little story… Had I written if he wished my consent to stay on, he would probably have accepted.” (p.31) By disclosing this information, Margaret offers a rationale for her feelings of indifference towards her husband – and perhaps provides her children with an explanation for her behaviour now that they are old enough to understand. When her husband would return home from the War on “Embarkation Leave”, Margaret recalls how her children “were very sorry to see him go.” (p.22) It is understandable that Margaret’s son and daughter would have missed their father greatly while he was away, and would have perhaps failed to understand why upon his return, “it did not matter a lot” to their mother. (p.22) However, since the death of her husband, it is possible that Margaret felt able to reveal these truths about her life; truths that were perhaps unbeknown to her children while they were growing up.
Margaret imparts many important lessons to her reader throughout her memoir, but they all share a similar message, and that is to not settle; both in life and in love. It is Margaret’s aim to make her reader aware of their own self-worth, and her story reads as an example of how a social background should not be looked upon as a barrier; everyone can aspire to better themselves and their circumstances. Through writing her memoir in such an open way, Margaret is able to use her story effectively, as a way of helping others to not only become inspired by her accomplishments, but to also learn from her mistakes.
Burnett, John. Mayall, David and Vincent, David (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester,1897) Vol: 2 No: 802.
Paisley High Street around 1900 by Anonymous – Accessed on 12 October 2014 – news.bbc.co.uk/local/glasgowandwestscotland/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_9150000/9150554.stm