Complying with her recurrent theme of mystery, Mrs W.E. Palmer does not specify who her intended audience was, or even the reason for writing her memoir. Yet, the title of her autobiography, Memories of Long Ago, suggests that her desire to keep the memories of her childhood alive was a key motivation. However, Mrs W.E. Palmer’s memoir is not solely a recollection of her childhood memories. Rather, much of her autobiography recollects her mother Flo with great fondness and admiration. Not only does this illustrate the importance of family to Winifred, it also establishes her attempt to keep the memory of her mother alive through her writing.
The way in which Mrs W.E. Palmer’s memoir is written is what differentiates her text from other working-class autobiographies. Instead of writing in the first person, which is typically the writing style that is utilised throughout many memoirs, Mrs W.E. Palmer chooses to write in the third person under the pseudonym ‘Francesca’. This could be interpreted as Mrs W.E. Palmer’s desire to refrain from appearing egotistic in her writing, as Regenia Gagnier notes, many authors of working-class autobiography ‘frequently worried about their “egotism”‘ (1987, 340). Consequently, ‘in this very personal, subjective, and supposedly egocentric genre, the “I” is depersonalised’ (Hackett, 1989, 210) and, in this case, replaced with ‘Francesca’. Yet, Winifred does not allow this to detract from the detailed recollection of her childhood and upbringing. Instead, as ‘Francesca’, Winifred writes freely and openly about her life spent at Harting Coombe Farm , Sussex, from 1910-1925.
Mrs W.E. Palmer begins her memoir with the revelation: ‘Francesca stood at the front door with her shopping trolley, ready to set out to buy her weekly groceries, when, startled, she paused a moment to listen’ (1). Again, this opening distinguishes Winifred’s memoir from other working-class autobiographies, as many memoirs begin with the author’s date and place of birth. By contrast, Mrs W.E. Palmer utilises a framed narrative, or story within a story, in order to capture the attention of her audience. Significantly, this is exactly how Mrs W.E. Palmer wished to convey her childhood, in story form!
Yet, it would be wrong to say that Winifred’s story-like writing style serves to romanticise, embellish, or dramatise the depiction of her upbringing to the extent of evoking a work of fiction. Writing her memoir ‘nearly seventy years’ (1) on from her time spent living at Harting Coombe Farm, Winifred makes comparisons between her childhood and the present day. On one occasion, she describes how ‘there was not nearly as much class distinction’ (6) when she was a child, which illustrates Palmer’s attempt to provide her own account of history. Not only did Mrs W.E. Palmer wish to entertain her readership, she also wanted to educate them about the ways in which times have changed over the course of her life. Consequently, due to drawing on shared experiences of the era, whilst recollecting her fondest memories in a unique and engaging style, Palmer’s memoir is an entertaining yet enlightening read.
There were only the rich and the poor or “Them” and “Us”. We the poor were “Us”, and if “Us” could get one over on “Them” the rich, it was rather fun, and in those days it was no disgrace to be poor (6).
Writing with an air of mystery, Mrs W.E. Palmer concludes her memoir with the claim: ‘once they got over leaving the hamlet they found West Lavington and Midhurst interesting places to live in, but that is another story. The End’ (34). By withholding details of her life, Palmer entices her audience as their curiosity and desire to learn about the next chapter of her life, heightens. Such a tactful ending to her autobiography, whereby she evokes the ending of a story with a cliff-hanger and concluding phrase ‘The End’, suggests that she wrote with the aim of entertaining her audience. Whilst, prompting the consideration of whether Memories of Long Ago was simply the first part of her memoirs – perhaps Mrs W.E. Palmer held the intention of writing more memoirs, perhaps she did!
Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 3 (1987): 335-363, 340.
Hackett, Nan. ‘A Different Form of “Self”: Narrative Style in British Nineteenth-Century Working-class Autobiography’. 12.3 (1989): 208-226, 210.
582 PALMER, Mrs. W.E., ‘Memories of Long Ago’, TS, pp.34 (c.12,200 words). Brunel University Library.
‘Mrs W.E. Palmer’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:582.
Agriculture and Framing 1920 – Accessed 07/02/17