Kathleen Hilton-Foord (1903-1998): Purpose & Audience

Unlike many other working-class autobiographies, Kathleen does not open her memoir with an apology for her ordinariness. She acknowledges her insignificance only from the point of view of her mother. Her memoir and poetry is not dated, but it may have been written in the mid-twentieth century or later as she mentions that she has three children. Attitudes towards working-class autobiographical writing may have changed slightly from those written in the nineteenth century at the time Kathleen was writing hers. In the ‘Epilogue’ of Grannie’s Girl she claims that had it not been for her children ‘to care for me […] This story would not have been told’. Acknowledging her children in this way explains why her memoir and poetry is personal and possibly how it was influenced by them. The attitudes of a different generation have allowed Kathleen to express her feelings of being lonely and of working-class life.

Kathleen's own illustration of herself, taken from Grannie's Girl
Kathleen’s own illustration of herself, taken from Grannie’s Girl

I feel it is important to consider the purpose of Kathleen writing her memoir in relation to the publication of her book of poetry. Her memoir may have been written at the request of the publishers in order to accompany Grannie’s Girl. On the back page of the book, it is stated that it was ‘Printed and Published by Graphic Art & Print’. However, Kathleen has crossed out ‘and Published’ and corrected it to ‘Published by K.H.F’. This proves that Kathleen had some control over her writing, thus was able to exhibit her personality more freely than other working-class writers under the control of publishers.

 

I believe that Kathleen wrote her memoir in order to inform readers of her childhood and in a more spiritual sense, to show how she overcame the loneliness and grief of her grandmother’s death by finding happiness with her sailor fiancé and children. In the ‘Epilogue’ Kathleen writes:

‘I can look back now and smile,

And see all that has transpired

Feel again the (New Beginning)

That youth and hope inspired.

Many joys and sorrows I’ve encountered

And now myself am old;

But for three loving children, to care for me

This story would not have been told.’

(Grannie’s Girl)

 

In the ‘Epilogue’ Kathleen portrays a ‘discovery of new self’, which is characteristic of spiritual autobiographies. Other elements emblematic of the spiritual autobiography such as ‘remembered details of childhood, a confrontation with parents, a reassessment of the subject’s education and a crisis’[1], are included in Kathleen’s writing. Kathleen recalls her childhood memories; she understands that her family home was too overcrowded for her to live in and that her mother prayed for her to die (The Survivor, p.1); she acknowledges in the poem ‘Leaving School’ that she should have stayed on after passing the Labour exam. The crisis she experiences is when she has to go and live with her aunt in London and when her grandmother passes away. Eventually though, Kathleen decides that although ‘Life hadn’t been very easy’, she would ‘start again’ (‘The End’, Grannie’s Girl). Her illustration of herself is accordingly captioned ‘a new beginning’, which follows the notion of a spiritual autobiography I have described.

 

Location is an important factor of Kathleen’s writing. She identifies herself in relation to where she lives in the title of her memoir The Survivor – The Memoirs of a little Dover Girl. Living in Dover plays a significant role in her autobiography as she discusses the Zeppelin air raids and she marries a sailor; it is therefore a valued part of her identity and influences her writing. In addition to the self-reflection found within her poetry and memoir, I believe Kathleen wants to tell her story from the point of view of a ‘little Dover girl’. Her intended audience could be those familiar with, or residents themselves of Dover; this may be why she doesn’t talk about her time in London. She does not acknowledge being in London as a significant part of her childhood, other than the fact that it is where she is traumatically kept away from her grandmother. Perhaps she wanted other ‘little Dover girls’ to read her memoir, so writes about her young life in the form of poetry to make it more accessible and more entertaining.

 

Kathleen’s writing covers only the period that she lived with her grandmother for. She was three years old when she went to live with her and stayed there for almost all of her childhood. The time she lived with her grandmother is therefore portrayed as the most meaningful aspect of her childhood. The rejection from her mother may be why Kathleen dedicates much of her writing to time spent with her grandmother and explains why she rarely mentions the names of her other relatives.

 

——————————————————————————–

Works Cited

[1] Gagnier, Regina. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender’ Victorian Studies 30:3 (Spring 1987): 335-363, p.344.

‘Hilton-Foord, Kathleen’. Grannie’s Girl in John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography Vol 2. Brighton: Harvester, 1987 (2.398a)

‘Hilton-Foord, Kathleen’. The Survivor: The Memoirs of a little Dover girl – Born 1903 in John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography Vol 2. Brighton: Harvester, 1987 (2.398b)

‘Hilton-Foord, Kathleen’. No title (handwritten memoir) in John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography Vol 2. Brighton: Harvester, 1987 (2.398c)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *