Henrietta Burkin (born 1904): Reading, Writing and Identity

Regenia Gagnier states that ‘the storytellers give counsel from their own experience and that of others… they are always nostalgic (and)… these auto biographers typically end with the First World War’ (Gernier, 349, 1987). Henrietta Burkin’s autobiography is certainly nostalgic and she guides her readers through eighty years of her life by reminiscing her fondest, most ordinary and difficult memories. Henrietta could be seen as a storyteller of her life and she also shares these experiences with her audience.

A first-edition illustration of Grimms Fairy Tales by Edwin John Prittie
A first-edition illustration of Grimms Fairy Tales

Henrietta pinpoints the literature her parents enjoyed reading and she also refers to specific texts and types of fiction she enjoyed as a child. She states, ‘we hadn’t a great many books; we always had a daily and Sunday newspaper’ (1.15). I believe this statement suggests that other items were more important than books, but she does suggests that her parents offered as much support for education as possible. Henrietta is nostalgic about her fairy comics as she studied the pictures in detail and paid particular attention to the painted fairies and elves on the back cover (1.16). Her later childhood focuses more on collections of children’s stories such as Grimms Fairy Tales, Andersons and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She states that she received these books for her birthday, implying that they were a luxury gift in comparison to her cheaper monthly comics.

Her love for reading is highlighted when she expresses her joy of winning a book at school. The book titled Simple Susan was a children’s book filled with colourful pictures and Henrietta states that, ‘my joy knew no bounds’ (1.16) when she realised she had won it. I believe that Henrietta is open and honest about the literature she enjoyed. Her easy reading and picturesque comics offered a leisurely activity until her reading ability was further developed. Alternatively, the Grimms Fairy Tales were originally tales targeted towards adults and Andreas Doring states that the tales contained, ‘very offensive characters, they were workaholics, moralists and freaks’ (Doring, n.pag, 2012). These tales were perceived widely as classics, suggesting that Henrietta wanted to experience this collection and be a part of a community who also read this literature.

Henrietta also displays a range of magazines that her parents read including, “Christian Novels” weekly, “Tit-Bits” and “Answers Weekly” (1.15). Tit-Bits was a family magazine that was mass produced cheaply and Britannica states that Tit-Bits, ‘was a great success and formed the beginning of a publishing empire‘ (Unwin, 2016, n.pag). This light hearted magazine displays an enjoyment for reading popular culture and I believe was read largely due to its popular circulation and could be accessed cheaply. Henrietta Burkin only briefly refers to reading as a hobby, but it is evident that she cherished the books she received and was encouraged to read by her parents.

Front cover of Tit-Bits from 1963
Front cover of Tit-Bits from 1963


Doring, Andreas. The Brothers Grimm: Freaks or Visionaires? By Grade, Ananda. www.dw.com 20/12/2012. Web Accessed 17/11/2015.

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies3 (1987): 335-363.

Urwin, George. “History of Publishing”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web Accessed 26 February 2016.

Image References:

Grimms Fairy Tales cover. Illustration by Edwin John Prittie in 1942 –  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/285837907573542782/

Tit-Bits front cover – http://www.theswarmite.com/patience-strong

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