To modern day readers, Louise Shore’s experience of reading and writing is hard to comprehend. Even as an adult Shore struggled with words and never really became a fully independent reader. During the 1960s when she moved to London, the United Kingdom had an increasing literacy rate. In 1950 around 90% of people had a basic understanding of reading and writing and this continued to increase in the years to come (statistics taken from www.ourworldindata.org). This meant Shore was a rarity in British society. As well as being an unmarried woman of colour she was also illiterate which meant she could only gain menial employment and people often tried to take advantage of her inferior literacy. Although Shore had enjoyed school when she was a child in Jamaica, she failed to complete her schooling but this was perceived normal in Jamaica. Many Jamaicans could not read or write or only had a very minute literacy understanding “The educational system was slow to reach most Jamaicans until the early 1970s…Even after the abolition of slavery, education remained uncommon” (US Library of Congress.)
Shore’s memoir was written and produced by the Hackney Reading Centre. Shore had visited the centre because she wanted to learn to read and write, to continue her schooling that she begun many years before. Shore’s memoir was written by someone else because Shore was unable to write it herself: “my ambition was to write a book…If I had a proper education” (Shore, Pure Running, page 5). You can read more about the Hackney Reading Centre, and other authors who published their memoirs there, at this oral history project.
In the United Kingdom the majority of people received schooling so that they could go on to further education or so that they could procure a decent job, such as an office job. However, in Shore’s home country, Jamaica, the majority of people worked the for sugar cane or other labouring jobs. Children were pulled from school because the need for them to earn some money to contribute to the welfare of their large families was greater than their ability to read or write. Shore had gained employment easily in Jamaica and so did not think it would be any different when she moved to the UK. However, being in a minority of people who could not read or write, Shore found she was only eligible for domestic work such as cooking or cleaning.
The language within the memoir suggests that Shore’s verbal speech did not alter significantly when she moved to London. On the other hand, there is very little mention of friends or social peers in Shore’s memoir so perhaps her accent did not alter because she was never exposed for long enough to someone who spoke standard English. The language, in some ways, was another barrier for Shore, along with her gender, race, class and marital status that often left her isolated from those around her. However, the vividness and lyricism of her spoken memoir also suggests her strong sense of identity, and this may be a reason why she retained her Jamaican speech patterns.
Max Roser (2015) – ‘Literacy’. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: http://ourworldindata.org/data/education-knowledge/literacy/ [Online Resource]
US Library of Congress – http://countrystudies.us/caribbean-islands/22.htm
Louise Shore, Pure Running: a Life Story, Hackney Reading Centre at Centerprise (1982). Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:707.