Daisy Noakes (b.1908): Life Writing, Class and Identity

‘That Christmas morning we went to Sunday School and Church, and it was depressing for us just listening to the other children speaking of what they had.’ (p.29)

Within the realm of working-class autographies, Reginia Gagnier highlights six main types of autobiography, ‘‘These conditions of publication may be correlated to the six primary formal and rhetorical genres of the autobiographies.’ (345) These contrasting categories reflect the personality of the writer and reflects their reason for writing their memoir. Gagnier distinguishes the different types of memoir, throughout his text. He also describes these different genres to be primarily found in the 18thand 19thcenturies. Although The Town Beehive was written in the 20thcentury, Selina Todd recognises this century to be the ‘working-class century’. The main theme of Daisies memoir is not only to describe the details of her life, but her life as a working-class woman who is thrown into the working world at an extremely young age. Todd notes, ‘The real gains of the twentieth century were brought about by ordinary people, who sought greater control over their lives –not just via the ballot box but in their workplaces and on their streets.’ After Daisy dedicated five long years of her life to Ovingdean and begins to feel taken advantage of, she feels confident enough to search for a new job, despite having ‘no references to show.’ (p.78) Despite her loss, Daisy views this necessary change as an achievement. As Todd states, she ‘begins to understand her daily life and her place within society’. I feel a sense of admiration towards Daisy. 

Not only is Daisy aware of her place within society but she embraces it, ‘They had so much food… How they got through it all I don’t know’ (p.60). She often looks down upon the greed of the upper classes. Despite her monotonous duties, she enjoys her role as the parlour maid. She intertwines her reality with a sense of humour making her memoir light-hearted and effective. She describes taking letters to her Master and Mistresses on a silver tray, ‘all untouched by my hand. I wonder sometimes if we always had some contagious disease.’ (p.60) She uses ‘we’ to describe her and the rest of the staff, indicative of their subordinated position. Furthermore, due to difficulties within Daisies childhood such as having to save money in any way possible, it gives her a backbone for part two of her memoir in her life away from home. ‘Clothes for us must have been a perpetual problem, but mum was a very good needlewoman.’ (P.12). She constantly turns her struggles into strengths.

Gagnier’s six types of autobiographical writing analyse Daisies memoir as the ‘Self-examinations’ category, if it must be confined to a singular genre. In terms of this category, Gagnier highlights ‘Unlike other working-class writers, they have accepted the value of introspection and writing as a tool of self-understanding; they seek to write their lives as middle-class narratives.’ (p.357) Despite her struggles, Daisy looks back on her working-class culture in a celebratory view, enabling her world to be how it is today. She uses her writing to express her growth. Gagnier further notes the self-examination genre to have ‘pronounced narrative structured upon parent/child relations and familial development; and a belief in personal creativity, autonomy, and freedom for the future. In this sense they are the most “literary” of working-class autobiographies.’ (357) Likewise, Daisy invests her life into the world of work to enable her freedom for the future, ‘I felt dazed and very tired. I had hardly slept all night.’ (p.50) From the outset of the memoir, it is apparent that Daisy is a working-class girl. QueenSpark books, specialised in the publishing of her memoir, specifically holding the theme of a working woman in Brighton. 

In comparison to Daisies memoir, the memoir of Harold Gill (1919-2003) reflects a similar experience in terms of poverty and hardship stating, ‘Money must be smartly saved in all areas… We learn that his father was a manual labourer, and as a result Harold’s family often struggled financially in the colder months’. In part one of Daisies memoir she writes, ‘it was very hot in the summer, and bitterly cold in the winter… I have known the urine to freeze in the chambers.’ (p.19) Each are able to resonate with one another living in the harsh reality of the working-class. Despite this trial, Todd reassures her readers, ‘The history of the last century is in many ways a story of millions of ordinary people pursuing greater control over their lives.’

Bibliography 

Noakes, Daisy, (1975) ‘The Town Beehive, a young girl’s lot Brighton 1910-1934’, Brighton, QueenSpark Books.

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’Victorian Studies, 30. 3 (1987), 335-363

Todd, Selina 2015, ‘Afterword The State We Are In, 2011–15’ The People… (2015)

Images

  • ‘Domestic servants in the 20thCentury’ Available at: https://www.striking-women.org/module/women-and-work/19th-and-early-20th-century [Accessed 26/05/2020]

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