‘I wrote it as I thought of it. When I wrote this down I never thought it would get into print. Everybody should write something like this to leave to their children’ (p.3)
There are countless reasons autobiographies have been written in the past and have remained a huge genre until today. They are a good source of history, proof that certain events and societal changes took place. They also reflect on the progression of the world in terms of dialect, writing and language. They often illustrate how the lifestyles of men, women, boys and girls have adapted over time, leading to our contemporary moment. Autobiographies are an important genre within literature, giving us a deep insight into the past. Getting the opportunity to explore a working-class autobiography has given me a first-hand account of the hardships and labour that have been endured by many, especially Daisy and her family.
Daisy’s motivation for The Town Beehive not only being written but published lies at the very beginning of this memoir: for her children to look back upon her journey from start to finish. The QueenSpark publishing company based in Brighton in Daisy’s hometown, acknowledged the struggles of a working-class girl who finds her independence within the working world, despite her many struggles. They were known for capturing local lives that consisted of ‘Poverty, Hardship and Happiness’ (p.1). Additionally, their main belief was that ‘everyone can write a book. We believe that by enabling people to speak for themselves we can make our own history’ (p.1). Gaining the opportunity to explore a memoir from the early 1900s, I felt a certain connectedness to Daisy and her family and it left me with feelings of empowerment and hope.
Regenia Gagnier explains how the working-class felt unworthy of interest from an outsider or from a literary perspective, due to the monotony of their lives. She writes ‘In conditions of long work hours, crowded housing, and inadequate light, it was difficult enough for them to contemplate themselves, but they had also to justify themselves as writers worthy of the attention of others’. (p.338). Their feelings of inferiority in society also emerged in their writing, often beginning their narrative ‘not with a family lineage or a birthdate but rather with an apology for their authors’ ordinariness, encoded in titles like One of the Multitude (1911) by George Acorn’ (Gagnier, 338). In contrast to this view, Daisy opens her memoir describing her many household chores: ‘Monday was washday, no matter what the weather was like’ (p.7). She feels as if it is her duty to deliver her liveliness through her writing, despite the difficulties she encountered.
Unlike other autobiographers, Daisy writes her memoir in retrospect rather than in a certain moment in her life. This gives us the opportunity to understand how society changed within her lifetime. She ends the memoir by giving us an overview: ‘the two wars brought about the change…the pay for women was so much higher, they left service to do their war work’ (p.87). Women were given a higher level of respect, taking over jobs such as ‘bus and crane drivers, machine operators, working on munitions’ (p.87). Their capabilities broadened immensely. In terms of classes, Daisy uses the familiar saying, ‘It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good’ when describing the significant changes to the class system (p.87). The substantial change lies in ‘the gentry finding no staff to run their large houses, had to get smaller ones they could manage themselves’ (p.87). Soon after, servants were referred to as ‘treasures’ and no longer ‘downtrodden’ on. (p.87). Daisy looks back with no regrets stating, ‘I’ve had my share’ (p.87).
Furthermore, Gagnier suggests that autobiographical writers can be ‘self-examiners’ rather than ‘authors of the confessions.’ Daisy falls under the category of the ‘self-examiner’ who ‘are not trying to sell their work and alleviate their pain, therefore, are more suitable to the conditions of middle-class authors’ (p.357). She fondly recounts her adventures through her childhood laced with the difficulties of becoming a dormitory maid without exploiting her trade. Daisy is the mouthpiece for many other young girls who were placed in a similar situation. Self-examiners who ‘accept and exploit their experience rather than analyse it do not succeed in middle class terms’ (p.356). Hence, her writing can be aimed at the working and middle class.
Daisy looks back on her childhood and adult life with fondness, thankful for her struggles which shaped her into a woman with independence. Not only does she speak for herself throughout her memoir, but for countless women who are battling with society and the patriarchy on their way to gaining independence. She holds a calm and often comic outlook on life throughout her memoir, never complaining about her struggle. Although she recounts the key events of her life in a retrospective manner, this may hold an element of forgetfulness- the harshness lessening as she looks back. Despite this, she has been given the opportunity to speak to women through her own story. The city of Brighton holds her magic.
Noakes, Daisy, (1975) ‘The Town Beehive, a young girl’s lot Brighton 1910-1934’, Brighton, QueenSpark Books.
Gagnier, R, (1987) ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender’, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp. 335-363.
(1). ‘The mighty women of World war 1’. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/01/opinion/davis-world-war-i-women/index.html. [Accessed 21/05/20]