Hilda Salusbury (1906-1993): Life Writing, Class and Identity

Class status is not something which Hilda goes into great depth about during the course of her memoir. She tells the reader about the struggles they faced as a family after her mother left, and how she had to become independent since her father could not afford for her to live at home.

The only time Hilda does write explicitly about issues of class is when she reflects on the town where she grew up, at the beginning of her memoir. She describes that around 1910 ‘many weekly pay packets held about 30 shillings to feed a family’ and ‘an income of £3.00 a week […] was considered affluence’. (3) Her family struggled to make ends meet but since they were able to make purchases ‘on tick’ (2) from the local shops, they managed.

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Hilda specifically mentions how ‘When one passed Bussy’s, the tone of the street picked up: there were a few semi-detached houses. The people who lived in them had nothing to do with the people in the row cottages; if the children wandered across the class barrier – which they often did – they were hastily retrieved by irate parents amid tears and protestations.’ (3) This shows that she had an awareness of class tensions from an early age and understood that adults created these barriers, whereas children were oblivious.

Regina Gagnier identifies six types of working-class autobiography in ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ (1987) Hilda’s autobiography most closely relates to the ‘self-examination’ category. Gagnier explains that authors in this category ‘have accepted the value of introspection and writing as a tool of self-understanding.’ (357) and says that for them writing is ‘a tool of self-exploration; an attempt to make sense of life as a narrative progressing in time.’ (357) It seems from Hilda’s memoir, the more she reflects on things that happened in her younger years, the more she understands them. In this way, she can analyse the past and look back with hindsight.

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Hilda uses her writing to understand her own identity and to elaborate on life as a working-class girl, and later, woman, in the 20th century. Her memoir can be used as a historical tool to uncover what life was like for the working classes during this period. Memoirs like Hilda’s, are therefore useful for the purpose of research, such as that which I have undertaken in this project.

Bibliography

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

Salusbury, Hilda Ann. ‘Only My Dreams: An English Girlhood’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4

Image References:

Autobiography definition:
https://www.shutterstock.com/search/autobiography

Memoir writing:
https://coursehorse.com/online/classes/professional/writing/more-writing/memoir-writing/memoir-writing-level-i-10-week-workshop

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