Mary Denison (1906-1997): Researching Writing Lives.

As this module comes to an end I have began to reflect on this entire process. At first, I was overwhelmed both by the number of authors to choose from and the idea of publishing weekly blog posts. Blog writing has always interested me but until this module I felt like I struggled to find my own voice. However, this module opened up doors for me to be creative and independent with my work which enabled me to not only find my own voice within my writing but to also engage with the module in a way that I never expected.

When choosing my author I was intrigued by the fact that Mary Denison had grown up in a Vicarage as this was something that I knew little about. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mary’s memoir as her writing style was incredibly unique. Mary told her story in the second person which gripped me as a reader from the offset. After reading Mary’s memoir, I knew I wanted to try my best to give her the platform and the voice that I believe that she deserved. Mary intended for her memoir to be published and I believe that through my weekly blog posts I have been able to publicise her writing in a similar way to what she intended. In addition to this, Mary’s memoir opened up a world of history for me to uncover. Mary’s childhood was centred around her religion as well as her middle class status. I believe that through my close analysis of Mary’s memoir I have been able to provide an insight into a period of time that was heavily dictated by the class system.

Image of my annotated copy of Mary Denison’s memoir. ‘Church Bells and Tram Cars: A Vicarage Childhood’

Overall the experience of researching was both difficult yet rewarding. One of the difficulties that I did not expect to find was the fact that Mary’s name would halt my research for the first few weeks. When picking the author that I wanted to research, I never thought about the fact that the women could potentially write under their married name rather than their family name, making it difficult to research into their family. However, this difficulty soon became one of the biggest rewards from this module. I learnt to persevere and to believe in myself that I could achieve a goal that I had set. I was able to find Mary’s maiden name when I came across a website that provided me with an image of Mary’s gravestone. This enabled me to focus my research with both a month of birth and a date of death which led to me discovering that Mary Denison was born Mary Marshall, the most rewarding revelation I made on this project. Not only did discovering Mary’s maiden name help me further my research but it also allowed me to make a personal connection with Mary. Mary Denison was not only born in the same month as me, but she also died in the same month and the same year that I was born which created a sense of fate for me throughout this project.

This project has taught me that blogging is a skill that takes time, practice and confidence. I had to start to believe in my own work and that my work could both benefit and entertain others in order to feel like it was worthy of being read. Before I began this project, I had attempted to create my own blog posts but struggled to find my own voice. This project enabled me to find my own creative style and voice and has encouraged me to start to write my own blog posts again this coming summer.  I have learnt to trust and admire my own work as well as those who write in similar fields as they are both the biggest inspiration and encouragement and I truly would have struggled to believe in myself if it was not for the encouragement of my peers.

Image taken from my Twitter account –

One of the main ways that I was supported in my writing was through social media. This was a platform that I was familiar with for both personal enjoyment and from previous projects that I have engaged with. As mentioned above, the biggest advantage of using social media is the encouragement and support you get from both peers and from readers on the site. Not only did I manage to connect with other people writing on the site and readers of my blog, but I also managed to connect with the church that Mary grew up in. This opened up many doors for my research as it showed me that Mary lost her mother when she was young and provided me with an explanation as to why she limited her memoir to her childhood. Through the church I was also sent images of Mary’s father and his new wife and this allowed me to paint an image both for myself and for my readers to envision what Mary’s life was like. Ultimately social media helped me to be proud of the work I’d published and enabled me to support and encourage others working on the site to be confident of their own work.

Overall, I will take away from the Writing lives project a new-found interest in this genre of writing, an interest that I hope will continue to grow over the upcoming months. I have also gained a sense of accomplishment as I feel as though I have represented both the historical and personal aspects of Mary’s memoir in a way that is representative of her as an author. I hope and believe I have given voice to someone who wrote with the intention of being heard. However, the biggest thing that I will take away from this experience are the lessons that Mary Denison taught me through her writing. Mary taught me to be greatful of my upbringing and the rights I have to an education. The biggest accomplishment I have gained from this experience is being able to say I have been privileged enough to represent the fascinating Mary Havelock Denison (1906-1997).

Image of Mary Denison’s gravestone obtained from

Works cited:

Denison, Mary. ‘Church Bells and Tram Cars; a Vicarage Childhood’. Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection.

‘Mary Denison’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 1:250

Images Cited:

Image taken from

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