From the outset it is unclear what kind of audience Mary Stewart has written her memoir for. She does not seem to have any specific motive to reach out to a particular audience and the fact her memoir is left untitled would reiterate this idea. It is important to note that Mary may have had some thought her memoir may be read by others, due to her concluding her writings: “Don’t think I have anything else in mind of interest just now, so will leave it at this.” She notes that she has only included things of interest to others, rather than simply reminiscing her entire life for her own nostalgic benefit.
Mary began writing her memoir at the age of 70, shortly after her retirement from full time work. It is possible she decided to reflect on the different events (now she had a moment to herself!) in her life that have made her the strong and very much independent woman she is in her latter years. “I have retired from work in Sept. at the age of 70, so can now please myself where I go & when, for the first time in my life.” [sic] She is already a member of an under-represented minority, as there are only a very small percentage of the autobiographies within the Burnett Archives which have been written by women. This shows her courage to come forward and present her life as a female autobiographer representing the working class.
Although we are unsure of why Mary Stewart wrote the memoir, it could still be used with great interest by many different social historians.
Mary lived through key events in British history, such as World War One, World War Two and the Queen’s coronation but chooses not to discuss these in any great detail and only mentions the First World War in passing when talking about her father. “Dad was in the terriers, so among the 1st to be called up 1914.” Rather, she focuses on her own life and personal details that mean something to her.
Mary’s memoir may be most useful on a local level to the people of Collyhurst researching the area or family members. Throughout her memoir she casually mentions street names and the names of different people she has come across within the town: “..our landlord, Sam Percieval, whose office was next to the Bank at New Cross, told me he had a 2 up & 2 down in Pilling St..”. She speaks highly of the community within her town and this would be useful to those researching the close knit neighbourhood life that existed in Collyhurst during the early to mid-20th century. “Many neighbours helped me out with Jimmy, as he couldn’t walk until he was 3” Mary’s use of local dialect would also sway us to conclude she may have expected it to be read at a local rather than national level: “Theres you, sut like please teacher..” It is interesting as an outsider to this area, to learn about it’s local history, so I can only imagine what it would mean to the residents of Collyhurst.
Image: Shop on Rochdale Road, Collyhurst, 1900
Within the memoir, Mary discusses the difficulties with her ill child Jimmy, who she describes as an “invalid”. For someone researching medical issues during the mid 20th century, it could be useful to see how Coeliac disease was viewed and treated. In today’s medicine it would be easy to diagnose and treat a child with Coeliac however, during Mary Stewart’s life, this would have been potentially life risking, especially with the rationing of World War two. “..he had Coeliac desease & would not live beyond 2 years, it was thought so at the time.” (sic) This was a difficult time in Mary’s life and she admits having a “..little weep”. However, she overcame these difficulties and Jimmy grew to be a young man, even if he did have “..shorter legs than his brothers…”
Although Mary does not clarify who her target audience is, she is not unlike any other working class autobiographer of her time or class. The overall tone of her writing would suggest she is a humble woman, who is trying to prove that you can overcome the difficulties of life and still fulfil it to how you would like, even if it takes you until your elderly age to finally get what you have wanted all along. She is possibly trying to show her grandchildren or other local working class women in the same position, that even in your toughest moments of life, you can work through it. Mary is attempting to teach a future generation. Regenia Gagnier states: “The autobiographers insisted upon their own histories… to record lost experiences for future generations; to raise money; to warn others; to teach others; to relieve or amuse themselves; to understand themselves”(354)
- Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Social Atoms: Working Class Autobiography, Subjectivity and Gender’, Victorian Studies, 30.3 (1987) 335-363
- Stewart, Mary. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography. University of Brunel
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/manchesterarchiveplus/5859969291/ (Image)