Dorothy Squires (b. 1897): Purpose and Audience – Writing Lives

Dorothy Squires (b. 1897): Purpose and Audience

“On the request of my grand-daughter Jill” (1)


A request from her “grand-daughter Jill” (1) sparked Dorothy’s trip back through her life, from

Jill at a family gathering 1984/85

being, five years old and starting school, until she stopped writing in 1984.

As John Burnett has pointed out, families showing interest in their relative’s lives is a major factor in autobiographers taking up their pen “Often there was a particular motivation behind such memoirs, most commonly the author’s belief that he had some important message for others which it was his duty to communicate. […] More recently, a main motivation has been to leave for one’s children or grandchildren a record of a different age and society which, despite its material privations, had compensations which contemporary society seems to lack.” (Burnett, 12).

Dorothy’s memoir is mostly chronological, with additions of different memories as she remembers them. Dorothy started the memoir in 1976 and continued it as a diary until 1988. I believe that she knew that she was going to carry this on in a diary format because of the chronology. Some scholars emphasise the differences in autobiographical and diary writing. Hewitt (2006) states that there are “assumptions about the distinctions between diary and autobiography […] between the diary as ‘natural’ and the autobiography as ‘artful’” (21) I don’t believe that in this case this is true as the way that Dorothy wrote the memoir is very informal and  was only written for family and close friends. The feeling that the memoir was for family is carried throughout, due to the memoir being solidly grounded in every aspect of family life. The transition from memoir to diary occurs with the shared memory of the passing of her husband, twelve years previously. Where since that day she has tried “to be content” (87) until just before she turns 88 in April 1984. There seems to be a missing section of the memoir of the 12 years after her husband has passed, the memories from these years are relayed when current events spark her memory. Although the second part becomes a diary, she does not add to it daily. Dorothy confesses, she often “neglect(s) writing this attempt of [her] life story” (91) but she continues to add milestones such as the birth of her great grandchildren and various family wedding and visits. In this sense, the memoir is part autobiography, part diary, and part family record or history.


This is an honest memoir. It gives simple insights into Dorothy’s feelings about the personal hardships she encountered throughout her life, especially the death of her first Love, the passing of her husband, and passing of her youngest daughter, whom she “would have gladly given [her] life for” (139). Not only does Dorothy look at her own personal hardships and those of her families, she also mentions historical events such as WWI, WWII, the sinking of the Lusitania and royal weddings, and how these brought communities together. She notes, for example, how neighbours helped each other during the war, including one man who, “when the Air Raid warnings were given he would see us to our dug-outs and then made sure the neighbour with children were in theirs” (63). This gives the reader a picture of the community spirit during the war but sparing them the harsh realities “that would take weeks to relate” (64).


Pre WWI Enfield


Dorothy often speaks about how life was back in the early 1900s and especially how things were not easy to come by and how difficult it was to make ends meet. However, she has a belief that love for her family and the love her parents showed for each was more important than material gains.

“What wonderful parents they were, so faithful to each other, if only there were more like them to-day, I don’t think, there would be all this violence and thieving, there doesn’t seem to be love in families that we were brought up in our young days” (65)

Starting this memoir at 79 years old, you would expect a view of life clouded by age and nostalgia. Although Dorothy feels as though her younger years had happiness and joy, the nostalgia does not romanticize the past, only conveys it in a way that gives the reader a sense of the real working class lifestyle. Dorothy paints a picture of the strong family bond and work ethic of working class society and how it was frowned upon to rely on the government for handouts. This ethic was instilled in the way she raised her own children.

Dorothy believed her writing was in vain as she abruptly ends the memoir, Jill “urged me to send it to professor John Burnet, who kindly posted it back to me and said he wanted material of early 1800 and I was born 1897”. (142). John Burnett appeared on Radio 4’s women’s hour just before Dorothy started writing this memoir, he requested the memoirs of the working classes. It is possible that Jill heard this, and this is why she urged Dorothy to write this wonderful autobiography.  It was not in vain, and has and will give an interesting insight into the lives of the Victorian working classes to anyone whom reads it.




2:735 SQUIRES, Dorothy, Untitled, MS, pp.142 (c.18,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Burnett, J. Useful toil ed. John Burnett. (Penguin Books Ltd: London, 1974)

Hewitt, M. Diary, Autobiography and the Practice of Life History. In Life Writing and Victorian Culture ed. David Amigoni. (Ashgate Publishing Limited: Aldershot, 2006)


Jill Courtesy of Hayley Brown, Dorothy Squires great granddaughter

Enfield Map Pre WW1. [image] URL: Accessed: 02/03/2018

Sue Mcgregor [image] URL: Accessed 02/03/2018

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