Hilda Ann Salusbury (1906-1993): Purpose and Audience – Writing Lives

Hilda Ann Salusbury (1906-1993): Purpose and Audience

Hilda’s memoir, dedicated to her grandsons.

At the beginning of Hilda’s memoir, she dedicates it to her two grandsons, Julian and Austen who were the children of her son David. This gives it a personal touch suggesting she would like her grandchildren to know all about her childhood and possibly intends to show them that hard times can be overcome.

Although in this sense it does seem personal, Hilda’s memoir was published which suggests a wider intended readership. Interestingly, it was published in 1990 in Chicago, USA. It could then be inferred that this, combined with the title An English Girlhood, meant that Hilda’s intended audience was not only British readers but American too. It seems, then, that the purpose of her memoir may have been to share her memories of a working-class childhood and early adulthood in England, with American readers.  

Virginia Woolf describes the depth of the memoir.

Hilda speaks solely from her own point of view throughout the memoir, telling the story of a childhood without a mother and the difficulties this brought about. It could be argued that her memoir fits in with the genre of an emerging trend during the 1990s of ‘misery memoirs’ or ‘mis lit’ as it has been called. Anne Rothe says that ‘the success of mis lit indicates that the lives deemed most meaningful and significant are lives, particularly childhoods of exceptional pain and suffering’. (89) Although Hilda’s memoir does not contain the extent of horror and trauma that many in the mis lit genre do, it still forms the same basis. She gives the reader an insight into her triumph over personal difficulties throughout childhood and shows how she has overcome misery. Rothe also states ‘the genre and larger trend of privileging experiences of victimization and suffering emerged in the United States’. (84) Hilda may have chosen to publish her memoir in the US due to the boom in ‘mis lit’ over there. Her story would be more likely to be read that way.

The tone of Hilda’s memoir is casual and conversational which, again, gives it the personal touch I mentioned. The tone gives the reader a better insight into her personality and enables the reader to feel that they know her. Despite writing the memoir in 1988, at the age of 82, Hilda appears to remember events throughout her life very specifically. There are a number of times that she even recalls conversations she had. From this, we are able to also get a general feeling of the personalities not only Hilda herself, but of family members, friends and employers that she mentions. This is fascinating to see considering the number of years that had passed between her childhood and writing the memoir. Only five years after it was written, Hilda sadly passed away at the age of 88.

Rothe, Anne. Popular Trauma Culture: Selling the Pain of Others in the Mass Media. London: Rutgers University Press, 2011.

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

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