Ellen Gill (1888-1988): Purpose and Audience – Writing Lives

Ellen Gill (1888-1988): Purpose and Audience

‘We had some very happy times as a family.’

From the beginning Ellen pays attention to memories of the home and her family which predicates the main theme of her memoir. With the reflective tone in describing her past it becomes evident that she held great adoration for her family, displaying pride of who she was and where she came from.

Ellen specifies specific dates which help to understand when the memoir might have been written. In her final entry she writes, ‘March 12th 1964: before writing about our “Golden Wedding” which was yesterday.’ (p.14) Aware of when she ended her memoir this highlights the idea of dedicating her diary to moments surrounded by family and friends.

Initially it appears that Ellen may not have had the intention to present her memoir to a wider audience besides her family. In saying this, it can be argued that her memoir was to provide a history of the working class and social history during the early 20th century. In her husband Arthur’s memoir he refers to Ellen’s work, ‘(see reference to this mill in my wife Ellen’s history of her younger days)’ (p.11)  This further implies that Ellen’s memoir was to inform others.

From the age of 13 she worked within the tailoring industry up until she was 21 when at that point, her family was quickly increasing. Her parents struggled with maintaining order which lead her Father to suggest that she should stop working and help them. Ellen states, ‘I was very pleased to do this'(p.3) She does not mention the hardships and feelings towards working in the mill, which shows how little impact it had as it was the ordinary way of life for women during this time. Women often strived to become housewives where work and education were not expected of them. From an essay on working-class cultures this vision of snug domesticity was the perfect ideal. (63)

Whilst reading her memoir there are little examples of inner thoughts and feelings which diaries usually produce to gain a sense of personality and an identity of the author. Ellen seems quite timid in sharing this with us, which could impose her intentions of publication. However in Regina Gagnier’s essay, ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender’ she elucidates that this was a commonplace of literary criticism in working-class autobiographies. (p.1) Through commenting on experiences with her family to experiences during the war there is an agency of class consciousness, for instance when she describes one of the few holidays she had, ‘I shared a bed with Mrs Gill and Arthur and his Dad shared another, as this reduced expenses.’ (p.8) Money was precious and there is an image of awareness in regarding this. It becomes apparent that Ellen’s memoir is not a revelation of the self but of her class. Although unpublished, Ellen adds editorial notes at the end which includes dates of birth of the Calvert family, placing into perspective that she, as well as her husband Arthur, had the aim of reaching a wider audience.

Below a final thought from Ellen’s husband’s autobiography, implores the idea that their sole purpose for writing the memoir was to reflect.

‘Looking back and recalling old memories has given me a great deal of pleasure’. (pp.150)



Gill, Ellen, ‘Ellen Gill’s Diary’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library,Vol. 1 No. 269

Gill, Arthur, ‘I remember! Reminiscences of a Cobblers Son’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library,Vol. 1 No. 268

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363

Image No 1: The front cover of Arthur’s memoir



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