Phyllis L. Buss (1902): Purpose & Audience – Writing Lives

Phyllis L. Buss (1902): Purpose & Audience

“I would like to dedicate this story of my life to my darling grandchildren” (p.13)

Although Phyllis states explicitly at the end of the memoir that it is dedicated to her grandchildren, the style of writing and the topics of the memoir also imply that she was writing for her family rather than the wider public.

Phyllis’s main focus is her ‘very happy childhood'(p.1) she retells stories and events that she couuld remember from ‘around the age of three'(p.1). She reflects on certain mishaps and mistakes that she made in her youth, such as getting caught playing truant from school with her older brother Cecil, following his lead as she ‘was always obedient to her elders'(p.5). After she recollects an event, she comments on her naivety from her adult perspective, showing that she is perhaps trying to teach her readers, her grandchildren, lessons from her mistakes.

Furthermore, her use of clichés and reflecting on her youth in hindsight portrays self-evaluation to the reader, she uses lines with a moral meaning behind them, for example; ‘all is fair in love and war’(p9) and ‘what is better than earning and learning’(p8). It is almost as if her motivation for writing the memoir was so that her grandchildren can discover something positive from her small mistakes that seem so important during childhood and growing up by learning these sayings themselves. It seems as though Phyllis thought highly of her own Grandmother, as she mentions her numerous times throughout the memoir. Therefore her aim for writing down her autobiography could have been to pass this ‘life advice’ onto her own grandchildren.

If the memoir has been written for her grandchildren and not intended for publication, it can be argued that there is evidence of certain information being excluded and other points emphasised for the benefit of the age range of the audience. It is apparent that Phyllis has focused mainly on her childhood, as it is this a time of her life that her grandchildren would have been currently experiencing. She describes occasions in an adventurous way by using a happy and uplifting tone mostly, using word play and emphasising comical stories. She even includes references to fantasy characters that children would be aware of, describing how an elderly woman she assisted ‘was like Mother Hubbard’(p6) and that her niece ‘was just like a fairy’(p7).

Old Mother Hubbard

(1909 drawing of Old Mother Hubbard)

She also creates tension by telling how ‘many years ago a murder was committed in a house in the lane’(p2) where she was born. She may use these metaphors maybe as a technique to keep her grandchildren interested in the stories she was telling, to almost retell them as fictional rather than as fact. She does not go into great detail about the ‘horror’ stories of her youth, only lightly touching on the subject of the murder, and not specifically writing much about the war that would have been happening. She may have censored this information out to keep the memoir lighthearted, not worrying the children with the grim details of the struggle of the working class during this period.

She only describes her adult years briefly towards the end of the text and instead of going into great detail about all the negative aspects of growing up, she romanticises relationships and having children, as if to portray a sort of fairy tale ending to her grandchildren. She writes how their Grandfather was ‘everything a gentleman could be and we fell together much better than we could have been put(p11)’, not going into any detail about the trials and tribulations of their lives together, which may have been present if this memoir was meant for publication or for an older audience. She also only momentarily mentions the death of her younger sister as it seems this would be inappropriate to delve into too much detail for the reading of children. The tone of the text as a whole has an extremely moral tone over casting it, almost as if the grandchildren can learn positively from the life of a family member whilst also enjoying the stories that their now elderly Grandmother experienced, showing that she has made the best out of a working class upbringing.

This memoir contrasts majorly to some of the other working class autobiographies that I have come across, as many other memoirs write about the struggle of the working class during the World War One era and the hardship that they experienced throughout childhood and continuing throughout growing up. Phyllis L. Buss, although her adult life is not explained in great detail, has taken the positive aspects of her life and decided to portray these to her grandchildren without burdening the text with the struggles that they may face, I believe she has attempted to give them hope that their life will be equally as enjoyable as she has expressed hers, even if she may have deliberately failed to include the negative parts.


Image 1, Mother Hubbard:



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