Alice Pidgeon (b.1898): Purpose & Audience – Writing Lives

Alice Pidgeon (b.1898): Purpose & Audience

Purpose and Audience

‘You ask me for my earliest memories’ is the opening statement to Alice Pidgeon’s memoir. By directly addressing the readers of her writing she draws people in and sets a definite tone. Readers are left with no ambiguity as to where her writing begins as she declares that her earliest memory is back when she was three years of age. Instantly, we know exactly where about in Alice’s story we are positioned, and at what point in her life we are learning about fist.

Unlike some other memoirs, she gives no inclination or reason for why she is writing her own memoir, no apologetic explanation or defensive reasoning as is evidenced in other writing from that period.

Alice’s tone is confident and informative but exciting too. She gives no real inclination of who might be reading her autobiography or why, she simply writes. She is seventy-eight at the time she is writing her memoir; she sates so in the early stages of her writing. By saying this we can imagine the older lady who has come from the three year old we are reading about. We know just how long she has lived at the time of writing her memoir, can envisage the amount of time that has elapsed since the beginning of her story to the present day; something that involves readers and makes her story feel immediate.

Alice, from the age of seven to seventeen, lived in an orphanage, meaning her story would be one of great interest to people who have had a similar life. Her and younger sister Doris lived in a range of placed across England; born in Bolton, they moved on to Streatham in London with their parents before tragedy struck and the girls were taken off to live in St John Groom’s orphanage.

Alice’s birthplace, Bradford, in the late 1800’s.

Alice mentions, on numerous occasions, the class differences that were evident during the early 1900’s. She explicitly states how she is from a working-class background and all of her experiences are typically working class, as they continue to be throughout her life, and I feel she writes mainly to a working class readership. She tends to show marginal distaste towards the idea of discrimination within society and the snobbery with which she contends from some of the higher class people she meets. When discussing the dollies her parents bought her through her early years, she tells how she had a black one, a Japanese one, a wax lady one and a baby one, before going on to state that she feels the dollies were a message to her that ‘all men are equal in the eyes of God’. She displays, throughout her story, the qualities of someone very open and warm, with the obvious set-backs in life that working class families often suffered but she treats these with good humour and explains them in an understanding way. She is appreciative of everything and everyone, bar a small minority of people who made her miserable and caused her pain. This is indicative that her writing is aimed mainly at working class people, those that have lived a life vastly closer to her own than those of higher classes or particularly those people who show signs of snobbery.

The title of her memoir, ‘Looking Over My Shoulder to Childhood Days and Later’, indicates what stages of her life readers are going to find themselves informed of, however, it does not tell of the fact that most of her childhood and adolescence was spent in a girl’s orphanage. This fact is one of the most interesting points of her memoir and one of the most unusual aspects to it; although I suppose not so unusual for the time in which she grew up. People interested in learning about experience in an orphanage would be drawn to Alice’s memoir but she does not directly divulge this information immediately at the beginning of her writing.

Overall, Alice appears to have written her memoir, mainly for the purpose of sharing her experiences and informing others of her lifestyle during the early 1900’s and of growing up in an orphanage. She may not directly state any reasoning for her writing I feel she leaves this open to readers to decide and her writing feels less directed and staged to one aspect, more of an open and diverse account.

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