Memoirs of An Ordinary Woman, Volume I

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Set against the background of the Tremont Avenue section of the Bronx, the book details the family culture and immigrant neighborhood of Simon's childhood, as well as her relationships with an autocratic father and a well-meaning, but essentially powerless mother. The vividness and candor of her account have made it for many the model of a well-written memoir. On the surface, An American Childhood by Annie Dillard is a sunny, often endearing account of growing up in an idiosyncratic, well-to-do family in s Pittsburgh.

Yet, beyond the nostalgia it may inspire, it is the singularly compelling description of Dillard's awakening to the physical world and of the growth of her mind. Dillard underscored the difficulties of writing about one's childhood by saying, "You can't put together a memoir without cannibalizing your own life for parts. In Coming of Age in Mississippi , Anne Moody recalls what it was like to grow up black in the South of the s and s. Her loss of innocence is marked by her courage as a young woman to challenge injustices during the early Civil Rights movement.

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Moody's autobiography is a landmark work in what has been called the "new literature of obscurity" of the late s. Natalie Kusz's Road Song describes the challenges and hardships that faced Kusz and her family when her parents decided to leave Los Angeles in the late s and search for an alternate life-style on the Alaskan frontier.

Soon after their arrival, six-year-old Kusz was savagely attacked by a neighbor's sled dog and nearly died. Her account of the physical and emotional struggles that followed this experience is notable not only for the fortitude it reflects but for its steady avoidance of self-pity and its lyrical voice. Mary Clearman Blew's All But the Waltz c ombines memoir with personal essay in a vital, unromanticized account of her family's hundred-year history on the Central Montana plains. Interspersing snippets of her own story with a series of loosely connected ancestral narratives, Blew recreates and reconsiders the profound effects of a bleak, yet beautiful landscape on the human psyche.

Her attempts to understand her own struggles in the context of inherited landscape and culture reveal the power of story to link people across generations and to inform experience.

In this moving and ultimately joyous book, written during the summer of her husband's final illness, L'Engle participates in her husband's dying, recreates their shared life, and contemplates life in all of its richness, adventures, surprises, and sorrows.

For further exploration of American women's autobiographies and memoirs, look for these titles at your local library or bookseller. The Wyoming Council for the Humanities cannot provide these titles for addition or substitution in this series. Background Readings in Women's Autobiography. Cahill, Susan, ed. HarperCollins, A fairly extensive bibliography is included. During this residence at Hoxton, the writer of these memoirs inhabited, as a student, at the dissenting college in that place. It is perhaps a question of curious speculation to enquire, what would have been the amount of the difference in the pursuits and enjoyments of each party, if they had met, and considered each other with the same distinguishing regard in , as they were afterwards impressed with in the year The writer had then completed the twentieth, and Mary the seventeenth year of her age.

Which would have been predominant; the disadvantages of obscurity, and the pressure of a family; or the gratifications and improvement that might have flowed from their intercourse?

One of the acquaintances Mary formed at this time was with a Mr. Clare, who inhabited the next house to that which was tenanted by her father, and to whom she was probably in some degree indebted for the early cultivation of her mind.

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Clare was a clergyman, and appears to have been a humourist of a very singular cast. In his person he was deformed and delicate; and his figure, I am told, bore a resemblance to that of the celebrated Pope. He had a fondness for poetry, and was not destitute of taste. His manners were expressive of a tenderness and benevolence, the demonstrations of which appeared to have been somewhat too artificially cultivated.

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His habits were those of a perfect recluse. He seldom went out of his drawing-room, and he showed to a friend of Mary a pair of shoes, which had served him, he said, for fourteen years. Mary frequently spent days and weeks together, at the house of Mr. But a connection more memorable originated about this time, between Mary and a person of her own sex, for whom she contracted a friendship so fervent, as for years to have constituted the ruling passion of her mind.

The name of this person was Frances Blood; she was two years older than Mary. Her residence was at that time at Newington Butts, a village near the southern extremity of the metropolis; and the original instrument for bringing these two friends acquainted, was Mrs. Clare, wife of the gentleman already mentioned, who was on a footing of considerable intimacy with both parties. The acquaintance of Fanny, like that of Mr. Clare, contributed to ripen the immature talents of Mary. The situation in which Mary was introduced to her, bore a resemblance to the first interview of Werter with Charlotte.

She was conducted to the door of a small house, but furnished with peculiar neatness and propriety. The first object that caught her sight, was a young woman of a slender and elegant form, and eighteen years of age, busily employed in feeding and managing some children, born of the same parents, but considerably inferior to her in age. The impression Mary received from this spectacle was indelible; and, before the interview was concluded, she had taken, in her heart, the vows of an eternal friendship.

Fanny was a young woman of extraordinary accomplishments.

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She sung and played with taste. She drew with exquisite fidelity and neatness; and, by the employment of this talent, for some time maintained her father, mother, and family, but ultimately ruined her health by her extraordinary exertions. She read and wrote with considerable application; and the same ideas of minute and delicate propriety followed her in these, as in her other occupations. Mary, a wild, but animated and aspiring girl of sixteen, contemplated Fanny, in the first instance, with sentiments of inferiority and reverence.

Though they were much together, yet, the distance of their habitation being considerable, they supplied the want of mere frequent interviews by an assiduous correspondence. Mary found Fanny's letters better spelt and better indited than her own, and felt herself abashed. She had hitherto paid but a superficial attention to literature.

She had read, to gratify the ardour of an inextinguishable thirst of knowledge; but she had not thought of writing as an art. Her ambition to excel was now awakened, and she applied herself with passion and earnestness. Fanny undertook to be her instructor; and, so far as related to accuracy and method, her lessons were given with considerable skill.

It has already been mentioned that, in the spring of the year , Mr. Wollstonecraft quitted his situation at Hoxton, and returned to his former agricultural pursuits. The situation upon which he now fixed was in Wales, a circumstance that was felt as a severe blow to Mary's darling spirit of friendship.


The principal acquaintance of the Wollstonecrafts in this retirement, was the family of a Mr. Allen, two of whose daughters are since married to the two elder sons of the celebrated English potter, Josiah Wedgwood. Wales however was Mr. Wollstonecraft's residence for little more than a year. He returned to the neighbourhood of London; and Mary, whose spirit of independence was unalterable, had influence enough to determine his choice in favour of the village of Walworth, that she might be near her chosen friend.

It was probably before this, that she has once or twice started the idea of quitting her parental roof, and providing for herself. But she was prevailed upon to resign this idea, and conditions were stipulated with her, relative to her having an apartment in the house that should be exclusively her own, and her commanding the other requisites of study. She did not however think herself fairly treated in these instances, and either the conditions abovementioned, or some others, were not observed in the sequel, with the fidelity she expected.

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In one case, she had procured an eligible situation, and every thing was settled respecting her removal to it, when the intreaties and tears of her mother led her to surrender her own inclinations, and abandon the engagement. These however were only temporary delays. Her propensities continued the same, and the motives by which she was instigated were unabated.

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In the year , she being nineteen years of age, a proposal was made to her of living as a companion with a Mrs. Dawson of Bath, a widow lady, with one son already adult. Upon enquiry she found that Mrs. Dawson was a woman of great peculiarity of temper, that she had had a variety of companions in succession, and that no one had found it practicable to continue with her.

Mary was not discouraged by this information, and accepted the situation, with a resolution that she would effect in this respect, what none of her predecessors had been able to do. In the sequel she had reason to consider the account she had received as sufficiently accurate, but she did not relax in her endeavours.

By method, constancy and firmness, she found the means of making her situation tolerable; and Mrs. Dawson would occasionally confess, that Mary was the only person that had lived with her in that situation, in her treatment of whom she had felt herself under any restraint. With Mrs. Dawson she continued to reside for two years, and only left her, summoned by the melancholy circumstance of her mother's rapidly declining health. True to the calls of humanity, Mary felt in this intelligence an irresistible motive, and eagerly returned to the paternal roof, which she had before resolutely quitted.