The Works of Sheila Stewart

 

Sheila Stewart was born in England in 1928. Stewart wrote five books in total. In her first work, her memoir, A Home from Home, she confides to the reader that she was born out of wedlock and abandoned into an orphanage at three years of age, raised by the Waifs and Strays Society and spent her entire childhood and youth in care. Her second work, Country Kate, records the memories of her daily help, old Kate. The third work, Country Courtship, deals with old Oxfordshire customs but is presented as a novel. In Stewart’s fourth work, Lifting the Latch: A Life on the Land, Old Mont recalls his life in a past era. In Stewart’s fifth and final work, Ramlin Rose: The Boatwoman’s Story, Rose Ramlin tells her story of life as a traditional boatwoman on the Oxfordshire canals.

In her preface to Lifting the Latch Stewart clarifies her purpose in writing: “Some years ago I wrote a little book, Country Kate…. I wanted to record the richness of the spoken word of ordinary country people before the ‘media world’ had faded out their own lively observations and perceptions of the real world about us. Such characters are now very rare” (xiii). Stewart allows something similar in her preface to Ramlin Rose (vii). Stewart evidently writes to preserve some record of the lived experience of the traditional agrarian societies of Kate and Old Mont, and the traditional canal community of Rose Ramlin. Stewart’s works fall into the category of local history. By tradition, local history books belong to a huge range of books which are not canonical, and are not mass-market either. Nowhere, is there any information to indicate that Stewart was anything other than self-taught. Yet it is possible that she may have been influenced in some way by an English tradition in local history[1] of romantic portraits of a “lost” era in autobiography, biography, and memoir which includes George Sturt, George Ewart Evans and Flora Thompson. It is worth considering these three writers briefly as a context for Stewart’s work in local history, and to show how Stewart’s works differ vastly from that of these other writers.

[1] That this is a tradition common to local history groups in the UK is implicitly evidenced by online sites such as Sounding Board productions (http://www.soundingboardproductions.co.uk/suffolkvoices.shtml , accessed 17 June 2013.)

To be continued later …. next week I will be blogging from England

Works Cited

Stewart, Sheila. A Home from Home. London: Longmans, 1967. Print.

—.       Country Kate. Kineton: Roundwood Press, 1971. Print.

—.       Country Courtship. Kineton: Roundwood Press, 1975. Print.

—.       Ramblin Rose: The Boatwoman’s Story. Oxford: Oxford U P, 1994. Print.

—.       Lifting the Latch: A Life on the Land. Oxfordshire: Day Books, 2006. Print.

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