4 out of 5 stars

The publisher provided a copy of this, free of charge, in return for an honest review.

This is a fascinating account of a working-class Scottish woman. Like others of that time, she had a really tough life. She was born in 1833 and had began work at the age of nine in domestic service. She became a fishwife, and after a tragedy at sea, she lost a number of male members of her family. It was to rob her of her sanity and she ended up in the Cornhill Asylum. She was encouraged to write her memoirs in pencil and that bundle of papers became this book.

She was a strong woman and didn’t have any tolerance for the airs and graces of the aristocracy, often calling them out on certain matters. She was frequently told that she was speaking above her station, but thankfully that didn’t stop her at all. She held similar opinions of those with a lot of religious power too, most of these people were more concerned with how the were perceived in the eyes of others and had no intention of actually putting their Christian teaching into practice.

She details how the feudal system still worked at that time. The lairds would take a portion of every catch, just because they could. The whole of society was heavily in favour of the aristocracy but as that faded in importance, their lives were then ruled by capitalists, who only cared about profits and little else. Because of the heavy skewing of the system, she and may others spent a lot of time in debt and poverty.

The loss of her family members was too much to cope with and she ended up in asylum. It was here where she learnt who her true friends were and those who now shunned her because of where she had ended up. It made her already tough life, just that little bit harder. She was allowed out after a while, but was readmitted again having been declared insane. And yet it seemed to suit her, the pressures of outside life had gone, but she worried about the children and grandchildren that she had left behind.

I would say this is essential reading for anyone interested in the social history of this country and in particular Scotland. What is quite terrifying is that even though was have come on over a century or more, some of the same restrictions that hold the working class and poor in that position, are still in place today. The great and the good (ha) still have more power and wealth at the expense of wider society. I thought that the editing of the notes was really good. Fraser steers us in understanding about the time that these were written and the wider historical context, whilst letting her voice come through clearly.

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