John Robinson (b. circa 1850): Researching Writing Lives

After contributing to LJMU’s ‘Prison Voices’ module, being able to blog once again as part of the ‘Writing Lives’ module has been an absolute dream.

Adopting my author was probably the hardest choice I had on the entire module. The Burnett Archive is a virtual treasure trove of working class writers from a multitude of backgrounds and picking just one was difficult to say the least. I encountered John Robinson on a whim. While most of the authors appeared to have detailed and colourful biographical entries, Robinson’s was barely a sentence long. He was mysterious, a butler of unknown origins with heaps of opinions and so, I had to make him my author.

Unlike other authors, who had completed full memoirs that detailed their lives diligently, Robinson’s memoir was composed of only 13 pages that touched very little on his own life. This posed a series of challenges. The scant personal detail meant that I was unable to locate Robinson on any genealogical sites like Ancestry to delve into his background. This sent me down other avenues, as I embarked upon a quest to connect his memoir to the time it was written in. Turning to writers like Lady Violet Greville, who Robinson mentioned directly, and the periodicals The Nineteenth Century Review and The National Review I was able to get a larger sense of what it meant to be a 19th century butler, allowing me to place Robinson’s work in more context. Although having an author who remains largely anonymous, digging into his memoir made me think deeply about the service industry and other nineteenth century men and women that would have walked in his footsteps. I hope, through writing about Robinson’s experience, I have at least shed a little light on the goings on of down-stairs from the point of view of the servants themselves.

Over the course of the module, I found great joy in working alongside my fellow writers. Due to the nature of the module, we were able to use Twitter as a tool of research. More often than not, one of our group was able to dig up small titbits of information and re-tweet it. This allowed the rest of our group to pick-up on various resources, pictures and quotes that proved to be more than helpful in composing my posts. The collaborative elements of this module have provided me with a new set of research skills, and allowed me to enhance my tech-literacy – which has been more than helpful during the current digital-focused climate brought on by the pandemic.

As I set out on the module, I set myself a schedule. One blog post per week for six weeks was my goal, and I am happy to say that I was able to meet it. This schedule allowed me to push myself to meet deadlines, with each of my post’s being fully researched, written and proof-read before Wednesday at 8pm. Furthermore, blogging in itself has allowed me to push my writing. Focusing on brevity and tone, I was able to produce short pieces of work that balanced the written word and visual media in order to great an engaging post that would attract readers.

Writing for Writing Lives has been a rewarding adventure that has lead me down many a rabbit-hole, and I have thoroughly enjoyed all of it.

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