Alfred George Henry Lay (1869-1958) Class Matters

Regenia Gagnier’s commemorative storytellers narrative, ‘Such texts read like travelogs by tourists in their own land- typically transients or southerners. With minimal self-consciousness, they preserve memories of a way of life that is changing or has already ceased to be, the social exotic, or sociohistorical heterogeneity of their own country’ (Gaingner, 1987, 348) best fits Alfred’s diary.

              Alfred’s diary entries are stories of change and adventure that are driven by events that happen in his life. The first entry ‘Adventure’ follows Alfred and his mate on a journey around London in order to find a steam launch to purchase. They are after a change of profession and have worked hard to afford a new vessel. However, their voyage back to Grimsby is one that is difficult and almost ends in them losing their new ship.

G Wilson (19th century) – Fishing boats and other vessels at dawn.

              The second entry entails Alfred’s journey to America and what happens to him whilst he is there. He has left a place that he has known his entire life in search of something that is both new and frightening. Whilst on this journey Alfred must overcome many obstacles such as homelessness and starvation. Not only is this entry about a change of location, it is about the changes he must make as a person. He is no longer an apprentice under his masters charge but is out in the world where he has to make his own decisions, whether they be right or wrong, and he must suffer the consequences.

              The third and fourth entries in his diary detail his time upon his fishing vessel, the ‘Vampire’. The changes on this voyage are on a much smaller scale to those of the previous entries. Instead of Alfred changing as a person, the location changing or his profession changing, it is about the changing of the environment around him. ‘Year ago we could not get but little fish in the daytime but now thing is changing this trip we cannot git so much fish in the dark as in daylight’ (32). These entries talk about the difficulties he goes through in order to make a living and provide for himself and his family.

              None of the diaries are connected by an interlocking narrative. They are there own stories that set place in a different place and on a different vessel to the others. The order in which they are collected suggests that they are unorganised similar to that of Alfred’s life. From these diary entries we get the impression that Alfred very rarely planned what to do and would follow life wherever it took him.

              I think by Alfred writing his diary and recollecting on events that have happened it would illuminate him to how hard it is for the working-class people to make a living a prosper. Through these entries he must overcome many obstacles to get himself into the position he wants to be in. This goes for many working-class people, they have to work incredibly hard in order to survive and earn a living.


Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies, 30.3 (1987), 335-363.

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