Claude Robinson’s memoir depicts his life as a teacher and more broadly ‘the history of the school’ in the town of Jarrow between the 1920s and 1960s. It seems to have been written to record the teacher’s experiences as a factual retelling of those times, serving as a way for Robinson to clear up any clear misconceptions on the state of the education system during that period. Robinson’s professional narrative voice, calculated vocabulary and meticulously organised structuring suggest that he anticipated the memoir’s use as a historical document and prepared for this eventuality rather than indulging in his own nostalgia when writing it. Thus, certain elements of Claude Robinson’s existence, such as his personal life and family, are almost entirely omitted from the narrative for the sake of a purely efficient recounting of events, and when they are given reference it is because they have a function in the narrative. Robinson is almost robotically faithful to his intended readership of historians, scholars and students, as the preservation of history dwarfs all other aspects of the autobiography.
Near the beginning of the memoir, he recalls the words of a friend, a former Jarrow Councillor, that he met up with in 1974, ‘an incident that belongs at the end of my story’ (pg.4): “I think my forty years in public life have all been a waste of time”. This ‘sad’ statement is highlighted by Robinson as an example to the reader, implying that during the years the memoir explores, numerous things went wrong in the town of Jarrow politically and socially, and their effects were still being felt close to the time of writing. By inserting the melancholy words of his ‘old socialist friend’ (who was involved in the Jarrow March of 1936) at the apex of his narrative, a degree of gravity is applied to the words that follow this more recent snippet, as Robinson wishes to emphasise how the events he plans to disclose are still relevant, and how the wounds that manifested because of them are still fresh. This social encounter has a purpose in the narrative, like everything else that is included in the memoir by Robinson; he is not merely remembering, he weighs the significance of events before deciding whether the reader will benefit from knowing about them.
Robinson states early on that, ‘the history of the school which I propose to recount, must be judged’ (pg.3), implying that context from the future reader is required to fully make use of his chronicling of history – we must judge for ourselves the state of the present when given such a precise observation of the past. The memoir, entitled These We Have Loved, was published in 1982, and even late in his life it is clear that Robinson was still disillusioned with the education system he had such a passion for, explaining that he hopes that this memoir can explain ‘all the causes of our present discontents’ (pg.4). His attentiveness to the present state of schooling, as well as how it was when he was a headmaster, gives the text a unique dimension of comparison that is different from other memoirs, because whilst reminiscence is a natural reaction when reading such a historic text it is not necessarily encouraged by the writer. Claude Robinson seeks to provide an explanation for affairs at the time of writing by venturing back into his illustrious career as a teacher – he was not willing to let any of his personal feelings obscure the truth of his many years in education. Robinson forsakes much of his individuality for the purpose of authenticity and reliability, an admirable and selfless sacrifice that has certainly achieved what it set out to do.
Robinson, C. (1982) These We Have Loved