Fred Worrall (1890 – 1976): Life Writing, Class and Identity

The scholar Regina Gagnier, in her studies into 19th century working class life, argues that working class biographies follow six different types. She identifies:

  1.  The Conversion narrative (Narrative that focuses on religious conversion after a number of failings)
  2. The Gallows narrative (meditated narrative based on dying confessions of criminals under supervision of a chaplain, and as Gagnier says, ‘The narrative of the gallows tale, intended to warn and thus pacify the poor… But is equally formulaic.” Gagnier, 347)
  3. Commermorative storytellers (episodic and event driven, mostly used by unorganised, itinerant workers and travellers, described by Gagnier as being similar to ‘Travelogs’ Gagnier, 348)
  4. Political narrative (Majority written by activists, or people with strong political views, more associated with the industrial working class, highly structured and politically radical.)
  5. Confessions (Mostly a feminine category, sensationalist, whilst exploiting sexuality, lacks analysis and is profit driven but is episodic, written mainly for immediate profit.)
  6. Self-Examination (Introspective and focus on individual rather than collective identity, narrative self destruction and disintergration.)

When I applied Gagnier’s work to Fred Worrall’s memoir, I found that Fred’s memoir closely fits the self-examination model of working class biography, with also hints of commemorative storytelling. When I first began to analyse Fred’s memoir, I noticed his memoir was very well structured, and was episodic in the sense that Fred’s memoir was event driven; after starting his memoir slowly by documenting his early life, Fred drives his memoir by switching from one event to the other; from his first job in the Great Northern Railway Office, to his solicitors job, to his time fighting in World War One. Despite Fred following a standard pattern in biography writing; writing in order of his life, his memoir does certainly follow the commemorative storytelling pattern of working class writing.

When examining Fred’s memoir in terms of following the Self-Examination narrative that Gagnier identified, I believe this model of working class biography writing does certainly fit Fred’s memoir and how he wrote it. In his memoir, although he speaks of other people, notably his family and friends and his comrades in the war, Fred does talk a lot about himself, and it does seem as if his memoir is very introspective. Despite not examining himself, like a playwright or scholar would do when writing a biography, Fred does reflect on his life and what he done. He uses I heavily throughout his memoir, and reflects heavily on key points in his life, for instance his time in France during World War One. He reflects on the horrors of the trenches and the dangers of fighting, and recovering the bodies of his fellow soldiers, “I Remember after the first attack there was a heavy thunderstorm and after a few days the position was desperate, so many dead lying about and they asked for volunteers to bury them… This was a very unpleasant job especially if you knew the comrade.” (P. 4) Here, Fred reflects on his experience of burying bodies during the war, and we, as the reader, are seeing it was a task he did not enjoy and wishes he did not have to do, thus, through this example, I do believe Fred’s memoir is more of a self-examination than commemorative storytelling.

Although it does seem as if Fred’s memoir is a blend of different working class biography writing, whether the memoir is commemorative storytelling or self examination, the style of the memoir still tells us a lot about his lifestyle in the early 20th century. Through the commemorative story telling method, a method Gagnier identified to be more common with unorganised workers and travellers, Fred goes against this class orientated view of this way of writing, and instead, shows his lower middle class education; he writes it in a structured, time orientated way, detailing his life in terms of what year the key events happened in, and how they happened.

When looking at his memoir from a self examination point of view, again, this method also helps to highlight Fred’s way of writing. Through the self examination, I believe Fred has made a transition from working class to lower middle class, but he is oblivious of it. He recognises he has became better off than his parents were through his jobs and through his time of the war, but whether he was oblivious to it or not, I believe in his heart, he was working class, and from when he was born to when he died, he was always working class, but, he was able to make a transition from working class to lower middle class, and this is evident in his writing.

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