Regenia Gagnier argues that 19th Century working-class autobiographies did not fit the classic model for autobiographical writing. I think that two of the types of working-class autobiographies that Gagnier identify relate to Emanuel Lovekin’s autobiography. One that I believe is appropriate for Lovekin is her definition of the conversion narrative.
The conversion narrative suggests that they ‘emphasise moral failings prior to religious conversion. Religious calling or turning is pivotal event in memoir.’ Although Emanuel always had a strong religious faith throughout his memoir, his faith towards God becomes even more apparent towards the end of his autobiography. This may have been because he was reflecting on his life, his family and his success through hard work and determination. His reflection allowed him to refer to God to help grant him and his family protection and to be rewarded in the after life. It can be understood that perhaps Emanuel did work hard in order to feel secure within his faith that he would be rewarded. However it is not until the end when he says ‘Don’t set out very much to any meeting, still I am not cast down but feel happy and hopefull that God will bless me to the end’ that we understand that the religious calling was pivotal not only in his memoir but also his life. However the conversion narrative is also described to be very confessional which I do not believe Emanuel’s was. When he was confessional over an event which he did not want to discuss, however, he did repeat his faith with God and how he knows that God does forgive him for all that he had sinned.
Another type of autobiography that Emanuel may identify with was Gagnier’s political narratives. These are usually written by activists or those with strong political views. Although Emanuel’s memoir is not centred around his involvement with politics, he does mention how he actively played a role in the Chartism movement as a local secretary. Gagnier refers to those who write political narratives as people who ‘assume the authority to write their own working-class history in order to ensure the subjecthood of working-class autobiography in the future.’ I understand that Emanuel Lovekin did not write his memoir in order to educate but instead because he felt proud of all that he achieved as a working class man. I believe that he wanted to write about his involvement with the Chartists to suggest that a change does need to happen but with hard work and determination, being a working class person does not mean that it should hinder their chances of becoming successful.
Both the conversion narrative and political narrative do take a big part in shaping Lovekin’s memoir. They both represent who he was as a person and what he stood up for. He was very religious which is evident through his active part in Sunday school’s and his constant referral to God. He was also political which we can see through his involvement at the pottery riots in 1842. Although both the conversion narrative and political narratives were not always the main points to his memoir, they were still significant in understanding who he was as a working-class man.
Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies, 30. 3 (1987), 335-363
Lovekin, Emanuel. ‘Some notes of my life’, MS, pp.32 (c.7,000 words). Extract in J. Burnett (ed.), Useful Toil. Autobiographies of working people from the 1820s to the 1920s (Allen Lane, London, 1974), pp.290-6.