George Clifton Hughes (b.c 1911): Life Writing, Class & Identity

Shut the Mountain Gate is a satirical, yet informative outlook on George Clifton Hughes’s life in the working-class, mining village of Rhosllanerchrugog.  In Regenia Gagnier’s paper ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender’, she pinpoints six different forms of writing in relation to working-class autobiographies and memoirs.  I have therefore attempted to categorize George Clifton Hughes’s writing to fit into one or more of Gagnier’s narrative models.

Having looked at Regenia Gagnier’s explanation of narrative forms, I believe Hughes’s memoir fits into the ‘commemorative storytellers’ model.  Gagnier describes this type of memoir as a text that reads ‘like travelogs by tourists in their own land…’[1]  Hughes’s writing fits well into this form as the majority of the memoir reflects on his childhood misbehaviour, playground adventures and events such as his trip to see the first ever FA Cup final at Wembley stadium in London in 1923.  During this section, the reader is able to grasp the euphoria surrounding the event and how excited the village was as a whole.  ‘Jack had planned the departure time as midnight in a special coach from Rhos G.W.R station.  This in itself was thrilling.  All the village would be fast asleep except for the individual knots of twos and threes, accompanied by well wishers seeing us off on this adventure…’ (87)   Gagnier’s descriptions do, in my opinion, undermine Hughes’s work.  The memoirs do fit into these models; however Hughes’s writing is not simply driven by nostalgia.

The Bolton Wanderers squad before the FA Cup Final in 1923 -
The Bolton Wanderers squad before the FA Cup Final in 1923 –

‘There are no distinctive autobiographical subjects apart from the continuous life of the village, farm or crafts-mystery, and no Other but the future that will end this way of life.’ (Gagnier, 348-9) This description is accurate in the sense that Hughes does continually look at local subjects such as the schools, pubs and churches.  However, this should not be viewed in a particularly negative way, as it is interesting to learn of his local area.  He looks at his hometown and his life in the village of Rhos; however he does look at how his village dealt with bigger issues such as the First World War.  This opens his work up to a broader audience as people are able to relate to the pain the village felt during the war.

Charlie Chaplin -
Charlie Chaplin –

Gagnier also describes this form of work as ‘unstructured’ and ‘thematically arbitrary’, which is again accurate as the sections in Hughes’s memoirs do jump from one topic to another which could seem completely unrelated.  Hughes begins his memoirs by looking at his early education in Ponciau Infant and Junior school.  However he then moves on to the First World War before completely changing the genre of his work to discuss ‘The Silents’, which describes the rise in popularity of silent films in the surrounding area.  This suggests that there is no particular structure, but he was simply writing what he felt to be important to his hometown.  Silent films were incredibly popular at that time and produced satire at a time when the working-classes needed to be lifted.  Despite there not being a strong link between the sections, it does not affect the memoirs negatively.  The lack of structure should not be viewed in a negative way as this form of writing in this case is useful as the reader does not know what to expect next, but can always look forward to a variety of topics throughout his memoirs.

I believe Hughes intended to give an identity to the village of Rhos in his work, as opposed to individual identity.  He is proud of his upbringing and gives a fascinatingly in depth account of life in an area driven by the coal mining industry.  His memoirs do focus on specific events and adventures; and in particular humorous events.  However, this does not detract from his style of writing as the satire behind his style makes his work even more worthwhile.  His education was important to him and will be interesting to any reader as he was schooled during a period of reform.

It is a memoir filled with recognition of other people’s contributions to his life.  He is grateful to so many for their guidance, particularly his teachers.  Hughes talks of other people’s occupations and the hardship that surrounded other people, but not himself.  His memoirs reflect his feeling of gratitude towards these people and events that shaped him as a man; and this makes his work appealing to people of all ages and social classes.

[1] Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies, 30. 3 (1987), p.348

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