Leslie John Robinson (b.1929): Life Writing, Class & Identity

Perhaps unsurprisingly the six types of autobiographical working class writing theorised in Regenia Gagnier’s ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ do not apply to my writer’s autobiography. The obvious reason being that Leslie Robinson’s autobiography is not a 19th century text, and immediately fails the entrance criteria for Gagnier’s theory. Unlike the majority of working class biographies made available on the Burnett Archive, Leslie Robinson not only grew up outside of the 19th Century, he was in fact born 29 years after it’s end.

The second reason is that even if one ignores that basic issue, Leslie’s writing does not seem to obviously fit with any of Gagnier’s types of working class autobiography. It is not unfair to state that Leslie’s autobiography is rather more ‘simple’ than the types of work Gangier makes reference to. As i have previously discussed in my article on Leslie’s intended audience, it is not a work which aims to criticise or seriously discuss working class life or society. Leslie’s aim is simply to inform his grand children and any other interested relatives of his life in an interesting manner, hence it’s subtitle ‘The Life and Times of Robbie’.

Leslie’s autobiography is an extremely useful work for anybody who wishes to gain insight into the lives of the working classes in Liverpool during the Blitzkrieg, or to understand life of army servicemen following the conclusion of World War 2. What his autobiography is certainly not is a critique of working class life.

As Leslie’s life goes on there is a definite sense of class mobility, and he is a prime example of a man who moved from the breadline to a more comfortable living through hard work and determination. Leslie does not address this point himself for reasons already mentioned, but i dare say if one were to ask Leslie he would not deny that he experienced a positive financial change from his “nomadic” (p.26) childhood. Leslie ends up starting his own business, and despite it’s eventual failure to economic hardships, he undergoes a huge upwards class movement.

There was an obvious effort from Leslie to create an autobiography which would make for interesting reading. I doubt it ever crossed his mind that it would be analysed in this way, and it shows. ‘One Step at a Time’ is not an autobiography for theoretical discussion, it is a brilliant and entertaining insight into the life of a working class child of the 20th century.

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