Thomas Raymont (1864-1949): Life Writing

Working-class memoirs act as an autobiography about a person’s life as they provide an account of their life. It goes without saying how the individual chooses to focus on particular aspects of their life whilst leaving out others; the common trend being to focus on their career whilst mentioning little about aspects of their personal life. The overall purpose of these memoirs were to ‘offer unique insights into the community and coherence of the individual’s life.’ (224).

In an article by Regenia Gagnier named ‘Social Atoms: Working-class Autobiography. Subjectivity, and Gender’, she poses the idea that working-class autobiographies ‘includes such elements as remembered details of childhood, a confrontation with parents, a reassessment of the subject’s education, a crisis, and a recovery or a discovery of a new self.’ (343). The combination of these elements ‘identifies the spiritual autobiography’ (344) usually beginning with beginning with a traumatic memory. Thomas is part of this tendency as he recollects the large quantity of deaths in his family, listing in order the age and cause of death of each sibling which could act as the ‘crisis’ of the text.

Thomas’ memoir on the whole lacks any form of emotional investment, in fact the only comment he offers on these deaths is the impact of younger sister Caroline had on his mother, ‘My mother never recovered from that loss, and even at an advance age would at time sit and weep at what ‘the good Lord’ had seen fit to call upon her to bear.’’ (2). Even after telling us this he still does not comment on what it was like to see his mother traumatized at this particular death. However, it must be remembered that these are not accounts by professional writers who are able to articulate a particular sense of feeling to a reader therefore ‘it is extremely difficult to form more than a very distant impression of its effect on them’. (242).

Returning to the elements Gagnier states are commonly featured in working-class autobiographies, Thomas fulfils the requirements to meet this observation mainly focusing on the ‘reassessment of the subject’s education’ considering the majority of his account focuses on the subject matter. Thomas is proud of the fact he has had a rich academic history which is why he devotes so much time to it causing other subject matters such as his family life, children etc to be portrayed as of less importance.

Considering these memoirs are written by the working-class it should be expected for there to be some inclusion of a description of what life was like written in reflection, considering how: ‘these autobiographies were founded on the assertion that the whole of working-class life, in all its mundane detail, was as real and as important as that of any other section of society’ (229) but Thomas does not give an insight into the mundane; he subverts expectations by providing the reader with a thorough account of a rich academic career distinguishing himself from the countless working class writers who focus on a life of labour.

 

Thomas Raymont. Memories of an Octogenarian 1864-1949. Found at The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, at Brunel University.

Regenia Gagnier. Working Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender. Found at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3828397

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