Percy Vere (H.V.Smith) (b.1913): Reading and (Life) Writing

Percy does not focus on the reading or writing very much at all within his memoir , similarly to Edward S. Humphries. However, unlike Edward, it was not due to any learning disabilities. Infact, as mentioned in previous posts (Childhood and Education), Percy seemed to excel within school and was proud of this fact.

I went to school at five years of age, and progressed to standard seven, which was top of the class in those days, at fourteen years of age. (Vere, 1)

Despite next to no mention of reading or writing in his autobiography, I have still ventured to include this post in my blog. I believe that the simple life writing of Percy’s memoir speaks volumes within itself.

A typewriter similar to the one Percy wrote his memoir on, in the 1980s

He tells his story at the age of 71 with the aid of a type writer and a biro pen. After numerous strokes, his arms and hands were debilitated so it still must have been a struggle for him. Yet still his story is engaging and interesting for readers. Whilst quite a bit briefer than most of the other autobiographies in the Burnett Archives (e.g. Walter John Eugene Elliot). It still carries so much information and detail about working class life in the early to mid 19th century. It speaks of his determination to have his own story told among the vast population of the working class. Percy measured his life by the labour that he undertook. It was integral to how he defined himself, thus the entirety of his life writings is mostly focused on this with little mention of what Percy did in his free time in the evenings.

Looking toward the book Proletarian Nights (Night of Labour) by Jacque Ranciere, a book that examines how the working class spent their free time and how they expressed their creativity. It’s made up of a series of paraphrasing, quotations and summaries of workers writing that makes up the history.

The necessity of working made me realise that I, deprived of wealth, had to renounce knowledge, happiness. (Ranciere, 2012, p.101)

Possibly, Percys little mention of reading or writing after his childhood is because he was not able to afford the luxuries of purchasing books in his younger years thus never

Book cover for Proleterian Nights by Jacques Ranciere

acquired a thirst for knowledge. Obviously evening was the only time in which the working class had any free time and Ranciere views the evening as a time of dreams and creativity. Whilst Percy may have chosen to do other, less creative, things in his spare time such as spending time with his family. We also know that Percy did have his own creative side, not just from the writing of his memoir but also from his mention of oil painting in the winter. It is also interesting to note that Percy allows himself to get creative by writing his memoir in the twilight of his life, just as the twilight of the working day allowed the working class to dream and create.




Works cited:

Vere, Percy, The Autobiography of a Working Man , Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:783

Rancière, J. and Ranciere, J. (2012) Proletarian nights: The workers’ dream in nineteenth-century France. New York: Verso Books.

Ben Chance, Edward S. Humphries: Reading and Writing. Edward S. Humprhies (b.1889)


Proletarian Nights book cover: Verso books Last accessed: 13th March 2017

Type writer: Machines of Loving Grace Last accessed: 13th March 2017 

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