Right from the beginning of the memoir, C.V. Horner states that he decided to write it ‘At the request of [his] friends’ (0) and that he was persuaded to do so, rather than write the memoir of his own accord. In the same sentence, he also explains that the majority of his life was spent in Yorkshire—hence the title of his memoir—which seems to evoke a sense of unimportance, perhaps. Regina Gagnier notes that ‘[m]ost working-class autobiographies begin not with a family lineage or a birthdate but rather with an apology for their authors’ ordinariness’. (Gagnier, 1987, 338) This is the case with Horner, who laments that his handwriting is not what it used to be since he is ‘crippled with arthritis’, (0) and that the entire thing is written from memory. He also has doubts that his autobiography will even be published. Regardless, Horner clearly attempts to write his memoir the best he can, in the hopes that his friends ‘appreciate this late effort’. (0)
When detailing the memories of his youth, Horner refers to a variety of colourful characters in order to paint more of a picture for his readers, hoping that through those people ‘[his] readers might sense the atmosphere of West Witton at the turn of the century.’ (13) He continues this by reminiscing about the mentality of the working-class in his youth, referring to an old saying, ‘a “Yorkshireman calls a spade a spade”’, (13) explaining that there was no point in trying to fool anyone in the community, given the close-knit nature of it. Perhaps the sentiment felt by Horner is that the notion of a close-knit community is lost, or is at least not what it was. Joanna Bourke writes that community ‘is said to include elements of identification with a particular neighbourhood or street, a sense of shared perspectives, and reciprocal dependency’. (Bourke, 1994, 137) Horner demonstrates that this is indeed the case, as he goes on to explain.
This leads to Horner considering the differences between the working-class of his youth and that of today, in a fashion that some readers may interpret as a bit of a rant. His expression is as such:
The preoccupation of the working folk of my youth, was not how to acquire more and more worldly goods, but how to keep warm and fed from one pay pocket to the next. More important though was the fact that everyone helped their neighbours to exist too. […] The only standby a poor family had in times of crisis was goodwill and the only means of assuring this was by helping others in their ‘hour of need’. Today’s welfare state would have been looked upon as a land flowing with milk and honey by the elders of my youth. (13)
In spite of what may seem like a bitter tirade, Horner admits that Lloyd George’s old age pension was ‘the greatest God-Send to the working-classes for generations’, (13) and that despite society losing a great deal, it had gained a great deal more. On this particular note, Horner ends his initial chapter with ‘one cannot have a “rose without a thorn”.’ (13)
Regardless of the topic that he chooses to focus on, from his school days to his war service to his gamekeeping, Horner presents his memoir as an endless barrage of anecdotes, peppered with light-hearted humour to keep spirits raised. Though the tales come one after the other, and there are no details that seem to be left out, there is no sense of fatigue that arises from reading his life. The homely manner with which he writes keeps you engaged and, in my experience, keeps you wanting more.
After every single story has been penned, Horner expresses that he hopes has not ‘bored or offended too much’, (241) and as long as his readers have enjoyed reading as much as he has enjoyed writing, then ‘it will have been worthwhile.’ (241) Given everything that he has experienced and all the facets of his life, Horner leaves behind a message for those reading: ‘if there is a moral to be drawn from it all it must be that all forms of life have their compensations!’ (242) Through it all, Horner had never forgotten about his readers, and one wonders why he ever worried about his memoir not being published in the first place.
- Bourke, Joanna. Working-Class Cultures in Britain 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity. London: Routledge, 1994.
- Burnett, John, David Vincent and David Mayall. Ed. ‘C.V. Horner.’ The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945. 3 vols. Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989: 2:422.
- Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (Spring 1987): 335–363.