Edward Cain (1891-1978): Purpose And Audience

colliery map
Map of the collieries, most of which Edward Cain worked in at different stages in his life.

Edward Cain’s memoir is based on a tape-recording of Edward talking about his life. The memoir gives an insight to the working class life of a North East England family. In a way, the purpose of the memoir could be to educate as Cain offers detail about the Labour Party and the clashes between the trade unionists, workers and colliery owners during his lifetime.

Cain uses ‘I’ to show the narration of his memoir, putting himself back through the different life events that he is writing about. This also personalises the memoir showing the reader that the author is fully connected to the issues that he is sharing. According to Gagnier (1987) ‘These are the responses that workers produced when asked or compelled, for whatever reasons, to record their lives’ (pg 335)

The author touches on sensitive subjects from his past such as his father’s relationship with alcohol and violent behaviour around the family. The idea of an audience didn’t seem to determine what aspects of Cain’s life he shared. However, there is a lack of detail about his own family in later life, which may have been because they were still alive when the memoir was published (whereas most of his birth family had passed away) or that he was not comfortable discussing it in his memoir. His wife is only briefly mentioned once, when he says that he moved out of his family home to live with her and her parents who were salvationists (pg 5). Although he goes into a lot of detail about his family when he was younger, the lack of information about his wife may be due to it having no real relevance to the theme of the memoir, which ultimately was about mining life and what it was like to grow up in a mining family.

The way the memoir was written suggests that it was created towards Cain’s later life as he explain that his last date of work was in 1966 and he was awarded an MBE was in 1967 (making Edward Cain 75 years old at this time). Cain died later in 1974, at age 83.

The motivation for writing the memoir may have been to address his past and to share a detailed recollection of what his life was like as he grew up, the miner’s life he was destined for, and other work he went into after his political activities led to unemployment. But it may also have been to preserve the recollections that haunted him towards the end of his life. He recalls at the beginning of the memoir that his memory tends to ‘go back over the years’. (Pg 1)



Cain, Edward. ‘Memories’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:119

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian
 30.3 (1987): 335-363

Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas.  53. 1 (1992): 47-70

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