“BEING 18 YEARS OLD AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS CENTURY I HAVE CLEAR MEMORIES OF THE LATER YEARS OF THE 19TH CENTURY AND THE FIRST 54 YEARS OF THIS ONE” (P.1)
It is clear that memoirs are written over time for many reasons. These typically include key events in history such as societal and cultural movements and revolutions, which help to consider and measure the progress made considering the subjects in question upon and within contemporary society. According to Regenia Gagnier (1987), it was typical for many working-class autobiographies to incorporate “remembered details of childhood, a confrontation with parents, a reassessment of the subject’s education” (p.344). For Peet’s memoir, the only fitting aspect of Gagnier’s claim was the inclusion of childhood memories.
Francis Peet’s memoir however does not stand out as being written for a sole purpose of a key historical event. Instead, Peet’s memoir is light-hearted throughout, and focuses mostly on the idea of his close-knit family, as well as his passion for carpentry, which again links to his family as his profession stemmed from that of his father. The deep love and connections felt towards and with his family members is clear and highlighted throughout Peet’s memoir. This is a key aspect of the shaping of Francis Peet’s happy and typically cheerful attitude towards life, constantly looking at the positives within his life.
Having later in his life got married and fathered two children, it could be considered that Francis Peet wrote his memoir for one reason as a way of providing his children with a way to bond with and reminisce upon his life, both together with him, and following his passing – as a way of keeping his memory and life experiences alive. Although Census records show Peet’s marital and fatherhood status, he himself never delves into great detail about his wife and children throughout his memoir, other than where it could be assumed he is referring to them at the beginning of the memoir, “I am still living in the house in which I was born” (p.1). In her works, Gagnier considers the social elements of working-class autobiographies, claiming that “men refer more to their jobs or occupations (their social status)” (p.355).
West Hertfordshire Highstreet, 1901.
Peet writes fondly and respectfully about working-class families and individuals throughout his memoir, with having been born and growing up in the same environment. Peet is consistent throughout the memoir in referring to fond memories of his workdays before his retirement. Despite having written the memoir several years before his passing, Francis goes into extremely little detail of his experiences within his life throughout retirement. He very briefly at the beginning of his memoir, mentions his time away in the Army over the course of three years between 1914-1918 during the First World War, stating that he “was not away from the Green for a longer interval than eight months” (p.1). Peet does not refer much back to the war throughout the memoir, other than at the end where he reminisces on his lost friends who fought away in the First World War, “nearly every one of those names are on that stone I knew personally and of many heard their ideas and ambitions” (p.19). The incorporation of war writing within memoirs is important to social and historical context as, according to “Memory seems always a clear window on the nature of reality, one opened by the hand of the war writer” (p.242).
551 PEET, Francis Alfred, ‘Recollections’, TS, pp.19 (c.10,000 words). Brunel University Library.
Burnett, John ed. Useful Toil: Autobiographies of Working People from the 1820s to the 1920s London: Routledge, 1994.
Smith, Leonard V. ‘Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory: Twenty-five Years Later. History and Theory. 40 (May 2001): 241-260
Image: West Hertfordshire Highstreet, 1901. Retrieved at: https://www.ourhertfordandware.org.uk/content/places/ware-places/high-street-ware-1911-part-2 [Accessed: 2nd May 2021].