Frank George Marling (1863-1954): Purpose and Audience

Frank George Marling, born on the 7th January 1863, introduces his memoirs with the accounts of his most vivid “recollections” (p.3). He discusses his parents “misfortunes” with keeping a home, as well as discussing the details of his family.

‘Spa Grounds, Gloucester’, Edward Smith (1820-1823), Museum of Gloucester, c.1875.

Frank’s memoirs were written towards the later years of his life from the age of 66 (Burnett, 1984). The memoirs include two parts, with the second appearing to have a different handwriting. This suggests that he came back to his memoirs much later in his life. A heart-breaking account of the death of Frank’s younger brother, Percy, is included at the beginning of Frank’s memoirs. Percy, who was aged only “one year and eleven months” (p.18), died on the 7th March 1867. This was because of an accident involving scissors, which caused him to bleed “profusely” (p.17).

The nearest skilled assistance was a Chemist not many yards away […] before a Doctor could be obtained the poor little child had bled to death […] This was a great blow to my mother and a terrible shock to my father when he arrived home not long after […] Years afterward, I used to lie awake at night and wish oh so much, that I had my brother Percy […] (p.18).

Having to deal with his younger brother’s death at such a young age would have caused a great trauma to Frank as a child. As John Burnett writes, “[…] the majority of earliest memories […] are of an unhappy experience, often of an accident, shock or trauma.” (1994, p.5). The death of his brother was an upsetting account to read, and so forms the deepest and earliest memories of Frank’s life. It seems as though Frank wanted to write about such events so that his brother may never be forgotten, and to open up about the difficulties of loss he had to deal with as a child.

This account of his brother’s death allows us to understand how Frank and his family grieved and dealt with loss at the time. David Vincent argues that many autobiographers did not express much grief in their writing over the loss of a loved one (1980, pp.226-9). However, Frank’s account of his emotions as a child towards the loss of his sibling explains otherwise. This is very interesting because Vincent describes the ability to articulate emotions as “a rare” find in autobiographies (1980, p.228).

Frank does not make it clear as to why he decided to write his memoirs, nor does he state the audience intended. Nevertheless, through reading his memoirs, it appears that Frank intended to write for his family and for himself.

A photo of Frank and his wife, Sarah

The purpose of writing a memoir is to capture memories and to keep a record for future generations so that a person’s life and family history can never be forgotten. Other purposes may be to reflect or to reminisce about times that have passed. Frank appears to be both reminiscing about his younger self and recording his memories for future generations. His writing suggests that he wanted to write about every memory he had about his childhood, good or bad.

Before his memoirs begin, a family lineage is included with the details of Frank’s parents and their children, followed by the details of Frank’s own wife and children. It is clear that family is the most important to Frank. Therefore, I can only assume that Frank intended to write his memoirs to record his own family history as well as his childhood memories.

The first page of Frank’s memoirs; his family lineage.

As discussed in my introductory blog, Frank writes largely about his childhood years and growing up in Berkeley, Gloucester. His tone of writing appears to be nostalgic when writing about his childhood and school days. The vivid and lengthy details that Frank gives about his childhood and school days signify his need to reconnect or simply reminisce about his younger days: “childhood is clearly seen as important – perhaps the most important phase of development – a time when identity and personality are formed […]” (Burnett, 1994, p.3).

When discussing a time when he was ten years old, Frank provides information of his age as he writes the later parts of his memoirs: “I am speaking, of course, as things were then 60 years ago not as they are now” (p.73). This shows how he is reflecting and looking back on his life and comparing it to his later life.

‘The Mariner’s Sunday School’; William Holt Yates Titcomb (1858-1930), Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, 1897.

As Frank writes about his time teaching at a Sunday School, he discusses how fond he was teaching children and watching over them. His feelings about his own childhood are expressed here. Frank seems to be more connected with his childhood than with his later adult life: […] I always felt myself one with the children and it was ever a delight to talk to them and enter into their thoughts and feelings. I think it was because I had such a vivid recollection of my own thoughts and ideas as a child that I felt so much at home with children and they with me (pp.160-61).

Sadly, as mentioned earlier, Frank’s memoirs are unfinished. The last pages of his memoirs tell the story about how he met his wife, referred to as Kate, who I later learned was Sarah Catherine (Barton, 2016). It is unknown why he did not get chance to finish his interesting and vivid recollections.

Frank does not explicitly state why he had chosen to write his memoirs. He writes largely about his childhood and schooling, and partly about his later occupations. There are also parts where he discusses memorable characters of Berkeley. It can only be assumed that Frank wished to write about a part of his life that he felt the most connected to. It is uncertain that Frank would have written more about his later life if he had managed to finish his memoirs, but his choice to write largely about his childhood reflects the importance of that time in his life.

Read more about Frank in my next post: ‘Home and Family’.


  • Barton, R. (2016). ‘Frank George Marling’. Btsarnia. [online]. Available at: (Accessed: 01/03/18).
  • Burnett, J. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education and Family from the 1820s to the 1920s. London: Routledge, 1994.
  • ‘Frank George Marling’ in Burnett, John, David Vincent, David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945. 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989)
  • Marling, Frank George. ‘Reminiscences’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. Brunel University Library. Special Collection, 1:492.
  • Rose, J. ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences. Journal of the History of Ideas. (Jan-Mar, 1992). 53(1), pp.47-70.
  • Vincent, D. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class’. Social History. (May, 1980). 5(2), pp.223-47.

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