Harry Dorrell (B.1903): Purpose and Audience

‘I do not want to die. I do not want to leave my loved and loving family and my secret life, secret to the end, when none but I will know those last quiet beats of the falling cadence of my life, and may I go gently into that good night.’ (161)

At the beginning of Harry Dorrell’s memoir there does not seem to be a clear audience or purpose except to relive and preserve the memories of his family. As the memoir goes on though, it gains more of a political viewpoint in terms of factory conditions and the General Strike of 1926. It seems that Harry wants to reveal the truth about these matters from someone who experienced it, rather than the events only being represented through the media and government. He says that the ‘despair and frustration’ (52) of the workers on strike ‘could only be experienced, not written about’ (52). This gives the idea that he feels no one really does understand what they went through, and never will. You can see the despair and pain as he talks of ‘what once happened to us.’ (52). He also seems to suggest that we need to use the ‘facts of history’ (52) to help build a better present; else the suffering of that experience was pointless.

The small section where he writes so passionately about the strikes and the pain of the men involved, really relates to the idea that history omits a lot of people’s opinions, and is, in general, not representative of a lot of social groups. This has a strong connection to the idea behind the Writing Lives project, in which we aim to give forgotten working class writers a chance to tell their stories.

Towards the end of the memoir the purpose seems to become a lot clearer, as he begins to talk about his depression and coming to the end of his life. Perhaps Harry wants to write about his past to show people, possibly his children, that he was not always weighed down by his sickness; to bring back to life and remember the person he was before ‘mental sickness was thrust upon’ (160) him. I think this memoir would show a side to him that perhaps his children, and maybe even wife, have never had the chance to see and maybe this his intention, to allow them to know that he was not just the depressed and angry man he had become as a result of his sickness. The memoir could also have been a way of him trying to come to the root of why he is depressed, or in a sense, where it went wrong for him.

I think towards the end his main purpose is to be remembered and to stay with his ‘loved and loving family’ (161) after he has gone. The quote at the beginning of this section, which is the final paragraph of his memoir, tries to explain this. He wants them to know who he was and understand him, so that the secrets and story of his life does not die with him.

Dorrell, Harry, ‘Falling Cadence: An autobiography of failure’, TS, pp.161 (c.97,000 words). Fragment published in the POEU Journal, Aug 1983. BruneI University Library. AWC- 2:0231


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