Written as a reflective memoir, Jack Vallance gives little away with regards to writing dates nor the intended audience he had in mind for his work. Instead, through his enthusiastic language, it is possible to denote his purpose for writing as a means by which to tell small anecdotal stories and show his knowledge of the railways on which he worked.
Writing in chapters, he titles only a few, summarising his stories with things such as ‘Childhood’ (1A) and ‘Embarrassing Moments’ (17/2). In doing so, it is possible to see his humorous writing style as a show of his easy-going character; and given his hardships with family, money and his career, this is applaudable. In turn, it becomes clear throughout the narrative that Jack’s intended audience is those who are interested in railway information and those technically-minded enough to comprehend his detailed writing and illustrations.
As Regina Gagnier’s offers in her ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity and Gender’, ‘With minimal self-consciousness, [working-class autobiographers] preserve memories of a way of life that is changing or has already ceased to be’ (1987, 348). This can be seen as a motive for Jack’s writing. Having drawn diagrams and written several pages worth of station information and amenities, he shows the historical value of the railways on which he worked and uses this reflection as an opportunity to highlight the changes that came with modernity and technology during the time that he was writing. Towards the latter part of the memoir he tells the reader that he was now ‘a member of a Railway Preservation Group, hoping to open the line between Matlock and Buxton’ (38), showing his ongoing enthusiasm towards his livelihood and his determination to restore and upkeep the legacy of the railway. As Gagnier concludes, while women’s autobiographies refer to family more frequently, ‘men refer more to their jobs or occupations’ (1987, 355). With this, his work-based narrative can be seen as a purpose within his writing. Intricate details he shares make the railway appear timeless and have the reader intrigued as to how much knowledge he actually had to share. Contrary to what Gagnier says about working-class autobiographers, his memoir was ‘an apology’ (1987, 338) for ‘ordinariness’ (1987, 338). Instead, he uses his writing as a way to show the importance of working-class narratives as he has experience that should be shared.
Therefore it is possible to see that the purpose of Jack’s writing was not to create a grand-narrative. Instead, it was an attempt to shed light on the life of the working-class, and he does this in a witty, humbling way. His writing has the ability to draw in a reader, concluding by excusing himself for not being ‘well versed in engine numbers…the only interest to me was the ability to…move traffic from A to B’ (40). However modest his final remarks, this memoir acts as an archival resource. In using the geographical facts, memories of war, and his career as a way to express factual information he manages to keep a lighthearted tone in order to remain both comic and educational.
‘Jack of all Grades’ in Burnett, John, David Mayall and David Vincent eds. The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1897, 1989). 2:780.Gagnier,
Regina. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity and Gender’. Victorian Studies. 30.3 (Spring 1987): 335-363.