“History should be telling about the lives of tidy, ordinary folk pegging away as they always have done; folk like you and me, and her and him, making history” (2).
This quote from ‘Lee Side’ shows that Joe is highly conscious about the process of writing an autobiography and is aware that it goes hand in hand with ‘writing history’. Joe believes that he and others are often disregarded in history, so through his memoir, he wishes to fairly represent the voices of working-class people and feels it is his duty to write these ‘ordinary’ people into history, to prove that they do work hard and are just as important.
As well as being a voice for those who haven’t been heard, a significant motive for Joe to write his memoir was to share his love and fondness for the town of Leigh, as he tells us “This is my story about Leigh familiar and where I grew up” (8). (Read more in ‘Habits, Culture & Beliefs’) Also, his memoir is entitled ‘Lee Side’, which alters the spelling of Leigh but sounds the same, suggests that the years spent in Leigh before he moved at the age of seventeen for joiner work were a different ‘side’ of his life, perhaps a ‘sunny’ side. Joe plays on this idea further in the final page of his memoir as he writes “I was moving out further and further from the lee-side of my life – from the safer waters of my youth in Leigh – the place I was born and bred” (196), which emphasises this idea of separate sides of his life. Not only does Joe revolve most of his memoir around experiences and memories that took place in Leigh, he even includes a glossary at the end of his memoir which details “A few of the Leigh and district dialect words and terse phrases I like” (198), which adds an interesting, humorous element to his memoir.
Regenia Gagnier writes in her article ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender’ “Most working-class autobiographies begin not with a family lineage or a birthdate but rather with an apology for their authors’ ordinariness” (1987, 338). This finding is difficult to apply to Joe’s memoir because Joe does not justify why he’s writing nor gives an apology of ordinariness. Instead, he simply states, “What I chose to tell is a bit like looking back on holidays and mostly remembering the best times” (8). This absent apology and therefore confidence in the value of his memoir is perhaps due to the time Joe was writing. His memoir was published in 1987, so the stigma surrounding working-class autobiographies as useless and insignificant was much less prominent at this time, which enabled Joe to write freely. Things have certainly moved on from when Virginia Woolf said in her lecture ‘The Leaning Tower’, “Take away all the working class has given to English literature and that literature would scarcely suffer” (Dusinberre, 1997, 220).
The style in which Joe writes and the content of his memoir strongly suggests that he also wrote it simply for his own pleasure and amusement. Aware of the literary skills he possesses, he finds pleasure in recollecting “the first twenty years of my life” (2) and with no reservations, purely writes a memoir with the intention to detail “the good times, the pleasant times, the reet and gradely folk I am proud to have known, lived and worked with” (8).
Who did Joe write ‘Lee Side’ for then? The fact that Joe’s memoir appears unrestricted in any way suggests that he is not writing for a specific audience but aiming more at a general readership. His memoir however was published in The Leigh Journal in 1983 and 1985 so was shared with an audience who would be highly interested in his work. In addition, his aim is not only to inform a general reader about working class history and his life, but also to entertain them. He writes his life as more of a story, talking about experiences with extensive detail but also explaining how they made him feel, which gives Joe the relatability and depth similar to that of a character in a novel.
The end of ‘Lee Side’ reinforces the notion that Joe’s memoir is similar to a story as the final line is a cliché cliff hanger, a device typically used in creative works of fiction. He writes “Heading as a journeyman-joiner ‘up the country’ through England Wales and Scotland – towards the real adventures, commitments, comradeship and testing-times awaiting me” (197). This entices the reader and makes them want to know what ventures Joe undertook in the years that succeed his memoir.
‘Joe Loftus’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:484
Loftus, Joe. ‘Lee Side’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:484.
Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363.
Dusinberre, J. Virginia Woolf’s renaissance: Woman reader or common reader? Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 1997.
“A typical working class family, 1940’s” www.historywebsite.co.uk Web Accessed 13/01/2017 http://www.historywebsite.co.uk/articles/Darlaston/War.htm
“Photograph of Virginia Woolf, 1927” www.wikapedia.co.uk Web Accessed 13/01/2017 https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Virginia_Woolf
“Joiners at work in their shop, Sunderland, 1948” www.flickr.com Web Accessed 13/01/2017 https://www.flickr.com/photos/twm_news/15985038968