‘For me there was no prouder title, nothing I wanted more than to be a writing man’ – (190)
After a lifetime of work, Patrick McGeown chose to spend his retirement recollecting a life of love and labour. As readers, we are very fortunate as Heat the Furnace Seven Times More is published and therefore available for us to enjoy at our pleasure. As a man who was born with an innate talent for writing, one can understand why Patrick would take to writing when the demands of working life dissipated. However, it does raise the question of why Patrick chose to write an autobiography specifically and who his intended audience was.
It is evident from Patrick’s autobiography that he had no intentions of writing fiction stating ‘I had no interest in writing novel and no hope that I could ever do so, and very little interest in short story writing’ (190). But it is apparent that Patrick ‘liked to write articles…with less desire for deliberate study, and more for the sheer interest’ (190). One can suggest that Patrick’s focus on writing his own experiences stemmed from a piece he wrote for the BBC ‘about steel making in a heatwave’ (190) which he later recorded for radio. In writing about his working experiences, perhaps Patrick found comfort in telling his stories.
David Vincent argues that ‘autobiographers simply thought that the details of their [private] lives were not a matter of interest to their readership’ (Vincent, 1980, p.229) and therefore many working class memoirs lack detail. However, this is not the case when looking at Patrick’s writing. From boyhood into adulthood, from his parents to his own children, Patrick covers his whole life with the ups and downs. His memoir emanates his openness when reading it. Unlike many working-class autobiographies, Patrick takes great joy in sharing the details of his personal life. To share such specific details on his own experiences and those around him makes Patrick’s writing ever more alluring and immersive. One can argue that, due to Patrick’s age at the time of publishing, he decided to write his memoir as a token for his future generations. At the age of 69 perhaps Patrick saw his life winding down. He dedicates his autobiography to his wife Aileen. As a man who seemed to value family highly, it is apparent that he wrote his biography with the intention of one day his family sharing in his history. When looking at reviews of Heat the Furnace Seven Times More, it appears that Patrick’s partial intention was fulfilled:
‘Near 50 years after his death, to be reading my grand-father’s wonderful, evocative autobiography. What a natural writer he was, what an ordinary, noble life.’ (Amazon, 2017)This comment was left by one of Patrick’s grandchildren on Amazon in 2017. It appears that perhaps, until reading his autobiography, his grandchild did not know the story of his life in such depth.
In literature, the prominence of a title is often a factor that is overlooked. However, when looking at an autobiography, written by someone who bares all in the contents of their pages with honesty and candour, it is important to question why they chose a particular title to, essentially, summarise their life. When reading Patrick’s autobiography it is evident that labour plays a huge part in his life and this is reflected in its title. Patrick developed a passion for working in Britain’s furnaces. And so, his title aptly conveys this. Regenia Gagnier argues that, for working class writers, their autobiographers ‘reasons for writing are functional rather than aesthetic: to record lost experiences for future generations…to teach others’ (1987, 342). Published in 1967, the labour that Patrick valued so highly was becoming extinct. In his memoir Patrick details the changing in the furnace industry. The end of his memoir reads:
‘A steel melter was a somebody in the world of heavy industry. He still is and I hope he always will be’ (192).
One can argue that Patrick published his memoir with the intention of accounting a time quickly being forgotten- the time of the furnace men. His book goes into great detail about the dynamics of the Furnaces, so much so, that at times you find yourself wondering how someone could remember every minute detail of heat, sweat and slag. One can suggest that Patrick wrote his autobiography not only for himself an his family but for the underrepresented working men. In times where Britain’s steel industry is worlds apart from the days when Patrick …. His book acts as a beautifully articulate relic for people interested in the old ways of steel work.
Interestingly, religion also played a significant role in Patrick’s upbringing. Coming from an Irish Catholic household, the religious values that were instilled upon his as a child followed him through his life. The term ‘heat the furnace seven times more’ originates from the biblical tale of Daniel 3:19. Perhaps Patrick used this story as inspiration for his title due to the links within his own story. The symbol of the three men being bound and thrown into the fire may reflect how working class boys were often bound to a life of work and thrown to the furnaces at the earliest opportunity. Or perhaps it it acts as a message of hope, where if we stay true to our beliefs and values, like Patrick, we will emerge from the fires of life unharmed.
Overall it appears that Patrick wrote his autobiography as a passion project to give voice to the working men of Britain and pay homage to the shared experiences of the working class. And importantly, it appears, that his aims have been truly fulfilled.
493 MCGEOWN, Patrick, Heat the Furnace Seven Times More (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., London, 1967), pp.192. Other edn., with an introduction by Asa Briggs, Readers Union, London, 1968, pp.192.
MCGEOWN, Patrick, Heat the Furnace Seven Times More (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., London, 1967)
Gagnier, R. (1987). Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender. Victorian Studies, 30(3), 335-363. www.jstor.org/stable/3828397
Vincent, D. (1980). Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class. Social History, 5.2, pp. 223-247.
Maureen, O.R. (2017). Daniel 3 – New International Version NIV Dramatized Audio Bible. YouTube.
Image 1: Photograph of a man typing on a typewriter. Retrieved from: https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/videos/man-typewriter