Leslie John Robinson (b.1929): Purpose and audience

Leslie Robinson specifically states that the motivation for writing his autobiography was to inform his family members of the life he had led up to that point, as opposed to simply a representative history.

“This book was written for a family, my family… With this book, I give my view of my life and times, not a history of the years in which I have lived but my impressions of them.” (Preface)

Upon completion of this autobiography Leslie was 54 years old, which explains why he had begun thinking of how future generations of his family would remember him.

Leslie points out that the opinions people have of each other can be extremely polarising and subjective, I get the impression that he wanted to set the record straight on who he was and what his life had been like, so as not to allow the opinions of others to cloud the judgement of his children and grandchildren. On opinions of who he is, he says:

“Ask twelve different people and there will probably be twelve different answers” (Preface)

Robinson makes a point of mentioning his son and daughter, as well as his newborn granddaughter, whom I believe could have been a catalyst for the penning of his autobiography. The birth of this next generation in his family may have brought him to the realisation that he might not get the chance to tell her about his life himself.

As a result of the autobiography being written with his children in mind, I’m fairly sure he has tempered his recollection of events. He even goes as far as pointing out himself that the autobiography is not designed to be “a history of the years in which I have lived, but an impression of them” (Preface). The one unfortunate consequence of this is that we may not get the level of openness that is so strived for with these working class autobiographies.

Compared to some of the other autobiographies in the collection which I looked at, this one strikes me as far more of a narrative and emotional work than most. While many of the autobiographies are little more than skeletal timelines of the writer’s life with a few conservative remarks about general life thrown in, Robinson’s autobiography feels like a work. It could be that this increased narrative tone was partially due to it being a relatively late publication, written during the 1980s, at a time when people were generally far more ready to talk about themselves and those around them more openly, compared to the comparatively conservative and withdrawn tone many of the autobiographies written early in the 20th century held.

I personally believe that his audience played a big role in the way it was written. I think it likely that  he wanted his granddaughter to read his autobiography in the same way she would an adventure story, and Robinson’s life (thanks to the way it is presented) certainly contains enough to be read by somebody not solely interested in working class writing. There are several amusing stories which do not necessarily add to an understanding of working class life in general, but that flesh out his life and as a result his personality. Such as when he finds a man who has broken into a school outbuilding on his patrol:

“I called out in the sternest voice I could muster, ‘right laddie out you come lets have a look at you.’ There was a short pause…. the voice was high and strained ‘what could you do if I belted ya and made a run for it?’ My reply, ‘are you trying to live dangerously?’” (p.174)

His autobiography certainly made me laugh many times, and Leslie appears as a character who while being a hard worker and sensible man, also doesn’t take himself or life too seriously.

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