Stephen Forsdick (b.1835): Purpose & Audience

To my dear daughter whose untiring efforts in assisting me in getting the scattered pages of my life’s history into readable shape and who is so lovingly caring for me.

Stephen Forsdick’s memoirs were written in the year 1910, by which time he would have been seventy – five. According to the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, Stephen died in 1927, so this could indicate that Stephen felt this was a necessary time to record his rich and exciting memories of adventure and travel for what seemed to be originally for his family, ‘as my life is drawing to its close, this volume is most affectionately dedicated.’ (p, 1)

A typical Nebraska farmhouse, similar to what Stephen’s daughter’s will have looked like.

As the opening dedication explains, Stephen’s daughter had encouraged him to transcribe his recollections of childhood, labour, travel, religion and relationships, all major themes throughout his memoirs. Although it is unclear whether Stephen ever expected his memoirs to be published, or whether he expected them to have any influence, it is worth exploring the idea that he could have intended to publicise certain events that happened in his life for future readers. For example, as Stephen talks about his time as a Mormon, he takes a moment in his memoirs to reflect and possibly expose the reality of his experiences: ‘I consider the Mormon people a kind hearted and generous class… I have lived long enough… There is good to be found in all churches and good and bad in all of them.’ (p, 35) As Stephen spends a lot of time recalling conflict between Presidents of certain Mormon Conferences while in America, this reiterates the idea that he may have felt it was necessary to make his family or even the public aware of what really occurred in the Mormon community.

Another theme similar to this one, is Stephen’s experience of class. Stephen had a rather tense experience of attitudes towards class when he returned to England in the 1860s after the American Civil War had broken out. On his return, Stephen began working at the Parcel’s Department in Birmingham, were he became aware that his peers were earning more wages while doing the same job: ‘I told Mr. Apted, the clerk in charge, that if I could not have the same pay, that the other man was getting I would not stay… That was hardly enough to live on.’ (p, 56) After this experience, his anger at inequality in Victorian England was only emphasised when he encountered a rude occurrence with an elite member of the society: ‘There was a train coming… I called for him to get out of my way, but he paid no attention to me and in my passing him, I ran against him… He immediately reported me.’ (p, 56) Stephen states that after this, ‘we decided that we had enough of England’ (p, 56) and he and his family returned to the United States promptly. Again, Stephen feels strongly about this issue from the time he spends explaining how it made him feel, so this could be another form of motivation that encouraged him to write his memoir.

Regenia Gagnier explains how many working–class autobiographers of this period felt it was necessary to exploit the issue of class in their memoirs: ‘what is commonly called bourgeois subjectivity was the dominant ideology in nineteenth – century Britain, and working – class writers could not help but confront it.’(Gagnier, p343) It appears this is precisely what Stephen is intending to do by confronting the attitudes he has encountered from upper–class members of society.

Illustration of Birmingham’s arrival and departure station, the gentleman’s carriage to the left where Stephen will have had his encounter.

At the time Stephen was born, in 1835, Jonathan Rose points out that ‘there was an exponential leap in the production and consumption of books and periodicals, when reading became a daily habit’ (Rose, p48). As Stephen was particularly literate, writing was important to not only himself but also his children, as his daughter also felt this was important to document. Stephen also conveys a sense of regional pride throughout his memoirs, particularly in relation to his final home in Nebraska. Ashton and Roberts argue that the importance of ‘regional identity and community pride’ (The Victorian Working–Class Writer, p5) is echoed through all working–class autobiographies. Stephen perhaps intended his local Mormon community to read his adventures.

We can only speculate whether Stephen hoped to publish his reminiscences or whether it was simply just written for his daughter who cared for him towards the end of his life. If she was his intended audience, I am sure Stephen’s daughter cherished the extensive detail, time and thought that went into the 67 pages of his ‘Untitled’ memoir.

Bibliography:
  • Forsdick, Stephen. ‘Untitled’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1.242a  http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10884
  • Ashton, Owen and Roberts, Stephen, The Victorian Working – Class Writer, (Mansell Publishing Limited: London, 1999)
  • Gagnier, Regenia. Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender, Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363
  • Rose, Jonathan, Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences. Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47-70
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