In his opening paragraph, Thomas Raymont establishes the reason for writing a memoir as a means to illustrate ‘the social changes which I have witnessed’, and how he manages to break free from his working class roots. Thomas was lucky not leading a life of labour like the majority of the working class were restricted to, therefore he uses the opportunity to inform the reader his journey from a young pupil to a retired author/lecturer proving the importance of education.
One aspect of the opening paragraph I found intriguing is that he believes the story of his life to be of ‘little importance’ and instead chooses to focus on social changes he experiences. This appears to be common in memoirs of the time. Regenia Gagnier notices this trend commenting how: ‘Most working class autobiographies begin not with a family lineage or a birthdate but rather with an apology for their authors’ ordinariness’.(338) But it is curious why he feels that way when his life is filled with experiences not many working class would have had; anybody from his background would not have had the financial means to get one book published let alone four, which gave him ‘a standing…in the educational world’(16) due to its commercial success and length of popularity.
In the final chapter, Thomas becomes aware of his own mortality and that ‘the end is inevitable’(19), a depressing note to end on compared to the light-hearted tone of the rest of his memoir. Irrespective of this, he does offer some kind of advice for the reader by reciting a quote from author, Katherine Mansfield:
‘Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy: you can’t build upon it; it’s only good for wallowing in.’(19)
Whilst this indicates that he is a man filled with regrets, there is no evidence of what it could be from the text. This suggests he has chosen to exclude some information, but for what purpose? He establishes that he writes for his friends in addition to a larger audience therefore it may be to avoid revealing too much of himself and still keep a private life.
Thomas does not disclose much information about his experiences as a husband and father, only dedicating a single paragraph to the duration of his two marriages and status of his children before returning to ‘my account of my professional career.’(15) The lack of emotional content could be linked to either not wanting to dwell on a distressing past with the death of his first wife and two sons, or due to wanting his account to focus on his professional accomplishments – the publication of four academic books – some more successful than others which he takes great pride in. Therefore the life of Thomas Raymont mostly remains a secret. With no indication of the type of person he was, the reader is simply left with an insight into the British schooling system and how it has shaped his life.
Thomas Raymont. Memories of an Octogenarian 1864-1949. Found at The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, at Brunel University.
Regenia Gagnier. Working Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender. Found at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3828397
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