Arthur speaks about the influence of reading and writing on his life at varies times throughout his memoir. Being from a middle class background, his access to education meant Jacobs would be very literate , with writing the primary form of communication when he could not meet with a person face to face.
Jacobs first speaks about reading a writing within the chapter, ‘Education’. School would be the place where Arthur was properly introduced and taught to understand literature, however not all children had this luxury. In 1900, children were legally viewed as ‘little adults’, meaning they were expected to work if they were from poorer families. A 1900 survey into child labour in London showed 25% of all children aged 5-13 had part time jobs or worked. However this would not have been the case for Arthur. Being from a middle class background would have meant that his parents would have paid for his schooling to ensure a successful career in the future.
Jacobs comments on how be became ‘letter minded at a very early age’ (40), with letters for him being an, ‘object of desire’ (40). He tells the amusing story of loving letters and postcards that much, he would steal his parents ones, which he got in trouble for so would try to persuade his family to, ‘put my name on their mailing lists (40)’, while making sure he was in the vicinity of the letter box when the mail came through to grab them. Despite himself only being able to manage an ‘occasional, hand-guided, pencilled “Thank-You” message’ (41) when writing himself, it shows to us Jacobs had a good understanding of letters and writing from a young age. This gives us as readers an insight into his middle class background, and his interests as a child.
Not only letters, but he also talks about the impact that poetry had on him throughout school. In junior school, he remembers being forced to read a poem out loud in front of his class. After, he reminisces being, ‘immersed in the experience’ (73) and how the words, ‘meant something’ (73) to him being the, ‘most lovely sound’ (73). Poetry to some people is difficult to understand, being either cheesy or tedious. The fact the poem made sense to him and that the whole experience was, ‘enjoyable’ shows Jacob’s has some sort of connection to literature.
The teachers noticed Jacob’s connection to poetry, praising him after presenting a poem to the class, saying he read it, ‘beautifully’ (73). Later on that day, she again prompted him to read aloud, obviously recognising his talent.
His connection to writing made me remember his other academic talent of art, which I wrote about in my previous post. This shows to me as a reader that Jacob’s had a strong connection to art in all its forms, differing from the typical young man who were usually drawn to more manual work.
Looking back at these snapshots as a adult, Jacobs questions whether expressing himself through writing and poetry helped him, ‘grow into a man and express’ (75) himself. Jacob’s connection to reading and writing is such a significant part of his youth. Not only this but with choosing to write a memoir to document his life, proves how writing was the most obvious and natural way to express himself and reflect on his life.
Adam Smith. (2007). Exploring 20th Century London – Children . Available: http://www.20thcenturylondon.org.uk/children. Last accessed 25/11/2015.