Charles Whiten Sanderson (1906-1900): Reading and Writing.

‘If you can read, you can learn.’ (29)

In ‘Half a Lifetime In The 20th Century’, Charles engages with reading and writing and how it was immersed into his childhood. From a young age, Charles is introduced to reading and writing by his persistent and ambitious parents, Rebecca and Jonathan. ‘My father, backed up to the hilt by my mother, had ambitions for his children, like many other men. We were therefore encouraged to read, write, draw (my father was a very good self-taught artist) and take part in music’ (30). This ambition is a determined driving force behind Charles and his siblings’ intelligence. Referring again to his ever-present father, Charles recounts the collection of books his father had in their family home. ‘He had books of Tennyson, Longfellow, Burns, Shakespeare and the like, and this was the stuff we were fed on.’ (30).

While listing the authors Jonathan Sanderson allowed his children to read, Charles also touches on the controversy his father’s choice in their reading may have caused: ‘Though he may have been thought wrong by some people, comics were taboo and were not allowed in the home, he thought them frivolous and unimportant’ (30). Despite not being allowed to read comics as a child, by reminiscing about the iconic writers that Charles and his siblings were ‘fed on’, it allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of what some working-class children in the 1900s read in comparison to what we read today.

Table 1.1: Favourite Authors of Early Labour MPs, 1906. From Jonathan Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes!!

Charles’s enthusiastic attitude resonates with the importance literary figures held for many working people, as explored by Jonathon Rose in The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class[1]. Rose discusses the influence of writers in the twentieth-century. ‘When the first large cohort of Labour MPs was elected in 1906, the Review of Reviews asked them to name the books and authors that had most deeply influenced them.’ (41). Examining this Literary Canon and how they influence working-class readers, it attracted my attention that Charles Dickens is voted number 16. Among other influential writers he mentions, Charles read Dickens as a child: ‘I myself became a vociferous reader and read almost all the books of Dickens before I left school.’ (30). This admiration for Dickens is important when analysing working-class autobiographers and their readership.

Image of Charles Dickens!

Famously known for depicting working-class life, it is clear why authors like Dickens appealed to working-class children such as Charles, even though Charles does not suffer hardship like some children in Oliver Twist. Voracious reading enabled Charles to excel in his reading skills while simultaneously allowing him to understand other aspects of being working-class in Britain. Like Frederick Charles Wynne (b.1897), reading authors such as Dickens also left an impression on Charles and his siblings, ‘Dickens + Co was rather heavy stuff for children but it gave us all a love for good English literature and introduced us to many other subjects.’ (30). In my opinion, this ‘love for good English literature’ is proven through Charles’ writing techniques as he writes his own thoughtful and nostalgic memoir.

Similar to my Education and Schooling post, Charles emphasizes the importance of intelligence and how it can affect a person in life. He praises his father’s intelligence: ‘My father was a very intelligent man, and I always thought that he was born intellectually above his station.’ (29). Correlating intelligence to factors such as reading, and writing is prominent in Charles’ memoir. Not only does Charles comment on his father’s intelligence, he continues to emphasise how important intelligence is regarding understanding and learning. ‘Intelligence is the endowment of understanding, and without understanding, one can learn little’ (29).

As a twentieth-century writer, Charles also reflects on newspapers and the progression in media, such as television: ‘We didn’t sit glued to a television all day’ (20).  ‘We also didn’t have pornographic sheets that today they call newspapers, which corrupt and turn the minds of young people in the wrong directions…one can count the good, genuine newspapers on the fingers of one hand.’ (21). By Charles challenging the content of newspapers and their credibility, it catapults Charles into the twenty-first century, linking his memoir to the debates people in the British pubic still discuss even in 2018!



Sanderson, Charles Whiten. ‘Half a Lifetime in the 20th Century’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. University of Brunel Library. Special Collections. 688.

688 SANDERSON, Charles Whiten, ‘Half a Lifetime in the 20th Century: A Book of Memoirs’, TS, pp.115 (c.78,000 words). Extracts published in Mansfield and North Nottinghamshire Chronicle Advertiser (Chad), 13 March – 31 July 1980 (Sutton-in-Ashfield Library). Brunel University Library.

Cannadine, David. Class In Britain. London: Penguin Group, 2000.

Goldman, Lawrence. ‘Intellectuals and the English working class 1870-1945: the case of adult education.’ History of Education. Vol 29, No 4. (2000): 281-300.

[1] Rose, Jonathan. The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. London: Yale University Press, 2001.

Wynne, Frederick Charles. ‘Old Pompey and Other Places’. Burnett Archive of Working class Autobiographies. Brunel University Library. Special Collection, 2:08.

Daish, Lucy. ‘Frederick Charles Wynne- Reading and Writing’. 15 March 2018. Writing Lives. Web Accessed 9 April 2018.


Table 1.1: Favourite Authors of Early Labour MPs, 1906.  Rose, Jonathan. The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. London: Yale University Press, 2001.

‘Charles Dickens.’ Web Accessed 11 April 2018.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *