Alexander Howison (b.1795): Reading & Writing

Alexander omits any discussion of his reading and writing habits completely from his autobiography. He was much more interested in presenting his version of the world. The way Alexander writes suggests the limited education he did experience in his extreme youth resided well in him; his writing in the memoir is confident, coherent and well presented. Indeed his use of descriptive language is endearing to the reader as he states he ‘will now shape my course along that rugged, uneven and crooked path if I may be allowed to use these terms’, (p.2) He shows a good understanding of the English language and how to use it. It appears that for his personal audience he deemed his reading and writing habits as an unnecessary extra to his narrative.

James Hinton points out a belief that working class writers ‘were anxious to deploy a taste for high culture as a means of distinguishing themselves from their self-assigned class’ (199). Although most working class members would be considered to be less educated to their middle or upper class counter parts ‘memoirists are not entirely representative of their class (whatever class that may be), if only because they were unusually articulate’ (Jonathon Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class) It is also interesting that he further points out that ‘Autobiographies were produced in every stratum of the British working classes ranging down to tramps and petty criminals’. (p.2) Illustrating how memoir writing became a way for everyone to have a voice and share a story whether for entertainment or to pass on family stories to one’s children such as Alexander did.

Bibliography:

Hinton, James. ‘The “Class” Complex’: Mass-Observation and Cultural Distinction in Pre-War Britain’, Past and Present, no. 199, May, 2008

Howison. Alexander. (n.d) Autobiography of Alexander Howison ‘Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library. 1:354

Rose, Jonathan. ‘Preface’. The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. Yale UP, 2001. 51.

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