Thomas Raymont (1864-1949): Researching Writing Lives

Upon reading Thomas’ memoir firstly I have to confess I was slightly worried as to how I would present the autobiography of which he had written of his life. At first glance Thomas can seem a little detached and possibly cold when it comes to his family and the importance of their influence on him as he very rarely recounts emotional feelings or memories of his time with his family. Considering the way in which we know modern autobiographies are written by the celebrities who dominate our day to day lives, with revealing anecdotes into their personal lives and very emotional recollections of their most intimate memories, it is difficult to imagine a person telling their life story without these emotional recollections being a major factor in the text. However I quickly realised that for the working-class auto-biographers of who we have been asked to study, the emphasis is not on the author and their families history as often they do not see themselves as important enough for this kind of attention. Regenia Gagnier says of this that ‘it was difficult enough for them to contemplate themselves, but they had also to justify themselves as writers worthy of the attention of others.’ (Gagnier, 1987, pp.338)

One of the most rewarding aspects of this module has been collaborating with other students on the course in order to both see similarities between our authors and to learn from how other students reproduce the information available to them in their authors memoirs and use not only what is in the autobiography that they are researching but also what is left out and what this indicates in terms of the social issues faced at the time for the working classes. A big part of this has been using Facebook, Twitter and the comments section on the Writing Lives website in order to see what fellow students think I have done well in my blogs and I should keep on doing, and what could be improved and how I could better my work.

The style in which we are afforded to write by use of the medium of the blog is also a refreshing break from the often monotonous and repetitive structure of the essays which we are asked to write. By using the blog form, I felt I could express my own character in my writing and the more relaxed and colloquial style of the blog meant that the way in which my blogs were written were more representative of my own personality than the essays of which I usually write, in which I often use words which would never be uttered from my own mouth in normal conversation.

I feel a great connection now to Thomas Raymont in the months that have passed since I first discovered his name. The time that I have spent reading and re-reading his memoir and trying to decipher meaning through both his words and lack of words on certain subjects have meant that I felt more and more of an understanding of his state of mind and disposition as the time passed from first reading the account of his life. Through the use of scholarly opinions on the working-class auto-biographers of the time, I quickly learnt that just because Thomas does not always choose to elaborate or give great detail on his family life and his relationships with his loved ones, this does not mean that he did not love or care about them any less because of it. These writers were not graced with great riches or fame, but were trying to become at one with themselves through their medium of writing and understand the meaning of their lives.

Overall, I believe that I have taken away a number of great attributes from my time on this module researching and reliving the life of Thomas. I have learnt of working-class struggles in the late Victorian period, the importance of the (for many) elusive schooling system that most were not fortunate enough to experience for prolonged periods of time as they were carted off to work poorly-paid manual jobs, the emotional difficulties that plagued particularly working-class men in the period, and the way in which those who were fortunate enough to escape their childhood poverty such as Thomas would still think of themselves as inherently working-class citizens. Not only have I learnt a vast amount about the conditions and minds of the working classes of the time, but I have also been able to experience a different kind of writing to that of which I have experienced throughout the majority of my academic life, being given the freedom to write in my own words and express my own personality through my writing. Most of all I feel I have benefited simply by getting to know Thomas Raymont, his life story and his incredible resiliency to reject the social norms of the time and give himself the best opportunity to succeed in a life which offered very little hope to begin with.

Bibliography

Raymont, Thomas. ‘Memories of an Octogenarian 1864-1949’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:571, available at: http://www.brunel.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/139278/BurnettArchive.pdf

Gagnier, R. (1987) ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies. V.30 (3),

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