George Acorn – Home, Family & Childhood (b. Late 19th C)

By Leah Magee

Throughout One of a Multitude, George mentions his family constantly and his battles with his loyalty to them or his want to progress in life. With the weight of the world on his shoulders when life get a bit tough at home, there are many times where he questions his emotional attachment to them and if they are holding him up or just weighing him down.

The first mention of his family is on the very first page of chapter one,

 ‘My father and mother were well-meaning people, who let their children ( I was the eldest) follow the bent of their own desires and then punished them severely if they did wrong’ (Acorn, 1912, p. 1).

The relationship with his mother and father is mentioned continuously throughout the memoir, the running narrative of his recollections is one where we see ‘George’ battling with his conscious and there are some thoughts which this memoir was the only place he could possibly discuss without being judged.

A huge questioning and argument that George has with himself are displayed in Chapter twenty-three ‘Out of Work’ to which he explains in the extract below.

Page 190-191 One of a Multitude

(Acorn, 1912, p. 190) ‘When, therefore, the autobiographers were faced with the challenge of writing about the more intense and private incidents in their emotional lives, their command of language frequently proved inadequate’ (Vincent, 1980)

Later on in his reflections, George finally concludes how the family state was too much for him at home and he wished to move away, he had found other lodging and was planning to move out. From this, there is a clear disruption within the family where both his mother and father are displeased with his decision and explained it.

“He also added later that I had a lot of brothers and sisters younger than myself to whom I owed a duty ; they all needed to be kept in food and raiment; and now, when I was capable of looking after myself, and was earn- ing what he was pleased to call “plenty of

money,” I was ” leaving the nest,” heedless of the other chicks, who might starve for all I cared : I, who had had the best of everything ; I, who had been carefully schooled and brought up with the most tender care.” (Acorn, 1912)

As well as a clearly different view on family life and how children are prioritised in modern-day life, this also highlights how children are also a commodity. Their labour and their being must be paid for. Much of Acorn’s existence is about survival and although he himself is working-class and is raised in such an environment, it juxtaposes from Vincent’s findings that he in fact is emotional and is adequate in explaining how he longed for that emotional acceptance from his family and is aware of the lack thereof.

As mentioned earlier on in the blog, a lot of the discussion of his parents was as if George was ruminating about his family life and the effect of them on him.

“I pondered again over my father’s words: Was I an ungrateful Son? …

To my mother? Yes, her struggles to supply our physical needs, especially during my father’s enforced absence, were quite, quite heroic, I hope I shall never forget that; but, if only to her strength of purpose had been added some spiritual sympathy, some ray of tender love, I know I should have responded with generous affection my mother would have been so much to me.” (Acorn, 1912)

 From here, although it seems to be an argument George would have had with his father it is how he almost blames his mother and links this to the disconnect between him and them on an intellectual level. Linking to this and justifying it is ‘The reason for what is, on the face of it, a surprising disconnection between their family experience and their intellectual and moral selves is partly to be found in their attitude towards women’ (Vincent, 1980) where it is clear the relationship he has with his family or lack of, he blames on how his mother was unaffectionate towards him. This also shows a disparity between what each generation believes to be a ‘childhood’, it was not until 1880 where the Education Act (National Archives, n.d.) was introduced to make school compulsory for every child under ten years old.

Although George never mentions the dates, ages, or even timing of him or his family, it is clear he was under 18 when we moved away from the family home. For his family to shun him for this and demand money for his younger brothers and sisters, shows again how their attitudes towards childhood were different. As an educated boy who was interested in literature, it could be said, with ‘Wordsworth being a very popular romantic novelist of the time, the romanticism of childhood’, (Blakemore, 2015) will have disdained his vision of what childhood was ‘meant to be to his reality. To reflect on when ‘One of a Multitude’ was published and really embrace the environment it does appear even from the introductory poem from Underwoods by R. L Stevenson (Stevenson, 1887), which was published in 1887, this memoir was written in roughly the mid-late 19th century. To which there was a huge change in the view of childhood and therefore a difference in the dynamics of the family.

Bibliography

Acorn, G., 1912. One of the multitude. 1st ed. London: W. Heinemann.

Acorn, G., 1912. One of the multitude. 1st ed. London: s.n.

Blakemore, E., 2015. JSTOR Daily. [Online]
Available at: https://daily.jstor.org/wordsworth-and-the-invention-of-childhood/
[Accessed 05 05 2021].

National Archives, n.d. The National Archives – Child Labour. [Online]
Available at: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/citizenship/struggle_democracy/childlabour.htm
[Accessed 3 05 2021].

Stevenson, R. L., 1887. Underwoods. 1 ed. London: CHATTO & WINDUS.

Vincent, D., 1980. Love and Death and the Nineteenth-century working class. Social history, 5(2), pp. 223-247.

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