Roger Langdon: Purpose and Audience

The life story of Roger Langdon seemed to be of a private, quiet introspective nature, but written with confidence and bluntness. Gagnier identifies six different classes of working-class autobiography in their writings, and if I had to pick out one for Roger Langdon, it would have to be “therapeutically-motivated self-examination“. Whether Roger Langdon had any ambition to eventually publish this or not, it seems clear to me that he wrote it on a whim, focusing on whatever he wanted to get off his chest. The biography focuses on descriptions of traumatic events, important life experiences, descriptions of people; all close personal information that you might write about due to a desire to either air them out or out of a desire to ensure the details remain fresh in your mind; to preserve their memory while also clearing your mind. He does not try to give us a full description of his life from start to finish, such as would be beneficial to a reader, rather only the moments he cares most about. This definitely strikes me as a set of memoirs that he wrote mostly for himself. However, clearly Roger Langdon didn’t have no intention whatsoever to eventually publish this work, as his text intentionally omits the name of his hometown, to ensure that no reader can judge or harass his hometown based on anything he writes about them; an unnecessary censorship to make if you don’t intend to show anyone else what you’re writing about. He wrote this as if speaking to an audience, and yet his choices of focus make it clear his main purpose for writing this was for his own health.

Tragically, Roger Langdon didn’t ever get to publish his work himself; he either consciously held onto it until his death, or he simply never got around to publishing it. His daughter, Miss Ellen Langdon, was the one who eventually brought her father’s writings to the public eye, asking some of her father’s friends (e.g H. Cliffton Lambert) to write prefaces and forewords, and expanding on her memory of her father after he ended his writings, content to finish his work after writing of his marriage and newfound happiness. Ellen Langdon explores Roger’s passion for astronomy in great detail, including his self-built telescopes and his stories of the stars, inspired by his own religious worldview. Therefore, it is difficult to say that Roger Langdon had great intent or purpose with this work; it came from a place of pure self-indulgent introspection, and only the passion of others who took it upon themselves to speak on his behalf ever drew said work into the public light. It gives me the slightly uneasy feeling of intrusion upon his private musings, but the blessing of his family, and his own slight writing hints towards the intention of allowing others to read it, does ease my fears in this regard.

Because of having wrote this mostly for himself, his writing is less self-aware of its own audience, which is a massively refreshing chance of pace. Nan Hackett writes that most working-class autobiographies “even in this very personal, subjective, and supposedly egocentric genre, the “I” is minimized and even depersonalized.” Roger Langdon’s work lacks this self-deprecating, careful, meek approach to their writings. However, he also doesn’t feel the need to puff his chest out and justify why he’s writing his own work, as Gagnier also highlights: “The autobiographers insisted upon their own histories, however difficult it was to write them, and they unanimously state that their reasons for writing are functional rather than aesthetic: to record lost experiences for future generations; to raise money; to warn others; to teach others; to relieve or amuse themselves; to understand themselves”. Roger Langdon’s writings do not ever talk about themselves from a meta-commentary perspective. He doesn’t try to justify the very existence of his own work, either by humility or pride. He starts his memoir by simply writing about his memories from the first-person as much as he can, never addressing the audience outside of that narrative. There’s a distinct honesty and earnestness to his work that eludes much of the outside commentary about the worthiness of working-class autobiography, because he doesn’t second-guess himself whatsoever. And that, I think, is truly respectable.

It is difficult to tell exactly what audience Roger Langdon had hoped to show this work to, or if he intended to keep it totally private. We know he started writing in 1875 (19 years before his death, for those who are keeping track), but not when he stopped writing. His writing is relatively short, but the portions he did feel the need to talk about in great length were his childhood in his rural home, and his time living in Jersey. These are the two portions of his life he felt the need to lend greater length to, and I believe the reason for that is to display the contrast between them. He doesn’t merely wish to expose the reader to his way of life, but rather the contrast between his way of life before and after moving to the city to work. This allows us, after he spent so long speaking about how beautiful and horrible his home life was, to measure it up against the industrial world, the world he surely knew many of us in the future would be living in more often than not. He never pressures us to assume one is better than the other; he simply presents his experiences as they were, and lets us draw our own conclusions. However, by choosing to address these points, he does show that his writing is, partially, on behalf of his family and hometown. He draws these comparisons to help us better understand how different the world felt in his youth, and that gives a voice to his family and home that might otherwise have been forgotten. This is truly the best lens around which I have to focus a motive behind his writings, because otherwise the only incontestable motive was for self-satisfaction. Because his writing lacks the tone of desperation to be heard that scholars such as Gagnier and Hackett claim surrounds most working-class autobiography. To put it plainly, I very much feel that Roger Langdon put pen to paper for no other person than himself. He follows the very advice that ends his memoirs:

Speak of me as I am, nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice.

Bibliography

1:420 LANGDON, Roger, The Life of Roger Langdon, told by Himself. With Additions by his Daughter Ellen, with a preface by H. Clifton Lambert (Elliot Stock, London, [1909]), pp. 104 [55pp. of autobiography, 20pp. written by daughter, 18pp. of appendices, 1.0420

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Life of Roger Langdon, told by himself.

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’Victorian Studies, 30. 3 (1987), 335-363, & 342

Hackett, Nan. ‘A Different Form of “Self”: Narrative Style in British Nineteenth-Century Working-class Autobiography’. 12.3 (1989): 208-226, 210)

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