Harry Dorrell (B. 1903): Home and Family – Writing Lives

Harry Dorrell (B. 1903): Home and Family

‘Mother knew, with her concerned sensibility, that watching would quieten my fear.’ (27)

Harry was the youngest of 8 children and seems to see himself until quite a late age as the boy of the family and ‘not yet a participating member’ (24). He mentions more memories of his mother which suggests he had a closer relationship to her than his father, however, this is likely to be that, as he was the youngest and could not yet work, he spent more time at home with his mother. This fits with the traditional idea that the mother was responsible for raising the children and the father making the money. We see in the above quote that his mother knows exactly what to do when Harry is frightened by the bombing during the First World War and he says that after he watched the air raids ‘the crash of guns frightened me no more’ (27). T there is a fondness and thankfulness when he writes about his mother that shows how close they were.

I searched for Harry’s family on ancestry.co.uk but have not yet managed to find any more information than is in Harry’s memoir. I did however discover that Harry’s name is Henry on documents such as the census. I hope in the future I may be able to gather some in formation regarding his descendants, as he had a daughter (who had children) and a son.

Harry's (Henry) imediate family tree created on Ancestry
Harry’s (Henry) immediate family tree created on Ancestry

Harry’s father is described as ‘a difficult man to get along with’ (70) and he says that this may be because of his partial deafness. In the memoir Harry’s father is shown to have a very close relationship with his eldest son Charlie and this seems to be from shared experiences, for example when his father comes home to tell his family that ‘”The Germans have invaded little Belgium.’ (25). There is a ‘family talk, especially between father and Charlie’ (25). Harry is too young at this point to understand much of this adult conversation and is sheltered from it, whereas because Charlie is older, he and his father could talk more about those kind of things. Charlie and his father are both tobacconists, the family trade, (which Harry later continues), so they share the same environment and experiences every day. This links to the idea that men drew their identity from their work and the politics surrounding it. With this in mind it makes sense that Charlie and his father identified with each other.

In working-class autobiographies, fathers are often spoken about in terms of what they do for the family rather than their emotional attachments to their children. We can see this when Harry writes about his father’s allotment. The fact that his father has an allotment shows him supporting the family and trying to improve their circumstances.

A major event in Harry’s family undoubtedly changes them, and the way Harry’s father is seen within the memoir. This event is the death of Alfie, Harry’s brother. Alfie was in the navy and the family receive a telegram saying that ‘Alfie had been drowned in Ramsgate’ (32) and that ‘the body has not been recovered’ (32). We see a different representation of Harry’s father whenever Alfie’s death is spoken about. Harry says that he ‘moved silently into himself’ (32) before going to Ramsgate to find out more information on what had happened. Harry is told by his mother that they sat on the beach and his ‘father looked and looked out to the sea, never saying anything, just looking.’ (33). This quote tells you a lot about his father’s strong, silent but caring personality, and his love for his family. Alfie’s death changes the mood within the family and they were turned into ‘a sad family’ (33). We see Harry making a contrast between the before and after when he says that Ramsgate, where Alfie died, was ‘where in earlier days we had enjoyed those happy little family holidays.’ (33).

Harry talks a lot more about his home when he was a child than as an adult. I think this links to the feelings he has about each home and what they remind him of. He says little about his wife and children because of the guilt he carries, and when he does talk about them he speaks of how he has hurt them. Despite Harry dwelling on the more negative experiences in his adult home, the phrase ‘laughter was leaving our home’ (133) shows that it was not always that way and that once there was happiness there. Harry’s attitude towards his home is likely to be because during his mental illness it became like a prison with ‘no means of escape’ (133), and it is the scene of outbursts and of his attempted suicide. Home for Harry goes from a place of love to one of depression and regret. However, we can see the love he has for his wife and children in the guilt he feels and the way he is trying to explain to them why he is the way he is. We do not see much of how he is as a father except from when he talks about his anger. However, when he says that he would ‘not give up and risk my family’s security. It was unthinkable’ (137) we can see that they truly are the most important thing to him.

Dorrell, Harry, ‘Falling Cadence: An autobiography of failure’, TS, pp.161 (c.97,000 words). Fragment published in the POEU Journal, Aug 1983. BruneI University Library. AWC- 2:0231


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