A.W Todd: Autobiography and the literary. – Writing Lives

A.W Todd: Autobiography and the literary.

In this post I’ll be looking at the role of more literary and fiction orientated aspects of Todd’s memoir and what they might tell us about him as a person and his writing style. As already established, A.W Todd is a man dedicated and passionate about his work in the masonry industry and rarely strays away from discussion of it. However, the account of the wandering mason provided in the memoir is one of the more interesting excerpts, as well as one that sort of takes us away from the standard instructional manualesque memoir. In addition, he relays details of a man he gives the name “The Genius”. The mystique and intrigue that Todd creates around both of these “characters” definitely add a more traditional literary feel to his memoir in places. The first man himself, the wandering mason, is akin to the fictional wanderer and here, the memoir becomes a little more ‘literary’ with this fictional edge. Todd tells us that “The elderly mason he knew was typical of the wandering masons. He had worked all over the place.” Todd’s descriptions of his physical appearance in a more precise way, those concerning his “round, rosy face” are also quite literary in nature. This chapter, like the previous blog about the working men’s card games and gambling, is an example of where Todd’s narrative can become a little less routine and mechanic in its explanations of the masonry industry, and reads more like a literary narrative.

“The Genius”, he describes in a similar way. He says his friends knew him as Charlie and that he never seemed to be working but was never behind and his work, despite his apparent lack of tools and effort, was always of a high standard. The presence of such literary devices in the memoir really show Todd’s creative side. There is a degree of imagination involved in transcending these two men past merely their real life counterparts and turning them into character-like individuals. This, really is where autobiography and literary narratives begin to fuse together and not only enhance the memoir but gives us a little more insight into the intentions behind the memoir and the mind of the man writing it. They really contrast with his more efficient and utilitarian way of writing that he employs for the most part and show his creative and diverse writing style.


‘A.W. Todd’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:1030

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