Reg Beeston (1905-1999) Life writing, class & identity – Writing Lives

Reg Beeston (1905-1999) Life writing, class & identity

“Such class-bound notions of the self have resulted in working class auto-biographies being relegated to illustrating the psychological effects of social deprivation on rhetorical self-expression.” [1] p.336

This does not apply to Beeston who never talks about suffering or having an unhappy childhood, something that is uncommon in a working class autobiography. Instead he focuses on the positive element of growing up in a small village where he knew everyone as they all knew each others businesses back then.

The image above portrays a Romany gypsy caravan, as Beeston talks about the gypsy’s coming to stay on land in the village every year. This is quite a contrast as Beeston was a working class child, then young man, however the gypsy’s were poorer than him. It is interesting to see the difference in social classes and how even though Beeston was not rich or an important figure he still saw himself as above the poor Roma people. (Although he does not speak badly of the gypsy’s in his auto-biography, he imply s that their presence made the villagers weary.)

“Clearly both Vincent, a social historian, and Hackett, a literary critic, have accepted the view of autobiography as the revelation of a centered, unified subject or self (at the very least one that , as in postmodern writers is undone by by her or his own self consciousness.)  Such views have led Roy Pascal to call autobiography a middle-class form of narrative and Vincent to wonder whether working class writers sacrificed their independence when they adopted the autobiographical form.” [1] p. 337

Beeston seems very independent in his autobiography, and he does not mention his class or social role in society, showing the reader that he did not feel it was very important to mention. He merely grew up around people who were living in the same situations that he was. He didn’t know any different, that apart from the gypsy’s, and a few people better off than himself were not in the same class as him, something that does not appear to have affected his life in any way.

“Rather than the obliteration of human agency, they often see a liberation into the social, into the possibilities of more participatory social life.” [2] p. 11

Beeston has so much to talk about in his autobiography yet he chooses what to say things that are not relevant to his personal life. He is a very social person in his memoir, as he is always outside in the village whether its outside at work in the saw mill, or outside at night at Uley feast or even just when he is wandering around the village talking to the villagers.

This file is interesting as its a recent (2011) Town hall meeting discussion, where they talk about issues affecting the current villagers of Uley. On it, there is a discussion about gypsy’s and travelers needing planning permission to stay on the land in Uley and surrounding area’s. This is interesting as it shows that some things do not change through time, some issues are still important.

Beeston’s autobiography is unique for a working class autobiography in the sense that he is upbeat and happy with what he has, and likes to talk positively about his home village and its residents. It is refreshing to read as he does not go into talking about what he did not have, preferring to say what he did have to do in the village (despite these not being tangible possessions.)




[1] Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’Victorian Studies, 30. 3 (1987) p.348

[2]  Gagnier, Regenia.  Subjectivities: A History of Self-Representation in Britain, 1832-1920. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Beeston, Reg, ‘Some of my memories of and about Uley until about 1930, Brunel University Library, vol  no. 2:56


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.