Charles William Esam-Carter: Habits, Culture and Belief – Writing Lives

Charles William Esam-Carter: Habits, Culture and Belief

Charles discusses his introduction to religion in his early childhood, discussing a book he received for his birthday concerning the measles. This prompts him to recall a conversation that he overheard between two of his aunts. It is apparent that they find it dreadful that their father, Charles’ grandfather, does not have faith that there is an afterlife. Charles informs us ‘It had never seemed very dreadful to me, only a bit puzzling.’ (16) His puzzlement at this comes from his mothers’ stories of Sonny being in Heaven, yet he recalls she ‘was never able to give me a clear answer to the question of his age.’ (16) I found this quite an interesting experience to recall, as atheism was not very common during this time, especially considering his grandfather would have grown up in the height of Queen Victoria’s rule and the industrial revolution.

St. Laurence Church in Hawkhurst, where Charles was living during the time he discussed these issues. Potentially could have been where the family attended church.

There is not a great amount of detail in Charles’ recollections of the family ever attending church. However, the way Charles speaks about God and his continuous capitalisation of anything reference to religion has led me to believe that his family did have religious values. This is especially highlighted in the way that Charles’ mother speaks about his older brother Sonny.

When concerned that he has upset his grandfather by speaking out of turn, he says to himself ‘I must ask God to forgive me.’ (7) It is apparent that as a child he was always taught to seek forgiveness in the divine, as expected in the early twentieth century. God and religion obviously had a major impact on his life, even at three years old.

Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, the novel that Charles’ father used to read to him by the fire at night.

Charles recalls evenings spent by the fire during a long winter with his father. His father would read scripture to him, which he did not enjoy all that much. He noted that his father ‘read “Pickwick papers” to me and sometimes, when she was feeling well enough to join us, to my mother.’ (42) As a family, they did not seem to spend a great deal of time together, yet these cold nights by the fire reading Dickens has a sweetness to it. I think it was one of the very few moments were Charles felt that he had a real family among his parents. This is not the first time that his father has referred to Dickens in his recollections, previously referring to Charles as David Copperfield. Interestingly, I wonder if perhaps this could be the reasoning for Charles’ names.

A scene from the 1913 film of David Copperfield, the nickname given to Charles by his father.

Another example of religion within the Esam-Carter household does not come from either of Charles’ parents directly. Charles recalls, Clara, the family’s maid, exclaiming ‘Larks!’ (32) at the sight of him sneaking downstairs in the cold, Charles comments that she did so ‘avoiding the sin of taking the name of God in vain.’ (32) It is apparent that religion not only had an impact on Charles’ life during this time, but most of the people he was surrounded by were God-fearing and aware of acts of sin.


Esam-Carter, Charles William. Autobiography of Charles William Esam-Carter, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiorgaphies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4

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