Leonard Ellisdon (1885-1968): Life Writing, Class & Identity – Writing Lives

Leonard Ellisdon (1885-1968): Life Writing, Class & Identity

In Regenia Gagnier’s work there are six different types of working class autobiographies, it is hard to place Ellisdon under any. However Gagnier describes the conventional memoir as ‘The classic realist, non-progressive (that is, unself-conscious of its epistemology and production) autobiography includes such elements as remembered details of childhood, a confrontation with parents, a reassessment of the subject’s education, a crisis, and a recovery or a discovery of a new self.’ (Gagnier, n.d.) Ellisdon’s memoirs are all of his early years, retelling his childhood and the man he grew up to be. The classic realist, non progressive identity is associated with some sort of crisis. Ellisdon’s ultimate reason for writing his autobiography was because of the stroke he had. As described in Audience and Purpose, this was one huge event that changed his life forever, and entails a recovery and a discovery of a new self, a new found love for writing and the creation of a person who picked themselves up with the love and support of friends and family from a personal low. Ellisdon continues on through his autobiography in chronological order, maybe once or twice back tracking to another account of his life.  These reminiscing stories however could fit into the ‘commemorative storytellers’ which are described by Gagnier as ‘Often picaresque, episodic, adventure, event-driven, anecdotal, which all can be related to Ellisdon’s autobiography, with his mentions of fist days at schools and little funny short mishap’s and escapades he had got himself into on his way through life.’ (Gagnier, n.d.)


Ellisdon’s first memory which he states he can recall at the age of two minutes is titled ‘Birth of a Problem Child’. As Ellisdon’s short stories are full of humour his first memory fits into the classic realist category in a more light hearted way. Gagnier articulates again in SOCIAL ATOMS: WORKING-CLASS AUTOBIOGRAPHY, SUBJECTIVITY AND GENDER that the ‘first memory is often traumatic; its seminal positioning within the first paragraphs of the text operates and resonates differently from the evolutionary narrative of childhood familiar to readers of spiritual autobiography.’ Nevertheless Ellisdons’s autobiography still does not come under and specific identification, but only certain aspects of it. (Gagnier, n.d.)

Gagnier’s claims about the differences between male and female writing is accurate for Ellisdon. For example Gagnier states, the only difference between men’s and women’s narratives is that women refer far more frequently to their husbands or lovers and children (their personal relationships) and men refer more to their jobs or occupations (their social status). (Gagnier, n.d.) The majority of Ellisdon’s autobiography is of his working life, how he attains his first job and climbs higher up the social ladder and into a more cultural society. Raymond Williams in his writing, The uses of Literature, Working Class Culture articulates that “culture”‘ has been taken by the middle class to describe its own state and activities: again “workingclass culture” seems absurd: the commonness of the working-class is precisely what culture is against. (Williams, 1957) Ellsidon is working class, but also involves himself in cultural aspects of his community, for example taking his wife to the cinema.

Overall Ellisdon does not portray himself as someone who has a great deal of interest in class or identity. He is never judgmental in his writing and does not mediate people’s class including his own by cultural and symbolic codes about taste and refinement. Ellisdon’s take on life is a refreshing one, gone through so many downs he still manages to make the best of himself at work and after his stroke, fights his inability to live life the way he used to by writing humorous stories for people to enjoy.



Further Reading:

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363

Williams, R., 1957. The uses of Literacy Working Class Culture. s.l.:s.n.





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