Alexander Howison (b.1795): Class & Identity – Writing Lives

Alexander Howison (b.1795): Class & Identity


Regeina Gagnier’s ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ she comments that working class writers start autobiographies ‘with an apology for their authors’ ordinariness’. Alexander does no such thing, he lived a rare type of life and one that many at the time would possibly envy as he, for the most part, was well fed, well paid and content.
The way Alexander portrays himself in this narrative goes against Gagnier’s ideas of memoir from the working class. However his class is obvious he obviously wants more from life and en devours to go and get it, all the while being unapologetic for his desire.

Religion plays a part in Alexanders life, at the time religion was of great importance and the fear of the afterlife was more prominent that we see today. When he has time off work and sets about planning he mentions that he was ‘not neglecting a few lessons in philosophy for helping my own afterlife’. (p.55) He also mentions when Mrs. H. is sick that ‘Whatever her present chance may be, I will leave herself and Creator to arrange’ (p.57)

His philosophy on life is; ‘It should be in our care in looking at our actions not to think how long we may live but how good we live – to die sooner or later is not the business but to die well or ill.’ (p.57) and it is evident through his life every whim and good idea he has had he has acted on and been all the better for it. He ends up with a family, a good job, a house, and a servant through sheer hard work, good fortune and taking chances, so it just goes to show just because one is born in to a poor working class family, working to give his mother money, doesn’t mean you cannot go on to bigger and better things.


Works Cited:

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies, 30. 3 (1987), 335-363

Howison. Alexander. (n.d) Autobiography of Alexander Howison ‘Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library. 1:354


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