Charles Whiten Sanderson. (1906-1990): Purpose and Audience. – Writing Lives

Charles Whiten Sanderson. (1906-1990): Purpose and Audience.

‘Any comments I make are necessarily those as seen through the eyes of a working-class boy and a half educated young man.’- Charles Sanderson (pg. 54)

When Charles wrote his memoir in 1979-1980, the start of the memoir there is a written preface for the reader. Describing himself as a ‘modestly educated man…putting pen to paper’, the preface gives us a direct explanation as to why Charles wrote ‘Half a Lifetime In The 20th Century’.

Charles reveals that before the memoir was written, he would interweave his own memories in to the stories that he told his children. ‘I have regaled my children with stories that were never within the covers of a book, some based on a smattering of truth, many sheer figments of imagination.’ (preface). The ‘smattering of truth’ being his own life stories, was something I personally found very endearing. This touching and tender notion is what lead to the start of his fascinating memoir.

The Preface to Charles’ Memoir!

Writing in 1979, Charles discusses his age and health. ‘I am now in my seventies and enjoy reasonable good health’ (pg.111). He writes while he is still able to reflect fondly on his memories whilst he is ‘watching my grandchildren growing up’ (pg.111). Charles also attributes his memoir to his eldest daughter Anne, alongside his other two children. ‘I therefore give Anne this doubtful honour, for what it is worth. I thank all three for their encouragement that they have given to me.’ (preface). Here he emphasises the loving relationship he has with his family.

After playfully confessing his son had realised these stories were based on his father’s life–‘”I was to be “found out”’–the chase was on to convince Charles to write his memories down! ‘After a few years of relentless insistence from my elder daughter that I should write them down, I was finally bulldozed into doing it’ (preface).

Charles begins his memoir by explaining the financial situation of his own and neighbouring families:  ‘like all the rest of the town, with few exceptions, we were poor’ (pg.1). Charles speaks on behalf of many other families as he recounts memories growing up in his village. In doing so, this allows the audience to imagine the life of a poor family living in early 20th Century Britain as well as allowing Charles reflecting upon his own life.

Regenia Gagnier in ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender’[1] describes the purpose of working-class memoirs.

‘The autobiographers insisted upon their own histories…their reasons for writing are functional rather than aesthetic: to record lost experiences for future generations…to teach others; to relieve or amuse themselves; to understand themselves’ (Gagnier, pg.342).

As we already know from the preface, Charles wrote his memoir for his children and grandchildren, to preserve his memories for them. By understanding Charles’ reasoning, it can be assured that Charles is also using his memoir to record lost experiences for future generations.

A painting depicting life in Sutton-in-Ashfield!
The painting is from Nottingham Central Library.

Charles spends a great majority of his memoir reminiscing about his childhood and festivals that entertained him, his family and other families in the town.  ‘I began by writing of childhood recollections, then found myself rambling on to cover the space of almost forty years’ (preface). As Charles admits,  he focuses mainly on childhood and war. Being informative about both WWI and WWII in his memoir, we can assume Charles targets an audience interested in a more historical memoir. A memoir similar to Charles’s is the memoir of Henrietta Burkin[1], born in 1903, Henrietta also focuses on childhood and war in her memoir!

Charles often comments on life today in comparison to life as he knew it growing up. ‘Everybody talked and laughed together… Conversation today is a lost art…some people so hypnotised that they just look at anything on the box…What a noisy world we live in today’ (pg.31). Although Charles does not explicitly tell us who his specific audience is for his memoir, nevertheless, his account of his childhood in Sutton-in-Ashfield is a touching tribute to those whom he grew up with.

‘The people I am thinking of brought sunshine and laughter to many a drab moment’ (pg.11).

These nostalgic and happy memories are consistent throughout Charles’ memoir, acknowledging his adolescent in such a positive light, his readers are left fulfilled in the pages of his memoir.


Sanderson, Charles Whiten. ‘Half a Lifetime in the 20th Century’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. University of Brunel Library. Special Collections. 688.

688 SANDERSON, Charles Whiten, ‘Half a Lifetime in the 20th Century: A Book of Memoirs’, TS, pp.115 (c.78,000 words). Extracts published in Mansfield and North Nottinghamshire Chronicle Advertiser (Chad), 13 March – 31 July 1980 (Sutton-in-Ashfield Library). Brunel University Library.

[1] 2:118. Burkin, Henrietta, ‘Memoirs of Henrietta Burkin’, TS, pp.86 (c.50,000 words). Brunel University Library. Extract published in J. Burnett (ed.), Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of childhood, education and family from the 1820s to the 1920s (Allen Lane, London, 1982), pp.306-312. Brunel University Library and Ruskin College Library, Oxford.

Slater, Melissa. ‘Henrietta Burkin (born 1904): Purpose and Audience’. 26 October 2015. Writing Lives. Web Accessed 14 February 2018.

[1] Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies. 30:3 (Spring, 1987). 335-363.



‘Farmyard Scene, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire.’ By Reuben Bussey. Nottingham Central Library.  Web Accessed 13 February 2018.

‘Preface’ Charles Whiten Sanderson. 688 SANDERSON, Charles Whiten, ‘Half a Lifetime in the 20th Century: A Book of Memoirs’, TS, pp.115 (c.78,000 words). Extracts published in Mansfield and North Nottinghamshire Chronicle Advertiser (Chad), 13 March – 31 July 1980 (Sutton-in-Ashfield Library). Brunel University Library.




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