Edward S. Humphries: Purpose and Audience – Writing Lives

Edward S. Humphries: Purpose and Audience

Written from his retirement in the years following 1974, Edward S. Humphries’ memoir explains in great detail a wonderful working class childhood. He writes the story of how through much hard work and following a constant passion to be part of the British forces he eventually succeeds. For Humphries this path does not come easily as he discovered many setbacks and job changes along the way. When he finally became part of the forces, joining the Royal Scotts regiment in 1906, he soon received various medals and accolades for his actions, meaning that he did not only succeed, he excelled. However, to further understand the motive behind Humphries’ memoir we must look further to the two later memoirs that Humphries had written. The two later memoirs are entitled ‘A Rankers Ramblings’ and ‘On My Own’. Humphries had written these two later works with the hope of them being published and made widely available. Sadly, neither of the memoirs were published.

[T]heir reasons for writing are functional rather than aesthetic: to record lost experiences for future generations; to raise money; to warn others; to teach others; to relieve or amuse themselves; to understand themselves. (Gagnier Pg.342)

Regina Garner argues that the reasons behind working-class autobiographical recollections may have been purely ‘functional rather than aesthetic’. Humphries aim was to send a message through his memoir and teach a younger generation of times past. This is because within the memoir Humphries often states how his ambition and drive was what often lead him to progressing through tough stages in is life. His memoir can be read as something that teaches future generations to work hard and never give up on their dreams. His memoir emphasises a masculine determination to never give up on the things that he wants. A perfect example of this is how even though he failed to join the Royal Marines it did not deter him from continuing to pursue a path in the forces. The memoir can also be read as Humphries beginning to understand his own life–how he has managed to progress and what it is that has moulded his personality. This is relevant to the memoir’s purpose as it not only acts as a lesson to an audience but also to himself.

The memoir that I am currently analysing is entitled “Childhood” and covers the years between 1889 (Humphries’ year of birth) and 1906. However after this memoir ends at his enlistment into the Royal Scotts regiment, Humphries life within military service begins to grow. This has lead me to understand that the target audience for Humphries’ early life memoir would be different to that of his later memoirs. I believe that the childhood memoir is more targeted towards an audience interested in the working class lives during the turn of the century. People who wish to understand more about the lives of transient workers, fostered children and the social problems surrounding official parents and foster parents. The later memoirs, I believe, are more targeted towards an audience that wishes to read about personal experiences during war time and a first hand account of how soldiers were affected by World War 1.

Ultimately I believe that the purpose of Humphries’ memoirs is to educate younger generations on the everyday trials that may face them throughout life. He writes in a masculine manner which strongly portrays the way in which he dealt with the problems that faced him. His life in general is interesting and fruitful and readers will find much pleasure in musing through his endeavours. Humphries also offers an interesting narrative on what life would have been like for a foster child on the turn of the century as he is forced to make the difficult decision of choosing whether to remain with his foster parents or leave to live with his real parents. This does not prove to be any hindrance to the life or growth of Humphries as he keeps a positive outlook on all aspects of his life and continues to write in an active and engaging manner about all his experiences.



361 HUMPHRIES Edward S., ‘Childhood. An Autobiography of a Boy from 1889-1906’, TS, pp.63 (c.35,000 words). Extract in J. Burnett (ed.), Useful Toil. Autobiographies of working people from the 1820s to the 1920s (AlIen Lane, London, 1974), pp.209-14. Brunel University Library.

Gagnier, R (1987) Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender Victorian Studies, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Spring, 1987), pp. 335-363

Steedman, Carolyn. The Radical Soldier’s Tale: John Pearman, 1819-1908. Routledge. New York: 2016. pp. 69-71

Rose, Jonathan, Journal of the History of Ideas.  53. 1 (1992): 47-70


Typewriter – https://www.pinterest.com/fergiefergie/vintage-typewriters/


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.