John Castle (1819 – 1888): Purpose and Audience – Writing Lives

John Castle (1819 – 1888): Purpose and Audience

In ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth – Century working class’[i] David Vincent introduces the idea of an author’s reticence, with particular emphasis on authors leaving out their emotional experience of family life. This is definitely true of John Castle’s account. Although descriptions of key events in family life are given, for example the births of children and subsequent deaths of some of those children, they bear undoubted significance to John but not necessarily to the account itself. John’s emotional responses are sometimes suggested but never in prolonged sections of description. John records the death of his first son thus, ‘he was a beautiful child, but he only lived three months. This we felt very much – to lose our first born son’ (19). Undoubtedly this is a sincere if brief testament. When seeking to understand this lack of expansion two avenues present themselves. The first is that John is too harrowed to elaborate; the second is that however distressing these incidents are they are not unusual. I think it is the second of these two points that stays John’s hand. Taking into account these omissions we can begin to unravel the purpose of John’s memoir, a man proud of his professional achievements who wishes to impart his wisdom on these matters to others. This is also supported by mainly emphasis on his adulthood rather than his childhood.

When looking at the intention of any autobiographical account the question of whether it was written for the purposes of publication has to be asked. Although it is difficult to surmise this information the first point of call is to analyze the historical context of the piece. In 1871 any person from John Castle’s background would find it nearly impossible to publish anything because they simply did not have the financial means. However as John rose up through society and began to earn more money increased opportunities would have been made available to him. His memoir was published in Essex People a year after he first wrote it. The edition published however contained major emissions. Anything not relating to Essex was removed as well as certain passages being edited if they contained depictions of wrong-doing.

Next the style of the text must be examined. John’s account is chronologically structured but he only provides specific dates at certain points. The dates in his account are sporadic and lead me to think that he does not feel inclined to research exact dates because they do not bear relevance to the story. I use the word story because this fact merged with the poetic style gives the account a sense of personality and literary consciousness.

‘The good Providence of God, which I do not see, was still watching over me’ (37)

If Castle had intended to write an account merely to document his actions and accomplishments I do not think the inclusion of this type of poetic realism would be necessary, merely a statement of facts and events would have sufficed. Instead John uses his techniques to inform and entertain and instruct the reader. This could be an inclination of his desire to publish the memoir in Essex People however as alluded to the emissions in the published edition suggest the publication was more of anafterthought rather than his intended goal.

Depiction of the Victorian printing process.
Depiction of the Victorian printing process.

The memoir of John Castle is both informative and engaging. Given the character of the man, he, describes himself as liberal, he clearly intended to help others through his own experience. This account focusses upon important lessons like the need for education, ‘such a deep impression was made on my mind as to the importance of education’ (18) but also for fun and frivolity. Coupled with this the poet style in places and the theme of self-improvement shows genuine pride in his life and a willingness to share it with others.

[i] Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.