Thomas Jordan (B.1892): Purpose and Audience – Writing Lives

Thomas Jordan (B.1892): Purpose and Audience

‘Most working-class autobiographies begin not with a family lineage or a birthdate but rather with an apology for their authors’ ordinariness’ (Gagnier, 338)

Unlike most working class memoirs, Thomas Jordan does not appear apologetic about sharing his story. Likewise, he does not acknowledge his own significance, but he instead focuses on telling the audience about the social situations in his community and the significance of personal desires to achieve what you want in life. Although this does not follow the format as outlined by academics, such as Regenia Gagnier who, in her article ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender’, suggested that working class authors placed themselves in a social standing to retain their social identity no matter what their occupation or situation, it does bring into question the oral history element of this memoirs.

Penny Summerfield has argued that the cultural approach to oral history ‘is to accept that people do not simply remember what happened to them, but make sense of the subject matter they recall by interpreting it’ (Summerfield, 67), and this is something which I feel manifests itself a lot throughout Thomas’s memoirs. For instance, his sentences are sometimes broken and his local dialect makes an appearance when he is encouraged for a further response. It’s almost like he is understanding what he is being asked and is constructing a reply which he feels is suitable.

Birtley, County Durham



‘The book, aye. I read the book you see- I read the book, and felt myself about- as if somebody was lifting me out of the morass.. I did.. it was a marvellous experience.’

(Jordan, 16)


Alongside this, he also seems to ‘talk himself up’ by mentioning friends and colleagues who went on to be successful in their later occupations. For example, ‘Sir Clement Price Thomas’ and how he later went on to ‘deliver many of the children of the queen – the old queen’ (Jordan, 14). This in itself, however; leads us to question if Thomas really was proud of his experiences or if he was making them more exciting and worthwhile by including these examples. As stated before, working class authors traditionally do not know why their memoirs are going to be of any significance, and this could possibly be the anxiety revealing itself.

Thomas Jordan's Autobiography

It’s important to consider the purpose of the memoir. Thomas was asked by John Burnett, founder of the Writing Lives project, for a brief history of himself; in which he mentions family lineage, his employment history, then his health and subsequent practice in Christian Science. He does not mention his wife, his own family, or anything about the town he grew up in, however; these are main themes in the memoir itself. From this we can assume that during the interview he engages with the interviewer and responds with memories and experiences, however he does not see them as relevant to his own personal biography.

Summerfield, Penny. ‘Culture and Composure: Creating Narratives of the Gendered Self in Oral History Interviews’, Cultural and Social History 1.1 (2004): 65‑93.

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

Thomas, Jordan. Untitled. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:405

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