Robert Ward (B. 1907): Purpose and Audience – Writing Lives

Robert Ward (B. 1907): Purpose and Audience

This post discusses the Purpose and intended Audience of Robert Ward’s memoir ‘A Lancashire Childhood’. You can read in full here, which is his memoir transcribed by myself.

“And so my childhood ended” (11)

There are several reasons as to why someone would write an autobiography or memoir, and they are key sources for us today in finding out what life was like many years ago. Despite Robert Ward making no direct comment regarding what motivated him to write his memoir, and likewise who he intended to read it, we can draw out some of our own theories as to why he did by using the content he includes. Something very interesting to note, is that Burnett made an announcement on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour “asking for listeners to write to him about their memories of the ‘early life of the working class” (Rogers and Cuming, 2019, p.180). Whilst Robert was clearly not a woman, and so it is likely he would not have sent any memories or memoirs to Burnett, it does not mean that he wasn’t inspired by this idea.

We are not told how old Robert was when he wrote this memoir, however with the mention of his father’s death, we can assume it is when he was very much into his later years of life. If I were to assume, I would say that he wrote it once he had retired. Rogers and Cuming believe that the majority of the “Burnett autobiographers were writing in older age” (Rogers and Cuming, 2019, p.185); I feel very confident in saying Robert was part of this majority. It is very common for people to write autobiographies or short memoirs like Robert’s once they have retired; they perhaps want to reminisce about their lives and their experiences. When writing a piece on your childhood, it is something that one does once they have experienced a lot, if not all they wanted to in their life. This is because “life-writing is intimately connected to the body and the passing of time” (Roger and Cuming, 2019, p.185).

Judging by how Robert has spoken about his childhood, they were clearly very influential and fond years; he even outrightly stated that, “these were the years when my character was… being moulded” (3). This solidifies the notion that he treasures these years deeply and wanted them to be put on paper to be remembered forever.

Robert alludes to the fact that when he was a child, he did not fully appreciate who his father was and what he did for him. It was only when his father was older and “came to live with [him], did [he] appreciate his [father’s] character and realise what [he] owed him” (3). This could give some light as to why he spoke so in depth about his mother and father and their roles; perhaps to act as a sort of tribute to them. Although Robert’s household was one that cared and looked after Robert and his brother, his mother and father were not particularly affection towards them. We can not assume that this lack of affection continued into their adult lives, but if it had, this may have been Robert’s way of letting them know how much he truly loved them, whether they can read it or not.

Education and schooling is something that is mentioned on nearly every page of Robert’s memoir, and he goes into quite a lot of detail about what he got up to in school. After the great education that he received through school and college, we know that he grew up to be an English teacher; this could also have a hand in Robert’s motivation to write this memoir for a couple of reasons. One of these reasons could simply be that he did have a great love for the subject of English, which we know as he “special[ised]” (2) in it, and could have just had a passion for writing. Another reason could also be that he wanted to perhaps show the foundations as to why he chose his profession. He mentions an English teacher he had, called Miss Royds, to which he “owe[s] a great deal” (11); we can assume that it was her influence and teaching that encouraged him to become a teacher himself. As aforementioned, a possible reason for Robert’s writing could be to pay tribute to his late father, this could also be said for his teacher; she clearly had an impact on his life and this is his way of commending her for that.


Primary Sources:

Ward, Robert. ‘A Lancashire Childhood’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. Special Collections. 2:0797.

Secondary Sources:

Rogers, H and Cuming, E. (2019). Revealing Fragments: Close and Distant Reading of Working-Class Autobiography. Journal of Family and Community History

Vincent, D. (1980). Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class. Social History, 5.2, pp. 223-247.


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