The Tramper's Tale: poverty, vagrancy and witness

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningfagfællebedømt

This unusual and stimulating article focuses on two eighteenth- and nineteenth century autobiographies (Mary Saxby 1738-1801 and William Cameron 1787-1851). Both purport to be the work of their authors, although Peter Leese places special emphasis on the vital role of the editor and publisher in each case. The two subjects both encountered tremendous personal hardship and misfortune, and both were for long periods impoverished vagrants. The analysis begins with a discussion of the concept of conversion, either in the religious sense or in the sense of a changed way of life. Leese argues that writing their life stories helped the subjects to express these changes and gave a framework to their existence.

Each of the published works is dissected in terms of its internal structure, showing how specific themes emerge and shape the narrative, and how this reveals the way in which the authors perceived the path of their own existence. Leese gives a detailed and very accessible overview of the nature of autobiography and its relationship with an oral culture, explaining how sources such as melodrama, religious texts and popular literature shape the form of the story-telling. Peter Leese emphasises that works such as these do not emerge fully-formed from nowhere, but must be seen in the context of a strong and influential vernacular culture which includes oral narrative, street preachers and chapbooks. He addresses issues such as truth and reliability, the rationale for the exercise, and the emergence of self-identity. For anybody using autobiographical writings in local history, this is an important background essay which raises and discusses many key issues.
TidsskriftThe Local Historian
Udgave nummer2
Sider (fra-til)104-118
Antal sider14
StatusUdgivet - 1 apr. 2018

ID: 197770575