A First Class Man

Venables, Katherine. 2022. A First Class Man. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The creative work in this thesis is a hybrid memoir-biography, A First Class Man. It draws on my father’s life. He died in 1959, aged only forty, when I was ten, so I can remember him, but not as an adult. Like him, I became a doctor.

My father’s life spanned major events in the twentieth century, from the First World War to the creation of the National Health Service. He was a schoolboy during the Great Depression in industrial Middlesbrough, then his student peers included European Jews escaping fascism. After joining the Army in the Second World War he was posted to a mobile surgical unit in the Burma campaign. The unit moved east from Imphal through the mountainous jungle of the Indian border, over the great rivers of Burma, and south to Rangoon. He was in Singapore at the Japanese surrender, and then in Java, treating civilians injured during the Indonesian revolution. On returning to England, he married, started a family, and became a hospital consultant in Middlesbrough.

The book has two intertwined narrative arcs: one follows his life within its family, regional, and global context, and the other traces my search for a father who died too young. I write in short sections, so the book took on a fragmentary character, composed of passages of history, biography and memoir, and with fictionalised episodes from my childhood and from my work as a junior hospital doctor.

The critical commentary explores areas of overlap between history, biography and memoir, with reference to critical works about auto/biography. It is illustrated by comparator life writing texts which focus on a search for a parent. I also discuss the challenges of working during a pandemic to assemble a long-form prose work from component sections which were written in different styles and registers.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



memoir, biography, history, medicine, father, daughter, prose vignettes

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


30 April 2022

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

06 May 2022 14:10

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:19



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