“I was an atom in the world of life”: James Dawson Burn’s “The Autobiography of a Beggar Boy”
- Irish migrants,
- 19th century
James Dawson Burn’s The Autobiography of a Beggar Boy (first published anonymously in 1855) relates the often-amusing life’s adventures of a man coping with various forms of social marginalization, as a vagrant, an illegitimate child, and an Irish immigrant in England. A story of personal reform and social reintegration, A Beggar Boy seemingly relies on Victorian cultural and literary conventions and sustains the values which Burn saw as governing middle-class life. However, subtle transgressions of traditional formal and generic paradigms reveal a tension between the individual’s unique perception of the self and the demands of Victorian middle-class discourse. An immediate and considerable success amongst the Victorians, today A Beggar Boy can help expand the parameters of discussion related to Irish autobiography and its perceived features.