Vol. 10 No. 10 (2020): Minorities in/and Ireland
Miscellanea

“I was an atom in the world of life”: James Dawson Burn’s “The Autobiography of a Beggar Boy”

Ilaria Natali
University of Florence
Published June 10, 2020
Keywords
  • Autobiography,
  • Irish migrants,
  • Marginality,
  • Vagrancy,
  • 19th century
How to Cite
Natali, I. (2020). “I was an atom in the world of life”: James Dawson Burn’s “The Autobiography of a Beggar Boy”. Studi Irlandesi. A Journal of Irish Studies, 10(10), 219-235. Retrieved from https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/bsfm-sijis/article/view/11761

Abstract

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.