A Brief Summation of Chapters 29-34 – From ‘A Day’s Companion’ to ‘A House to Let’
“I am now giving my experiences honestly and truthfully, and thought for thought, if not word for word, as they happened.”
In last week’s overview we left Davies in a reflective mood, walking the outskirts of London, “sometimes making sixpence, and always less than a shilling a day”, with which he must purchase bed, food and “occasionally a couple of dozen laces.” He increasingly finds his ambulatory existence monotonous and longs to succeed as a writer.
We begin the first of several short chapters with ‘A Day’s Companion’ (Chapter XXIX) and Davies in full anecdotal flow, relating the tale of the old man and the blackberries, before moving on to Chapter XXX (‘The Fortune’) and a story of fellow tramp, James Macquire, who cunningly tricks the landlord of a beer-house into subsidising him generous sums of money before disappearing without trace.
In Chapter XXXI (‘Some Ways of Making a Living’) he considers the various methods a wanderer might employ to earn sufficient money to pay for bed and board – he refers to this as “a beggar’s profession” and relates the story of Long John, a man he meets in Oxford, and his bid to make a shilling from an old army officer. However, in Chapter XXXII (‘At Last’), his tone becomes far more despondent as he describes himself as at his “wits’ end to procure food and shelter.” He is “heartily sick of this wandering from town to town” and returns once more to London and the Farmhouse after five months on the road.
“No one man in a common lodging house is supposed to be regarded with any special favour. The common kitchen is his library, his dining room and his parlour…”
Once settled, Davies collects together his writings and begins to prepare work “for the press”. On receiving his money (the interest on his late grandmother’s endowment) in the first week of January, he is shown much kindness by a printer who places his MS “in the hands of a good reader”, a gentleman “put to considerable trouble being baffled and interested in turns.” He describes both printer and reader as being “at great pains and patience to make the work better than it was” – which one assumes means they edit his work ready for publication. He receives his first printed copy in early March.
As a result of his printer sending thirty copies of this poetry collection to “various papers,” two “slim reviews” follow. It is disappointing, and his disillusionment leads to bouts of drinking and thoughts of destroying his work – “the whole two hundred and odd copies,” which are locked in his room. Thankfully, the difficulties involved in achieving this prevent him from impulsively doing so. He therefore continues to “distribute the books here and there, sending them to successful people”, several of whom send him “the price of the book”.
Interest begins to grow in Davies’s work. A well-known Irish playwright comes to his assistance, notices appear in prominent publications, interviews follow, which ultimately lead to fame. He describes it as “like a dream”. In his “most conceited moments [he has] not expected such an amount of praise”.
After such jubilation at finally succeeding as a writer, Davies writes a rather glum final chapter (‘A House to Let’) about “ill luck” not allowing him to “escape without another scratch.” He relates his legal woes over renting a large villa overlooking the River Severn. He concludes with stern advice: “Never live in a house next door to your landlady or landlord”.
Davies is thirty-five years of age when his chronicle ends. In these final chapters we see him looking back on his extraordinary life and shaking his head at his younger self. Although prone to the occasional hubristic pronouncement, he has a depreciating sense of humour and frequently mocks his youthful complacency and arrogance.
Lengthy but immensely entertaining anecdotes are a feature of this closing section, but he makes clear he has paid a heavy price for his ‘freedom’. Latterly, feelings of despair and worthlessness almost lead to his ruin, but he never gives up, and eventually accomplishes his dream of becoming a respected writer.
The Autobiography of a Super-tramp is now regarded as a classic.
“No person seemed inclined to start me on the road to fame, but as soon as I had made an audacious step or two, I was taken up, passed quickly on from stage to stage, and given free rides farther than I expected.”
Please share your thoughts on chapters 29-34 of The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp.
This is my eighth choice for The Classics Club.