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Only Child, The

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Joseph O'Connor Biography to Cynthia Ozick Biography

James Kirkup's ‘autobiography of infancy’, published in 1957. The book was highly acclaimed for its remarkably effective recreations of the atmospheres and particulars of Kirkup's life up to the age of six, when his family left the two-room flat in South Shields, Country Durham, which forms the principal setting. The authenticity with which the consciousness of a child is conveyed is partly the result of restricting the autobiography's compass to the flat and the street immediately outside it; only towards the end does the local frame of reference expand, when the child becomes aware of a local park and then of the River Tyne as features of a world beyond the end of the street. Kirkup's methods permit occasional touches of sentimentality to offset the neutral objectivity of much of the writing; the strategy is valuable in characterizing a child who might otherwise seem over-serious in his precocious sensitivities, which confer a sense of separateness from the everyday concerns of others. The book has a documentary value in its detailing of the life of a working-class family in the 1920s; periods of hardship are common as a consequence of the occasional unemployment of Kirkup's father, whose work as a joiner at the shipyards fluctuates.

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