My project is about the culture of working-class autodidacts. I want to take a literary approach and look at representations of autodidacts in fiction and non-fiction. My aim is to interrogate the term 'autodidact' and perhaps to re-shape it, by moving away from the traditional self-improvement model of well-known characters such as Thomas Cooper and William Lovett. An approach might be to look at case studies of different types of knowledge and how they were represented, e.g. the healer, preacher, sailor, scientist.

At this stage, therefore, I am reading broadly and looking for any examples of not just the traditional autodidact figure, but of the knowledge of working-class or, for want of a better term, non-elite people. For example, in Mary Barton, Job Legh is a recognisable autodidact type, the self-educated naturalist, but Will Wilson, the sailor has knowledge of different lands, cultures, natural history, whilst Alice Wilson is a healer, steeped in traditional medical knowledge. Are there any other fictional examples? I would be grateful for any examples of texts pr thoughts about this project.

5 February 2009