Blogs > Cliopatria > Dear Diary

Jan 13, 2004 6:11 pm

Dear Diary

I'm a sucker for diaries. Even boring ones, I like to at least sample. Parson Woodforde, who loves to report on what he ate for dinner - I don't mind, I want to know what he ate for dinner.

Fanny Kemble, George Templeton Strong, Frances Partridge, Virginia Woolf, Kafka, Thoreau, Boswell (dear Bozzie, what a joy he is), Marie Bashkirtseff, Dorothy Wordsworth, Emerson, Dostoevsky, Katherine Mansfield. I eat them up.

The only one I can think of I don't like is Sylvia Plath's. Partly because I hate the ridiculous cult about her, which wouldn't exist if she hadn't killed herself, and what kind of stupid reason is that to make a hero of someone? but much more because of the content. The soppiness, the sub-Lawrentian guff about Ted and babies, the bad literary taste.

Susan Hill has a very good article here about diaries. Kilvert, Pepys, Scott, Sarton (that's another I don't like much), James Lees-Milne.

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Oscar Chamberlain - 1/18/2004

I once worked with the diaries of a new England born doctor who spent much of his adult life in South Carolina from roughly 1807-1830.

I really got to like the man, who was sort of misplaced Puritan. After attending his first Methodist service, wrote "Hell can be no more tumultuous"; yet could write "What a figure!" after seeing a sculpture of a female.

The wonderful thing about these diaries was that I found them while looking for something else entirely. A true, random, gift.

Ophelia Benson - 1/14/2004

I know, I know. I was thinking of letters as I was writing about diaries, and afterwards, too. Including some literary ones. George Sand and Flaubert, disagreeing violently but affectionately. Keats. Emerson and Carlyle. One of these days I want to read Goethe-Schiller.

But I love the other kind too. I have a box full of letters between 19th-early 20th century Iowa relatives. The Pullman strike, the Spanish-American war (my great-uncle's tentmate ate about 20 onions and then threw up and all the other tentmates wanted to kill him...), the Chatauqua circuit on which my grandfather lectured on Sinclair Lewis' Main Street (Main Street was a much nicer place than Lewis let on, apparently); the new Ford and what fun it was to zoom around Iowa's muddy roads in it; the piano and learning to play 'Kitten on the Keys'; etc.

And blogs, for that matter. Diaries, letters, blogs - it's all the same sort of thing.

Timothy Burke - 1/14/2004

There's nothing I like better when I'm in an archive than cracking into a big file of correspondence, especially when it's not written by literary people who are self-consciously *writing* to one another. You get the most amazing window into everyday life, the consciousness of others, and so on, even conceding all the important caveats about the constructed self of letters, the rhetorical form of letters and so on.