Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Guardian Books Blog: Diaries in Literature



Pamela, make sure you keep your diary secret...


Do people still write diaries? Perhaps they have been replaced by blogs, something intensely private being replaced by something totally public, because that’s the way we live our lives these days. But the temptation is still there: the beautiful new book, the empty white page….

No, safer to turn to the endless joys of fictional diaries, where the writer is not allowed to give up. Today’s entry appears on the Guardian books blog, and looks at the best diaries in literature over the past 250 years… These are the opening paragraphs:



Diaries: you get one as a Xmas present and start writing it and continue for, oh, a few days more or less than you go to the gym for the New Year. Then you give it up, along with that new eating regime. But fictional characters tend to be much more reliable, forced by their authors to carry the story, slaves to the process of narrative. And there’s good reason for the format’s popularity in novels – at the most basic level it means you can have a first-person narration without the protagonist knowing what’s going to happen (although going out on a dangerous adventure is slightly less exciting, because the diarist definitely got back safely to write it up).

Fictional diaries have been amusing and entertaining us since the novel’s early days – here are some favourite examples.

Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740) is usually described as an epistolary novel, but our heroine also writes a journal, and then sews it into her underwear (she describes it as ‘in my undercoat, next my linen’), for secrecy, so she is wearing it at all times. It is hard to imagine a better metaphor for women’s history and women’s writing, and perhaps women’s diaries, over the past 250 years. Read on at the Guardian books blog here

Provincials on their way to a wedding


Many of the diaries mentioned in the piece have featured on the blog: Bridget Jones (old versions and new), the Provincial Lady, I Capture the Castle (that's Topaz above in the drape-y dress) and Adrian Mole are particular favourites.

Bridget Jones and that post-Xmas skirt

10 comments:

  1. Moira - Oh, what a great topic!!!!! And well done on getting into the Guardian again. Diaries are fascinating, whether they're kept by historical figures or fictional ones. Such an interesting way to give perspective on a person's character. And they're all over the place in crime fiction too, as I'm sure you know.

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    1. Thanks Margot - yes, I loved writing about this one, and there were many more examples I could have used, I was never going to run out! It was fascinating to think about the differences between real nad fictional ones...

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  2. Moira: My father wrote a few lines a day for most of his adult life. I occasionally look back to his diary over 70 years to remind myself how different his life was from my life.

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    1. What commitment that shows, and what a lovely thing for you to have. Do you find your blog acts as something of a diary? You do put in some personal things, and for me remembering what I was reading does remind me of what else I was doing.

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  3. Nice post, congrats! I've not encountered the "diary" in my reading, but then you wouldn't catch me with a Fielding book would you?

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    1. Come on now, plenty of murder stories feature diaries! Or is it just the cozies, do hard-boiled spies not come home and write up their activities after a long day killing, maiming, blowing things up....?

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    2. Moira, I have a head like a sieve.....maybe my hard-boiled protags. do have a journal - and I just can't remember them. I should have written them down, that would have meant having my own diary.....

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    3. Ha ha. But as I keep saying, these blogs are like our diaries....

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  4. Very interesting article. Of the books mentioned in the Guardian article, I have only read The Man in the Brown Suit, and I had forgotten that it had a diary format, even though it was within the last year. Although I remember liking the way it was told. But after reading books, I do tend to forget the format. I would like to try Dracula and I Capture the Castle someday.

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  5. Thanks Tracy. The Man in the Brown Suit is such a clever and entertaining book, even though it's not one of Christie's better-known ones. And I'm sure you'd love I Capture the Castle - one of my all-time favourites.

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