A Personal Memoir: The Diary
By exploring the relationship between diary writing and women, Rhian Hutchings argues that the diary is a cathartic medium for sharing ideas and feelings
There is nothing quite like the intimacy between pen and paper at the end of an evening. As the pen touches the paper it is possible to connect with the self and to join the past with the present. Every inch of the paper belongs to its writer without the intrusion of a readers’ peering eyes. This intimacy has not gone out of fashion even if these days diary entries are more likely to be found on the notes app of an iPhone rather than with a papyrus and reed brushes dipped in ink. It is a practice that allows a place to confide, to relay the mundane quotidian or perhaps to release the tension of injustice whether that be political or personal.
The diary format within literature has also remained consistently popular with names like Anaïs Nin, Virginia Wolf, Sylvia Plath and of course Anne Frank forming an integral part of any bookshelf. Diaries have widely been acknowledged as a feminine format of writing, an embodiment of feminist practice. Why is this means of reconciling with the inner self so prevalent amongst women and is there a future for this literary confidante?
Virginia Woolf advocated for diary writing, of writing for oneself. She often mused about the diary as an exercise to stretch the muscles of the mind, to “loosen the ligaments”. She also pondered the position of the diary on the outskirts of the literary psyche. The novel was deemed a man’s endeavour. Even the reading of a novel could tarnish the ‘delicate’ nature of a woman. The nature of a diary is that it is not designed for the eye of the outsider even though diaries are often published as novels.
it became more than a way to write about the events of the day, it was its own form of revolt
A diary is accessible; it is not confined to the whims of its readership or indeed its author. It is therefore no surprise that the diary became a way in which women could write without the condescending disapproval of their male counterparts. As the only acceptable form of writing for women it became more than a way to write about the events of the day, it was its own form of revolt. Even recently, with the publication of Sasha Swire’s ‘A Diary of an MP’s wife’, this example of diary writing has shown another woman who has fervently mastered this unique form of retrospection.
At the age of ten I received my first diary with its very own plastic purple lock and key device. I had been gifted a little bit of personal space, the strange contradiction of secrecy alongside the freedom to write whatever I wanted to filled me with excitement. Throughout the angsty lens of my teenage years I diligently wrote about my feelings, what was happening in school alongside some stories of insignificant events. The diary has continued to be my faithful companion throughout the years.
The effort that it takes to go to the corner shop to buy a lined notebook has been overtaken by the desire to share our feelings on blogs and on social media sites. Does this mean that this sacred form of writing is becoming outdated? The diary is perhaps evolving from its marginalised origins and shifting to the mainstream platform to share the personal with the public. Undoubtably its popularity has remained, whether that be through technology or in its original written form.