The BBC ran a series of programmes in March 2010 (repeated in Aug 2010) about diaries. A lot of it confirmed my own research about diaries, namely the cathartic nature of spilling your thoughts onto a page, unedited (supposedly), and that the writer, subconsciously, always has an audience in mind. These programmes, however, were about the diary as a literary device and what make a ‘good diary.’ On ‘memoirs,’ vulgarity and gossip is good, as is letting yourself or the ‘character’ come across, and observing important events. The narrative arc is ‘this is the story of my life’ where the writer recreates a picture for the reader. The programme interviewed publishers and agents, who commented that they ‘crystalise your version of events’ as well as offer details of history that cannot be recaptured, as in the wonderful Housewife 49. Here, anonymity brings with it a huge amount of freedom.
As a literary device, Sue Townsend (author of the popular Adrian Mole diaries), states that they have an ‘in-built structure’ that offers a technique for revealing a character (think Bridget Jones and Bram Stoker). The diary then develops a persona, it becomes your confidante, your friend (think Anne Frank).
This series is a fascinating sweep of a literary genre that is highly undervalued. The low status of the diary is mirrored in academia, in that it is mistaken for a tool that allows for pointless navel-gazing. It’s often said that you need to have something to say to write a diary, but I don’t agree. The language you use reveals something of you and your time, even in seemingly mundane depictions of events. This is invaluable to a researcher.