The Private Life of the Diary

By Sally Bayley

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From Pepys to Tweets: a history of the diary as an art form

Publication date: April 2016
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About the book

Diaries keep secrets; they harbour fantasies and fictional histories. They are substitute boyfriends, girlfriends, husband and wives and sometimes children. But in the 21st century, diary writing is on the wane. The dignified space of the private diary has been replaced by a culture of public blurting.

The Private Life of the Diary: from Pepys to Tweets will trace the death of the diary as an ancient practice. Taking its lead from the great twentieth century diarist, Virginia Woolf, the book will work backwards towards her diary ancestor, Samuel Pepys. As a diarist, Woolf instils every aspect of the genre: from personal confessions about her irritation with her servants to reports on history passing: Armistice Day, November 1918 and then the solar eclipse, June 1927.

Diaries are a form of biography; they record lives as they are lived, moment to moment. They indulge our fondness for self-dramatisation and display. On November 13, 1949, seventeen year old Sylvia Plath begins a new diary and announces her diary-personae: The Girl Who Would be God. Her diary will hold down the projects and fantasies of her expansive-ego.

In the twenty-first century, self-disclosure is big business, as the recent best- selling on-line diary of prostitute Belle de Jour indicates. Since 1999 there has been an explosion of online weblog, radio and video diaries. Young people are the most frequent users of online diaries or blogs, a clear indication that diaries, both online and off, function as workshops for building identities. Who or What am I in relation to the world? This is the basic question of the juvenile diary, coupled with the realisation that you might need to go outside yourself to find an answer. The diary or journal offers a place for that question to be explored, and this book will trace the diarist’s journey towards knowing who they are.

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