I wonder how many people enjoy reading diaries? Yesterday I picked up (for 50p) A Pacifist's War by Frances Partridge. To be honest I had never heard of her, she was married to Ralph Partridge and, according to the blub, concerns the Bloomsbury Set
Prior to that I have read The Journal of a Disappointed Man & A Last Diary by W.N.P. Barbellion, published shortly before his death in 1919, a powerful and moving account of his struggles and slow, inevitable early death. The chapters detailing his childhood are marvellous as are his observations on natural history (also a 50p purchase)
I have also recently acquired the diaries of Kenneth Williams and also have the diaries of Cosima Wagner (which, to be honest, are best consumed in small doses)
So, my question is, do people enjoy reading diaries, why, and which would they recommend?
Frances Partridge was on Private Passions some years back and introduced me to several pieces of music that I didn't then know (not knowing much then, as now). That whole Bloomsbury era was fascinating. Not so much a diary as a memoir is A Boy at the Hogarth Press by Richard Kennedy who was a glorified office boy at the press and has wonderful reminiscences of Virginia and Leonard Woolf.
I've come by two anonymous manuscript journals, one I bought for £3 at an auction and it virtually changed my life because the fascination of what was being described led me on a trail to discover the author, a minor Victorian writer. On Night Waves one evening I heard the editor of the, then in progress, New Dictionary of National Biography. He said that out there, listening, there would be people who knew more about one single DNB person than anyone else in the world, and he wanted to hear from such people. And I wrote in and said: I know more about XXX than anyone else in the world and I want to revise the article on him
The journal itself was fascinating for the description of radical politics and journalism in the 1820s. And if you want to read it, it's now in the British Library
Blimey ff! - what a brilliant story
I enjoy reading diaries and have waded through those of Kenneth Willams, Joe Orton, Alan Clarke, and one volume of Noel Coward's diaries. One question that always raises its head for me is 'were these diaries written to be published?'
Not diaries in the strict sense of the word of course, as the main person is hardly contributing, but I love browsing through Beethoven's conversation booklets. They show what was going on, around Beethoven himself, in the musical world and in the wider world around him. Very fascinating I must say. And most certainly not meant for publication.
...which is something I've often asked myself.
Originally Posted by amateur51
In the cases of Orton, Clarke and (possibly) Coward, I would say yes and I think Orton as good as said his diaries should be published after his death (he was encouraged to start writing them by his agent). This begs the question as to how truthful these diaries are - did the authors exaggerate their escapades, or did they misrepresent what actually happened so that they come out of it looking good? Orton's diary is, I'd argue, the best thing he wrote (by some distance) and is phenomenally detailed (but never boring) - I'd imagine few of us would go into the kind of detail J.O. goes into - but then, most of us wouldn't need to, would we? (or should I just speak for myself?).
The most sensational political diary I've read is that by Cecil King (2 vols, covering the years of the Wilson-Heath governments). King was quite shameless in passing on all sorts of confidential information and gossip....it's assuming to note that, by the time he gets to the second volume, he's dining out with less important people, having scared off the top brass.
Henry 'Chips' Chanon's Diaries are a fun source of background on the privileged class between the wars.
I don't think Kenneth Williams ever contemplated publishing his 'real diary - he did publish a sanitised 'version' during his lifetime.
I think the Diaries represent the best of the Orton canon, because they demonstrate his comedic skills at their best - they're funny, precisely because Orton shows us the absurdity of people and situations in real life: they validate his plays because they show us he was always writing about 'real' life (which was what he always maintained). It also works as suspense - because 'we' know what happpens in the end, we see Joe failing to read the danger signs and purse our lips...
Originally Posted by amateur51
I'd rate them over the plays, because the latter don't really live on the page and are difficult to cast: in Loot, for instance, it's virtually impossible to find young actors capable of playing Hal and Dennis.
(As to KH's note: the Diaries don't explain everything, especially since the final pages were confiscated - and 'lost' - by the police).
Kenneth Williams published a 'sanitised' diary called Backdrops: Pages From A Private Diary in 1983.
Journeying Boy: The diaries of the young Benjamin Britten is interesting, though only covers the period until 1938. It does not always show BB in a favourable light; he appears to have been an arrogant and self-opinionated youngster at times (and I speak as a BB enthusiast.)
Originally Posted by Anna
Not diaries, but I find the on-going series of his collected letters much more enlightening. (Faber: the latest volume brings us up to 1965.)
He was certainly very opinionated, but that isn't a fault. To me he doesn't come across as arrogant at all. I also think that quite a few of his opinions in his teenage years were very much influenced by Frank Bridge - for instance the low opinion of Adrian Boult. Auden also influenced him hugely in the later part of the diary. Isn't it frustrating that he stopped keeping diaries when he was barely in his mid-twenties?
Originally Posted by VodkaDilc
I do enjoy diaries, and letters, because they give a much clearer impression of a personality and a time than any biography. I believe the last volume of Britten's letters will be published in time for his centenary in 2013. I've been looking forward to 'the next volume' after each was published for so long that I shall feel quite bereft when there isn't a new one to wait for!