Journal of a Solitude Essay - Critical Essays

May Sarton

Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces Journal of a Solitude Analysis

Sarton’s decision to leave Nelson is consistent not only with her credo of personal growth but also with her view of her “function” as “quietly destroying myths, even those of [her] own making, in order to come closer and closer to reality and to accepting reality.” As she writes her journal to destroy the cherished but “false myth of Paradise” created in Nelson, she finds that “Nelson these days becomes very luminous and real because I am slowly coming to a decision to leave it.” The form, the content, and the language of Journal of a Solitude together serve to dispel myths and to witness reality.

Sarton’s choice of the journal form over the memoir is in keeping with her project of destroying the myth she unintentionally created about herself in Plant Dreaming Deep. A journal is, by its very nature, fragmentary; it cannot be a continuous, seamless meditation. It records moments and moods; in doing so, however, it dramatizes the inconsistencies and changes of life as it is experienced rather than as it is remembered and reconstructed. A journal gives the reader a writer’s life as a process rather than as a finished work; it is more likely, if it is honest, to approximate the real rhythms of that life than is a memoir.

Deliberately fragmentary and deeply personal in form, Journal of a Solitude is nevertheless a unified, coherent, and, for the most part, accessible work. (What is less than accessible is Sarton’s relationship with X, about which she is understandably sketchy.) One of the ways in which Sarton opens up her experiences and feelings is through her use of metaphors that are universal. She refers, for example, to her life as a journey and to her states of mind and apprehension of the world in terms of light and darkness. Her use of these terms can be excruciatingly effective: One entry beings, “The darkness again. An annihilating review in the Sunday Times” (the review is of her 1970 novel, Kinds of Love). This entry comes after one in which she points up “A perfect day, . . . diffused clouds high in the air make the light rather tender. Sunlight on the white lintel of the door into the cozy room and then making a brilliant band on the blue-green couch in there.” Throughout the book, inner and outer light and darkness figure prominently and interrelate in meaning. Sarton also uses a commonly understood metaphysical frame of reference to categorize her inner life. She speaks of mastering “the Hell” in her life, of being “in a limbo that needs to be patterned from within,” of going “up to Heaven and down to Hell a dozen times a day,” of being “in Purgatory.” Twice in the journal Sarton moves from spiritual metaphors to speak directly about her prayer life and her relationship with God.

For the most part, however, Journal of a Solitude locates itself amid earthly realities—in the natural and human domains. Sarton is constantly responsive to weather and seasonal changes, and she is passionate about flowers; she surrounds herself with them:When I am alone the flowers are really seen; I can pay attention to them. They are felt as presences. Without them I would...

(The entire section is 1307 words.)