Historically, women kept records of their families' economic transactions, their husbands' accomplishments, and the births and deaths of family members. During the Victorian era, however, these records became more personal. At a time when individual rights and liberties were emphasized, women wrote more often of their own feelings: their opinions of the institution of marriage, their political beliefs, their aspirations. Until recently, the study of nineteenth-century women's diaries focused primarily on figures such as Jane Welsh Carlyle and Dorothy Wordsworth, both of whom were related to and acquainted with members of the literary canon. Scholars also read diaries to study the accomplishments of writers such as Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, George Sand, and Mary Shelley, or to witness the political dealings of people like Doroteya Kristoforovna Lieven and Queen Victoria. However, diaries of seemingly ordinary women are now being studied because they make apparent the thoughts of nineteenth-century women, enlarging the history of the era. Women's private writings are thus recognized as valuable tools to understanding fully the nineteenth century.
Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters, and Journals, 1889
Le journal de Marie Bashkirtseff 1887
[The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff 1890]
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Diary by E.B.B.: The Unpublished Diary of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, 1831-1832, 1969
Diary and Letters of Madame d'Arblay. 7 vols. 1842-1846
The Early Diary of Frances Burney, 1768-1778. 2 vols. 1889
The Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney (Madame d'Arblay). 12 vols. 1972-1984
Lady Charlotte Bury
Diary Illustrative of the Times of George the Fourth. 4 vols. 1838-1839
Jane Welsh Carlyle
Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle. 3 vols. 1883
Mary Boykin Chesnut
A Diary from Dixie, 1905
George Eliot [Mary Ann Evans]
George Eliot's Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals. 3 vols. 1885
Emily Hawley Gillespie
"A Secret to Be Burried": The Diary and Life of Emily Hawley Gillespie, 1858-1888, 1989
Journal of F. A. Butler. 2 vols. 1835
Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839, 1863
Doroteya Kristoforovna Lieven
The Unpublished Diary and Political Sketches of Princess Lieven, 1925...
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Cynthia Huff (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: An introduction to British Women's Diaries: A Descriptive Bibliography of Selected Nineteenth-Century Women's Manuscript Diaries, AMS Press, 1985, pp. ix-xxxvi.
[In the following excerpt, Huff describes commonalities of form, structure, and content among nineteenth-century women's diaries.]
Not long after the close of the nineteenth century, Virginia Woolf speculated about the form and content of diaries while writing her own. Characteristically, she decided that she would like hers "to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends." Yet she realized too that the diary could not be shapeless, for "looseness quickly becomes slovenly," and she feared her own diary writing "becoming slack and untidy." Woolf's comments in many ways capture the impulse and practice of diary writing for nineteenth-century British women. Women in the last century wrote diaries because they wished to embrace the flux of life, to store its nuances in a place of safe keeping, so that when the time came they could sift and evaluate the past, whether it was measured by the recurrence of birth and death or by the tallying of accounts. As Woolf realized, creating a diary is a skill which requires the manipulation of the vastness of experience. By deciding what to enter in her diary and which form to use to encase the...
(The entire section is 5232 words.)
Diary As History
Lillian Schlissel (essay date 1982)
SOURCE: An introduction to Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey, revised edition, Schocken Books, 1992, pp. 9-17.
[In the introduction to Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey, Schlissel describes nineteenth-century women's diaries as sources for a more complete and accurate history of the American Western expansion.]
[Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey] began with a fascination for the diaries of the overland women, with the detail of their lives and the dramatic dimensions of their everyday existence. These were ordinary women who were caught up in a momentous event of history. Between 1840 and 1870, a quarter of a million Americans crossed the continental United States, some twenty-four hundred miles of it, in one of the great migrations of modern times. They went West to claim free land in the Oregon and California Territories, and they went West to strike it rich by mining gold and silver. Men and women knew they were engaged in nothing less than extending American possession of the continent from ocean to ocean. No other event of the century except the Civil War evoked so many personal accounts as the overland passage. Young people and even children kept diaries and felt that their lives, briefly, had become part of history. The mundane events of each day—the accidents and the mishaps and the small...
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The Sociology Of Diaries
Margo Culley (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: An introduction to A Day at a Time: The Diary Literature of American Women from 1764 to the Present, The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1985, pp. 3-26.
[In the introduction to A Day at a Time: The Diary Literature of American Women from 1764 to the Present, Culley discusses how the conception of the self changed over the course of the nineteenth century and how this affected diary writing.]
As all the standard bibliographical sources show, American men kept journals in numbers far exceeding those kept by women until well past the middle of the nineteenth century. One of the most fascinating questions about American diary literature is, therefore, how, in the twentieth century, the diary came to be a form of writing practiced predominantly by women writers. The reasons why women continued to choose periodic life-writing and men began to abandon the form are complex. The reason is not, as some writers about autobiography have suggested, that women's lives are fragmented and thus so are the forms of their writing. Nor is the reason that other avenues of literary expression were closed to women writers. The first argument embodies a type of life/art fallacy for which feminist critics must invent a pithy name in order to stop its easy use; the second, as abundant evidence now indicates, is also simply not true....
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Diaries As Psychologicalscholarship
DIARIES AS PSYCHOLOGICAL SCHOLARSHIP
Martha Tomhave Blauvelt (essay date 1993)
SOURCE: "'This Altogather Precious tho Wholy Worthless Book': The Diary of Mary Guion, 1800-1852," in Anxious Power: Reading, Writing, and Ambivalence in Narrative by Women, edited by Carol J. Singley and Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, State University of New York Press, 1993, pp. 125-141.
[In the following essay, Blauvelt uses the diary of Mary Guion (1782-1871) to explore from a feminist critical perspective issues that affected nineteenth-century women as a whole: the reasons some kept diaries, the ways diaries functioned in their lives, and the interplay between diary-writing and popular literature of the time.]
At the turn of the nineteenth century, Mary Guion (1782-1871), a seventeen-year-old living in rural Westchester County, New York, began to keep a diary. Like many young women, she began with brief, unrevealing entries; but her journal, unlike most, burgeoned into 387 closely written pages, 340 of them covering her courtship years from 1800 to 1807. Guion chronicled the everyday life of a young woman of the early American republic in almost overwhelming detail: who came to tea, what they said, where she went, whom she danced with, how she spent her day. It is impossible to read this flood of words without asking why Guion needed to record her life in such detail. What did...
(The entire section is 9399 words.)
Diary As Autobiography
Francis Anne Kemble (essay date 1835)
SOURCE: A preface to Journal of a Residence in America, A. and W. Galignani and Co., 1835, pp. v-vi.
[In the following excerpt, Kemble explains the purpose and composition of her published diary.]
A preface appears to me necessary to this book, in order that the expectation with which the English reader might open it should not be disappointed.
Some curiosity has of late been excited in England with regard to America: its political existence is a momentous experiment, upon which many eyes are fixed, in anxious watching of the result; and such accounts as have been published of the customs and manners of its societies, and the natural wonders and beauties of its scenery, have been received and read with considerable interest in Europe. This being the case, I should be loth to present these volumes to the English public without disclaiming both the intention and the capability of adding the slightest detail of any interest to those which other travellers have already furnished upon these subjects.
This book is, what it professes to be, my personal journal, and not a history or a description of men and manners in the United States.
Engaged in an arduous profession, and travelling from city to city in its exercise, my leisure and my opportunities would have been alike inadequate to such a...
(The entire section is 5250 words.)
Diary As Literature
Judy Nolte Lensink (essay date 1987)
SOURCE: "Expanding the Boundaries of Criticism: The Diary as Female Autobiography," in Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 14, 1987, pp. 39-53.
[In the following essay, Lensink argues for the importance of diaries as literary artifacts.]
In recent years, a few American women's autobiographies have entered the boundaries of the curricular canon, particularly in Women's Studies courses. The life stories of notables like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and autobiographically-grounded texts like Tillie Olsen's "Silences" and Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born have become classics. This acceptance of autobiography as a means for teaching about American lives began approximately a generation ago in interdisciplinary courses where such diverse texts as The Education of Henry Adams and Black Boy were read as case studies in intellectual history. But along...
(The entire section is 5051 words.)
Andrews, Matthew Page. The Women of the South in War Times. Baltimore: Norman, Remington, 1920, 466 p.
Discusses Southern women's roles in the Civil War and World War I.
Arksey, Laura, Nancy Pries, and Marcia Reed. American Diaries—An Annotated Bibliography of Published American Diaries and Journals, Vol. 1, Diaries Written from 1492 to 1844. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1983, 311 p.
Comprehensive bibliography of published American diaries and journals from 1492 to 1844. Entries are arranged chronologically, and some are annotated. The book includes name, subject, and geographic indexes.
—. American Diaries—An Annotated Bibliography of Published American Diaries and Journals, Vol. 2, Diaries Written from 1845 to 1980. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1987, 501 p.
Comprehensive bibliography of published American diaries and journals from 1845 to 1980. Entries are arranged chronologically, and some are annotated. The book includes name, subject, and geographic indexes.
Drury, Clifford Merrill. First White Women over the Rockies: Diaries, Letters and Biographical Sketches of the Six Women of the Oregon Mission Who Made the Overland Journey in 1836 and 1838. Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark, 1963-1966. Three vols.
Chronicles the lives of the first six white American women to...
(The entire section is 718 words.)