Journal of a Solitude Critical Context - Essay

May Sarton

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Sarton’s autobiographical writings have been widely appreciated for their intense and honest depiction of solitary female experience. They are of interest in the context of a considerable body of twentieth century women’s autobiographical writing in the United States. Unlike many such works, however, Sarton’s journals and memoirs transcend narrowly ideological purposes. Although she frequently reflected upon the oppression of women, her concerns were ultimately deeper and more universal, addressing issues of human survival and growth both in solitude and in the context of love, friendship, family, and community. Journal of a Solitude is important, moreover, in that it is a rare portrait of a middle-aged person (Sarton was fifty-eight when she wrote it) who was a successful poet and novelist. It communicates what a professional literary artist’s life can be like from day to day.

Journal of a Solitude is a pivotal work in May Sarton’s numerous autobiographical endeavors. In turning from the memoir form to that of the journal written for publication, Sarton was able to explore her own life more fully in writing than she had before and to communicate the rhythms of that life more vividly. The journal form became a powerful medium to which she would return again, in The House by the Sea (1977) and in Recovering: A Journal (1980). In the former volume, she described Journal of a Solitude as “a way of dealing with anguish.” As such, it was important for her personally and, by way of dramatic example, for her readers.