William Cole (review date November-December 1984)
SOURCE: Cole, William. “Lighter-Than-Air Craft.” Saturday Review 10 (November-December 1984): 90.
[In the following excerpt, Cole argues that Mallon's study of diarists throughout history in A Book of One's Own is a “book cried out to be written.”]
This book cried out to be written, and the call was answered by Thomas Mallon in A Book of One's Own: People and Their Diaries. For him, the word “diary” embraces journals, day-books, commonplace books and, in some cases, writers' notebooks. Of the diarists quoted, Pepys is tops. He was quite a terrible fellow, groping the servant girls, mean to his wife, licking the boots of his superiors. But, in his copious diary, he really dove in and showed the steaming London life of the 1660s. He embodied the total diarist, giving the trivia of daily life as well as first-hand accounts of the great events. Also represented are the rambunctious Boswell; the Goncourt brothers, “brutal, bored, and unshockable,” who took Parisian society apart, and, more up-to-date, George Templeton Strong, who wrote four million words about his beloved New York City in the mid-nineteenth century.
Among my favorites is The Journal of a Disappointed Man by the pseudonymous W. N. P. Barbellion, a sickly man early in this century, who lived only for his diary. When he had a guest, he would inevitably pull a volume of his diary and, after “inquiring with an oily voice, ‘A little of 1912?’ as if he were trying wine,” read excerpts. Some attention is given to the narcissistic Anaïs Nin, some to the erotic masterpiece My Secret Life, which Mallon calls an “epic with thousands of climaxes,” and some to a volume new to me, the Daybooks of the photographer Edward Weston. However, I was disappointed by how little the author says about two pets of mine: Kilvert's Diary and the Journals of Arnold Bennett, nor is there enough of that interesting contemporary diarist, Ned Rorem.
Here is something from wicked Evelyn Waugh's diary. He writes of his pal, Randolph Churchill, who had just been operated on, only to learn that his lung had not been malignant: “… it was a typical triumph of modern science to find the only part of Randolph that was not malignant and remove it.”