Women's Diaries Critical Essays


(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Women's Diaries

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.