For the nosey and curious, what better way to get an inside view on things than to read a bystander’s diary? Obviously, I’m not talking about breaking confidences and reading someone’s private papers, but poking about in the vast myriad of published documents.
Memoirs and diaries are subtly different, of course.
A diary records events, feelings and incidents as they happen, all seasoned with a bit of writer’s bias. The diary can also be the repository of extremely honest opinions, depending on what the diarist sees as the purpose for his or her document.
Captain Scott’s journals evidence this to some extent and his writing reflects his move from from ‘personal journal’ to ‘public document’; Compare the difference in his notes about Oates’ chances of surviving the team’s journey back from the Pole and his final entries when he realises that death is inevitable and he is writing for posterity.
In more recent times, public figures often write ‘diaries’ with an eye to future publication and their output needs to be read with that in mind. Having said all that, they can often make rollicking and entertaining reads.
Memoirs allow the writer to reflect, justify and ‘re-remember’ events of the past. Events can be set in context, missing gaps in information filled, but immediacy and the real sense of time passing can be lost.
To date, I’ve only ever given up on one set of diaries: Kenneth Williams. Too vicious and full of self-loathing. I like my diary reads to entertain or inform, not leave me looking for the laudanum.
Top favourites? Gossipy, political, hypochondriac, Alan Clark. And my hero, Captain Scott.
Fictional alternatives are also a welcome read. The Diary of a Nobody, which gives an account of the daily life of City clerk, Charles Pooter, never fails to raise a smile. Or, if you like a bit of nineties zeitgest, count calories and glasses of wine with Bridget Jones, courtesy of Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Perfect reading for a wet Sunday afternoon.
Want to find out more?
Diaries. In Power 1983-1992. Alan Clark.
The Last Diaries. In And Out Of The Wilderness. Alan Clark.
Journals: Captain Scott’s Last Expedition. Captain R. F. Scott.
Diary Of A Nobody. George and Weedon Grossmith.
Bridget Jones’s Diary. Helen Fielding.
[Picture credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk]