I am reading, well listening to, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Part of the novel is told in diary form. The protagonist not only tells the story by means of her diary, but she goes back into her diaries to confirm facts or assess feelings she had at the time. I have also started to read Virginia Woolf’s diaries, which are a lot less confusing than her books.
The former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown has just published her diaries, full of salacious gossip and fabulous descriptions such as this one of Jackie Onassis: “Her face is always slightly out of whack with her expression, as if they are two separate entities at work. She has perfected a fascinated stare.” A whole host of writers have kept a diary, including one of my all-time favourites, Evelyn Waugh.
There are two types of successful diaries; an interior monologue written by someone fascinating and amusing or, as in the Tina Brown example, meetings with famous people at glittering events we can only dream about being invited to. Very few people can combine the two, Alan Clark, the Tory MP, managed to. His diaries are among the best I have ever read.
With the bar set that high, I have always found the idea of keeping a diary faintly terrifying. When I was (a lot) younger I did. I still have it, unfortunately my teenage daughters unearthed it recently. It could have been entitled ‘Diary of the world’s most stupid person’ – literally page after page of unadulterated drivel. I’m sure there’s a quote from some film along the lines of ‘you’re never so stupid as when you’re talking about yourself’? Anyway, that was me.
But there are several upsides to a diary. For example, it would be a fabulous resource to go back over in times of need. All that material, all those things that happen every day that could inspire something. Or would they? Would I have anything interesting to say? How would I describe today for example?
“I woke up at 5.30am and had no idea where I was. Oh yes, I’m in France where it’s been raining solid for 24 hours. I had some awful nightmare Chelsea lost 4-1 at Watford. Oh wait, that wasn’t a nightmare…”
I guess though the point of a diary is that you wouldn’t, in the manner of a repressed Victorian lady, simply describe the events of the day, the letters you’d written or the weather, but it’s somewhere to write about things you don’t want to tell anyone. Perhaps that’s why Oscar Wilde said: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.” Although rather irritatingly he didn’t actually write one.
But I think rather than writing my own, I might just read other people’s…