The Hidden Writer: Diaries and the Creative Life

The Hidden Writer: Diaries and the Creative Life

by Alexandra Johnson
     
 

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Presenting seven portraits of literary and creative lives, Alexandra Johnson illuminates the secret world of writers and their diaries, and shows how over generations these writers have used the diary to solve a common set of creative and life questions. In the childhood diary of Marjory Fleming we witness a young writer finding her voice, while Sonya Tolstoy's diary… See more details below

Overview

Presenting seven portraits of literary and creative lives, Alexandra Johnson illuminates the secret world of writers and their diaries, and shows how over generations these writers have used the diary to solve a common set of creative and life questions. In the childhood diary of Marjory Fleming we witness a young writer finding her voice, while Sonya Tolstoy's diary describes the conflict between love and vocation; in Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf's friendship the nettle of rivalry among writing equals is revealed; and in Alice James's diary, started at age forty, the feelings of competition within a creative family are explored. In Anais Nin, we see the popular explosion of the diary as confessional; and finally in May Sarton the pursuit of solitude becomes a national obsession. A time-lapse study of confidence, The Hidden Writer shows how each writer used the diary to negotiate the obstacle course of silence, ambition, envy, and fame.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is an engaging study of seven female writers whose diaries offer distinct clues to the relationships between life and work, creativity and blockage, ambition and anguish. Johnson's prologue reminds us that contemporary female novelists (Toni Morrison, Alice Munro) have mined the diary's interior life in fiction, but her chapters stand alone as stories of the elusive muse. Edinburgh's Marjory Fleming began her diary at age six in 1810, two years before her death. A half century later, those plucky diaries would surface into great popularity, a forerunner, the author suggests, of Anne Frank's hidden journal. Sonya Tolstoy and husband, Leo, agreed to exchange diaries and read them in a "suicidal intimacy" that diminished Sonya. Among the literary Jameses, Alice was the "hidden writer," her diary a voice that was otherwise silenced. The diaries of Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf reflected and refracted their public friendship and rivalry. Other subjects in this intriguing study are Anas Nin, inscribing lovers, and May Sarton, chronicling solitude and aging. Johnson, who teaches creative and nonfiction writing at Harvard University and Wellesley College, concludes with a diaristic meditation on the value and pedagogy of diaries. Photos. (May)
Library Journal - Library Journal
Johnson, who teaches memoir writing at Harvard and Wellesley colleges, provides an engrossing examination of the relationship between diary writing and creativity, between writers' lives and diary writings, and the evolution of private to public writing. She presents seven narrative portraits chronologically, beginning with six-year-old diarist Marjory Fleming from the early 19th century to accomplished writer May Sarton, who began diary writing at age 60 in the 1970s. Other portraits are of Sonya Tolstoy; Alice James; Virginia Woolf; Katherine Mansfield, who evolved as literary figures through diary writing; and Anas Nin, who, intertwining passionate sex with diary writing, became a "professionally private writer." These portraits reflect Johnson's skill at interweaving biography with diaries. Fittingly, she concludes the book with an epilog written as diary entries. For public libraries.Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, N.J.
Kirkus Reviews
Focusing primarily on seven female writers, this insightful study examines a form that retains its uniquely personal quality, whether or not the work is ever meant to be published.

To exemplify the "silent creative underground" of diary keepers, Johnson, who teaches writing at Harvard, gives a capsule sketch of Marjory Fleming, who died a month before her ninth birthday in 1811 and whose diary extracts, embellished with "a sentimental and utterly false story" of her life, made her the posthumous toast of childhood- and death- adoring Victorians. Alice James is seen turning thwarted ambition and intelligence into long- term invalidism, finally, at age 40, embarking on a diary that begins as a record of loneliness but becomes a vehicle for observation and introspection. Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, friends and rivals, entrust a part of their ongoing conversation on creativity not to each other but to their respective journals. As a "professionally private writer," Anaïs Nin explores the differences between truth and accuracy in her infamous multivolume, multiversion "Liary." Although Johnson says her object is "showing how a creative mind makes its passage into and through the world," she appeals at least as much to the emotions as to the intellect, as when she determinedly elicits sympathy for the hard-working and embattled Sonya Tolstoy, while also making it clear that such a simple response is inadequate for the complex, forceful woman who was scribe, editor, publisher, wife, estate manager, and diarist. Even crusty May Sarton, depicted as as a woman observing "the bittersweet autumn of the body, the wintry silences of old age," takes on a mildly sentimental sheen.

An elegant introduction to some interesting women, although the revealing voices of the diarists themselves are filtered through the studied, self-conscious voice of the academic.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385478298
Publisher:
The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/14/1997
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.96(w) x 8.59(h) x 1.00(d)

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