The Hidden Writerby Alexandra Johnson
"Whom do I tell when I tell a blank page?" Virginia Woolf's question is one that generations of readers and writers searching to map a creative life have asked of their own diaries. No other document quite compares with the intimacies and yearnings, the confessions and desires, revealed in the pages of a diary. Presenting seven portraits of literary and
"Whom do I tell when I tell a blank page?" Virginia Woolf's question is one that generations of readers and writers searching to map a creative life have asked of their own diaries. No other document quite compares with the intimacies and yearnings, the confessions and desires, revealed in the pages of a diary. 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 Sonya Tolstoy's diary, we witness 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, begun at age forty, the feelings of competition within a creative family are explored.
The Hidden Writer shows how the diaries of Marjory Fleming, Sonya Tolstoy, Alice James, Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Anaïs Nin, and May Sarton negotiated the obstacle course of silence, ambition, envy, and fame. Destined to become a classic on writing and the diary as literary form, this is an essential book for anyone interested in the evolution of creative life.
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.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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- 5.23(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.77(d)
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