There’s something charming about reading diaries. We all kept diaries when we were young: little pink or blue diaries with keys, which chronicled our infatuation with Herman’s Hermits, birthday parties (dancing to Paul Revere and the Raiders), the witch’s club that met after school, and walking on stilts on the playground.
Of course I gave up diaries long ago, but I’m fascinated by the diaries and journals of writers: James Boswell, Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Emma Hardy (Thomas Hardy’s first wife), and Sylvia Plath. Then there are of course historical diaries: Jimmy Carter published The White House Diaries this month (I’m fascinated by that time and would love to read it). A couple of years ago Nikki Sixx, the bassist for Motley Crue, wrote The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star. Ever since I read the novels of Anna Kavan (a heroin addict who wrote beautiful surreal prose), I’ve been more sympathetic to drug addicts. I’ll never understand–I’m not an addictive personality–but it helps to read historical records of these illnesses.
All of these books are going on my list because I plan to read a diary each month for the next year.
I’m starting with The Diary of Samuel Pepys, perhaps the most famous diary of all time. From 1660-1669, Pepys (pronounced “Peeps”), a secretary and naval administrator, kept a diary in code of his work, music (practicing his flagelot), love affairs, reading of bawdy novels (destroyed after reading), drinking, travels, and political struggles of the day. It’s personable, gossipy, and consistently entertaining. He describes what it’s like to be awake at 1 in the morning, listening to the bells of London and the herald announcing the time below his window. He witnessed the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.
He recorded a flood on March 20, 1660. This fascinates me because we have had floods here for two years now.
“…the water was so high that there was boats rowed in King Street and all our yard was drowned, that one could not go to my house, so as no man has seen the like almost, most houses full of water.”
Unfortunately I have the Modern Library edition, which has a sardonic, rambling introduction by Robert Louis Stevenson, who gives almost no information about Pepys and seems to despise him. There are no notes. I really could use some background. Everything I know about Samuel Pepys I learned from Wikipedia and The Diary of Samuel Pepys website. Pepys rose by patronage, the “rump” he mentions is Parliament, Monk is a general, etc.
So the internet can sometimes be a help.