Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I've been reading this for the last few days (the "Currently Reading" link in the sidebar here shows only one of the books I am reading at the moment; I always seem to have at least three on the go):

The Faber Book of Diaries, edited by Simon Brett. The bookmark left in it tells me that Matt (who lent me the book) took a train from Euston station to Manchester on December 21st, 2001.

I love anthologies and how you can just dip into them. This one has a brilliant format: It is laid out like a diary, a day-by-day scheme which makes it random (in a good way), bringing together entries from all kinds of people and years, and it allows you to follow the authors' lives in an unusual way. There is no chronological order; one day might have somebody's 1940 entry, and a few days later there is one from 1939 by the same person, so you have to bear in mind that the events from a few pages ago have not yet happened. It also allows for great leaps in time on one page: for instance, for the 14th of December you get a 1861 entry from Queen Victoria about Albert's death, followed by one from 1899 reflecting on the anniversary.

Here are some of my favourite entries:
20 April 1925 
"Happiness is to have a little string onto which things will attach themselves. For example, going to my dressmaker in Judd Street, or rather thinking of a dress I could get her to make, & imagining it made - that is the string, which as if it dipped loosely into a wave of treasure brings up pearls sticking to it."  Virginia Woolf

7 November 1815
"Passed an acute & miserable morning in comparing myself with Raphael. At my age he had completed a Vatican Room."  B.R.Haydon    [been there...]

28 November 1923
"Am still trying to make the most of (and prepare for the shattering of) my solitude. No doubt I shall soon get used to the old conditions, but at present I genuinely shudder at the thought of turning out of this room and not being able to play the piano in peace. Lately I have, not for the first time, actually thought, rather cravingly, of having a house of my own."  Siegfried Sassoon

16 December 1836
"I wish I had leisure to commit to paper a hundredth part of the tales, poems, and dramas with which my brain is crammed. I have such splendid visions in my head that the idea of never realizing them with the pen is quite mortifying."  Emily Shore [she died of consumption in 1839, aged 20]

The following juxtaposition in the entries for December 31st reveals two completely different attitudes:

"The dear old year is gone [...]. Yet not gone either: for what I have suffered and enjoyed in it remains to me an everlasting possession while my soul's life remains."  George Eliot

"The old year is fled, never to come back again through all Eternity. All its opportunities for love and service gone, past recall. What a terrible thought!"  Caroline Fox

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