Why and how do we write diaries? And, perhaps more interestingly, why and how do we read diaries? The most common notions surrounding diary writing are confidentiality, privacy, secrecy, and intimacy. As a result, no matter how much we try to fend off the idea of being voyeurs when reading diaries, we cannot help feeling that we pry into the most confidential and private details of someone's life. Yet, we do read diaries, and mostly in a way legitimized by their author, or, at least, by the editor, quite frequently their spouse or partner, which fact, however, does not really dispel our unease since diaries usually also touch upon the intimate details of the editor and the writer's joint life. Is reading a diary, then, a legitimized mode of reading, or is it an illicit intrusion into a realm normally closed off from scrutinizing eyes?
The question is obviously rhetorical. Some contemporary forms of diary writing like blogs reveal certain aspects of self-creation at work in writing diary: whereas they are supposed to be personal, confessional statements, at the same time they envision an implied audience as a precondition of writing. Blogs, then, partly carry on with the tradition of diaries as apparently personal modes of utterance relegated to the realm of the private, partly reveal an aspect of the rhetoricity that may have always been implied in diaries: the implied and inevitable "presence of audience." This ambiguity hidden in the diary format is what Deborah Martinson sets off to explore in her monograph on diaries—and also on fiction—by women writers. She chooses an interesting structure: the introduction into the theoretical aspects and the formulation of her position are followed by four major analytical chapters, three of which are devoted to the diaries, and to a lesser extent to the fiction of flesh-and-blood writers—Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, and Violet Hunt—whereas the fourth one investigates the textual strategies of a fictional diary writer in Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook. This last chapter, at the same time, functions as a conclusion to the monograph, rearticulating and recontextualising questions pertaining to the three preceding chapters.
Whereas this solution of mixing and co-reading of both (supposedly real) diaries and fiction both by real writers and fictionalized ones might raise eyebrows, in the theoretical context created by Martinson they work marvelously well since her basic position is that diary texts function as "remaking of the self" (3). With this claim as a principle underlying the whole monograph, Martinson considers these [End Page 760] diaries as only one potential mode of self-creation, which, in addition, is shaped by the awareness that their texts will be read, either by the more or less consciously controlling presence of their husbands/partners who had diary privileges, or later by a wider audience: just friends (like Bloomsbury) or even the wider reading public. In her view, thus, diaries, are textual self-creations, and as such they can only be read as one—but often an inconsistent, contradictory, and oscillating—version of self-articulation; furthermore, diary selves are created with the presence of audience in mind, which contributes to the special rhetoricity of the text. This double approach to the texts defines all her readings: she always focuses on how with "an audience certain on the domestic front and potential on the literary front, these diarists use their talents to rhetorically shape self-identities in literary production" (3–4).
This consistency of method, however, does not lead either to repetitiveness or to the predictability of conclusions. The close reading of the texts, combined with intertextual, cultural, and biographical references that focus primarily on the impact of the audience on the rhetoricity of self-creation, provides a diversity that reveals various patterns of discursive subject positions these (mostly modernist) women writers could take and also create for themselves. In Woolf's case, obviously it is her husband, Leonard Woolf's presence that makes the greatest impact upon the creation of the self in...