Biography 24.4 (2001) 948-951
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An update of critical studies on the literary diary, this well-organized easy read in outline form divides itself into four major sections. The first attempts a definition of the genre and its specificity. The second section traces the evolution of the literary diary from the eighteenth century onward, as well as its entry into officialdom through publication. The third section analyzes the process itself of keeping a diary, and the temporal and narrative instances of this particular mode of writing. The last section explores the relationship between the diarist, the diary, and its reception and readership, and the problem of trespassing in transcending the barrier of intimacy inherent to the project.
In her introduction, Simonet-Tenant addresses the question of the diversity of the genre--of literary and non-literary, professional or personal, texts --and the concomitant problem of structuring a coherent and comprehensive critical analysis. The problem of generic classification of the journal intime is centered in its unifying identity of temporal immediacy, autoreflexivity, and singular textual existence, rather than its narrative structure or the purpose of its content. The author acknowledges the recent proliferation of media formats, and chooses to limit her study to the printed text. She [End Page 948] traces the source of the genre to medieval commerce and prayers, then the press, then private accounts, and raises the problem of what to call the author: journaliste/diariste/intimiste. In fact, the French term journal intime, which distinguishes it from the public press newspaper, gains a critical confessional value judgment missing in the English "diary." André Gide has the honor of first denoting his journal as intime, necessitated by the ambiguity of his public/private sexual personae. Simonet-Tenant notes as well that professional memoirs are obviously for public consumption, personal rather thanintimate or private. Turned outward, the journal becomes extime, a chronicle of an era.
In attempting a generic definition of the journal intime, and distinguishing it from autobiography, with its retrospective metadiscursive narrator, the author includes frequent references to the extant body of well-known criticism and theory, including Lejeune, Didier, Barthes, Gusdorf, Girard, Lecarme, Genette, Rousset, and Beneveniste. She illustrates, using thirty-five writers' journals, the subgenres of album, agenda, cahier, carnet. She addresses the question of the diary binding, which gives it context, body, continuity, portability, even lock and key. She catalogues the writing instruments: quill, ballpoint, felt-tip, typewriter, computer, internet page. In answer to "Who narrates?" she affirms first-person subjectivity irrespective of the subject pronoun. The disguise can be carried to the use of codes, symbols, or foreign language for secrecy and discretion. She acknowledges Samuel Pepys as the patriarch of diarists, and notes that the originality of handwritten diaries, like art, folding, or calligrams, is lost in publication.
In section two, Simonet-Tenant chronicles the history of the diary from the Renaissance, including Louis XIII and Saint-Simon, and notes how the travel logs of Columbus, Montaigne's writings, and the diaries of Pepys are used as evidence of daily historic reality. She notes that the diary turned inward as a spiritual journey goes back to St. Augustine and antiquity as a practice, and that the Protestant reformation and quietism led to introspection which became psychological. The eighteenth-century fictional autobiographic voice and rise of the bourgeoisie led to the proliferation of self-analysis in diary form, especially in the sensualism of Locke, Condillac, and Rousseau. The diary became a barometer of the soul, the climatology of inner space, one's nether weather. She emphasizes the importance of the diary function for women writers of the Revolution, and also the work of Rétif de la Bretonne, wherein the archive of the self becomes Les Nuits révolutionnaires. Rétif's observations were literally carved in stone, into the pavés of the Ile St. Louis. She gives a chronological listing of the nineteenth-century...