THE HIDDEN WRITER by Alexandra Johnson


Diaries and the Creative Life
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 Focusing primarily on seven female writers, this insightful study examines a form that retains its uniquely personal quality, whether or not the work is ever meant to be published. 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,'' Anaãs 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.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-385-47829-1
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1997