PRIVATE PAGES: Diaries of American Women, 1830s-1970s by Penelope--Ed. Franklin

PRIVATE PAGES: Diaries of American Women, 1830s-1970s

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Anyone who's ever longed for a peek at somebody else's diary may have a field day with Private Pages. Spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, these 13 real-life journals are arranged to ""trace the life cycle of women from adolescence to old age."" The writers range from a Japanese-American gift trapped in a WW II internment camp to a pioneer farm wife trapped in a loveless marriage; from a Jewish Southern belle describing post-bellum society (""How it makes my Southern blood boil to see [Yankees] in our streets"") to a 1920's magazine writer relating her love life in prose that resembles her fiction (""I clasped him to me and he rained kisses on my mouth""). Journals of obscure people are published for their historical value, but are read for their human-interest quotient--that universal desire to find out what a person's really like. Alas, the snoop instinct is satisfied only intermittently with these diaries. Some of them are sad (a 77-year-old woman charting her inexorable physical and mental decline); some are melodramatic (the farm wife's account of her covered-wagon trek to Colorado); some are weird (a contemporary poet's stream-of-consciousness entries). But most are just plain monotonous; they become interesting mainly in retrospect, when editor Franklin describes the subject's fate at the end of her journal. For example, the 50 pages that chronicle a turn-of-the-century schoolgirl's intense crushes on her female teachers take on a new significance when the afterword states that she acknowledged herself a lesbian some 30 years later. Private Pages is done in by its diversity--it might work better if the selections had more in common than being penned by American females. Some recurrent themes do emerge among the diarists: the longing for a lover; the resolves to be a better daughter/wife/churchgoer; the disparity between the writer's public behavior and her private thoughts. ""Customs and technologies change, but human emotions remain the same,"" sums up Franklin's apparent rationale for this collection. Despite the fascinations of occasional entries, one can't shake a sense of ""so what?

Pub Date: July 1st, 1986
ISBN: 0345314719
Publisher: Ballantine