The Hostess as a Diarist

  • Susan K. Harris


Both Annie Adams Fields and Mary Gladstone kept extensive diaries for over twenty years. With their letters, these volumes are the basis of what we know about their lives. Both women clearly saw the value of a chronological record of their activities; unlike twentieth-century diarists, however, they rarely recorded much that was intensely private. In fact most nineteenth-century diaries, especially as kept by women, concealed as much as they revealed. I begin this chapter by sketching out the general function of nineteenth-century diaries because without that framework it is difficult to understand how Gladstone and Fields conceived of their journals and the kind of “work” the diaries did as extensions of their keepers’ lives. Even as I proffer generalities, however, I suggest that little we claim about nineteenth-century diaries may hold true on close examination; although some excellent studies of diary literature have been published, they tend to apply only to small groups of texts. Much work remains to be done on nineteenth-century diary literature, in general and for specific demographic pools. Moreover as always, idiosyncratic individuals are capable of destroying any generalities—for every one thousand Victorian women who refrained from discussing their most culturally shameful thoughts or acts in their diaries, clearly, at least one confessed all. Whether we choose to examine the majority or the exceptions, of course, depends on what we are looking for.


Literary History Public Event Travel Diary Material Artifact Narrative Mode 
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  1. 1.
    Harriet Blodgett, Ed., “Capacious Hold-All”: An Anthology of Englishwomen’s Diary Writings, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991, 4. The Introduction contains a brief history of the evolution of the English diary.Google Scholar
  2. These include, but are not limited to, Robert A. Fothergill, Private Chronicles: A Study of English Diaries, London: Oxford University Press, 1974;Google Scholar
  3. Cynthia Huff, British Women’s Diaries: A Descriptive Bibliography of Selected Nineteenth-Century Women’s Manuscript Diaries, New York: AMS Press, 1985;Google Scholar
  4. Penelope Franklin, Ed., Private Pages: Diaries of American Women, 1830s—1970s, New York: Ballantine Books, 1986;Google Scholar
  5. Ronald Blythe, Ed., The Pleasures of Diaries: Four Centuries of Private Writing, New York: Pantheon Books, 1989;Google Scholar
  6. Harriet Blodgett, Ed., Centuries of Female Days: Englishwomen’s Private Diaries, New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1988;Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    The choices (or lack of them) that diarists make in the selection of the material artifact are always informative. For instance as a child, Gladstones mother, Catherine Glynne, kept diaries that her own mother annually gave her and that therefore “authorized” a certain kind of entertaining apparatus and limited the kinds of entries she could make. Pre-formatted Ladies Diaries, they had ample front and back matter that included biographies of prominent historical women (The Ladies Entertaining Miscellany and Polite Repository for 1823 included bios of Anne Clifford, Boadicea, and Margaret Cavendish) and a section devoted to poetic riddles, but provided little space for writing (See Pocket Diaries of Catherine Gladstone, 1823–30, Gladstone-Glynne mss., 1764–71, Flintshire Record Office). Mary Gladstone’s own open-format notebooks form an interesting contrast. Diary entries also suggest that Gladstone cared about the materiality of her journals: in 1883 she abandoned one as “vile” and joyfully accepted the gift of another from Lord Acton (Lucy Masterman, Mary Gladstone: Her Diaries and Letters, Methuen & Co., 1930, 277).Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    Roy Jenkins, Gladstone, London: Macmillan, 1995, 109.Google Scholar
  9. 53.
    MG Papers, ADD 46,270, Folios 1–221, p. 193. Manuscripts Room, BL. These folios contain drafts of memoirs and articles written by MGD. In his biography of Acton, Roland Hill assumes that Mary Gladstone was in love with Acton, though he does not comment on the ways that Acton clearly encouraged the relationship. See Roland Hill, Lord Acton, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000, 309.Google Scholar

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© Susan K. Harris 2002

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  • Susan K. Harris

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