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I love diaries! Can anyone recommend any more?


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I love diaries, especially historic ones - they give a real insight into the period. Letters are good, too. Among my favourites are:

Samuel Pepys (of course)

Parson Woodforde (1759-1803)

Francis Kilvert (1870-79)

Jane Austen's letters

The Wynne Diaries, from the time of the Napoleonic war

'Few Eggs and No Oranges', the wartime diaries of Vere Hodgson

'Housewife, 49', the wartime diaries of Nella Last.

(Dates are diary dates, not birth and death.)

 

They need to be readable, of course. I couldn't manage 'The Pastern Letters'.

 

Can anyone suggest anything similar?

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If you liked Housewife 49, you should try "Our Hidden Lives" by Simon Garfield, which is a compilation of contributions to the Mass Observation Project, from a variety of people in the immediate post-war years. 

I found it fascinating, but then it is about the first three years I was alive.

 

Another wartime diary, with a completely different perspective, is The Berlin Diaries of Marie Vassiltchikov, a pretty, vivacious & intelligent White Russian woman living in wartime Berlin. She was closely connected with a group of people who conspired to assassinate Hitler, and who failed so disastrously on July 20th 1944.

 Those are the very brief notes I made when I read it, in 1999. I don't remember anything more detailed about it, but it has remained in my mind as a book I found really interesting.

 

And of course, I presume you have read the most well known war-time diary -The Diary of a Young Girl  by Anne Frank

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I agree with Meg, Our Hidden Lives is excellent, I've also read We Are At War and Private Battles, both also edited by Simon Garfield, If you liked Housewife 49 then how about Nella Last's Peace, her diaries from after the war. All three highly recommended. 

 

For something completely different, how about the Michael Palin diaries, I've only read the first two but very enjoyable. 

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I love the Wynne diaries too. 

 

If you like collections of letters Nancy Mitford's letters with Evelyn Waugh are just wonderful, they are so alive and witty. All the Mitfords were good letter writers but this collection is exceptional.

 

Edited by Viccie
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Michael Palin's diaries are great.  A fascinating insight into Monty Python, films and travelling.

 

Also Alan Brooke's (later Viscount Alanbrooke) war diaries.  He was Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), the professional head of the British Army, during the Second World War.

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Thank you very much for all suggestions. I have read some of these, such as Anne Frank, the Mass Observation ones and 'Nella Last's Peace'.  My list was just what I could call to mind on the spur of the  moment. However, the others are new to me and I will certainly look for them. Nancy Mitford's books are so good that I would expect her to write good letters.

 

Another wartime diary I have read, with an English author who was married to a German involved in the plot to kill Hitler, was 'The Past is Myself', by Christabel Bielenberg. She and Marie Vassiltchikov probably knew each other.

 

The Wynne diaries are remarkable. At one point a young couple are courting, but he keeps making excuses for not proposing, like it's the wrong time for his career or her father wouldn't agree. It would be perfectly possible for him just to disappear from her life and she knows this. Instead, he proposes. Her father is delighted (as everyone knew he would be). They are married a week later, with a big reception put on by friends, and then she leaves her family (which she has never done before) to go with him on his ship (he's a captain). How she got her head round the change in a single week, no doubt fully occupied with wedding preparations, amazes me.

 

If anyone else has any suggestions, please post them.

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I have read the Past Is Myself,  but that was in the early - mid eighties,about 15 years before I came across The Berlin Diaries.

I remember that I also wondered if they had ever met. There were very many people involved in the plot, and their social circles didn't necessarily overlap that much

 

Bielenberg was the elder by about eight years, and had 3 scool-age children at a time when  Vassiltchikov was enjoying the active social life of a young single woman, so I don't suppose they had much in common.

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Another excellent diary is 'To War with Whittaker' by Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly - Whittaker being her husband's valet.

 

I wish I could remember the title or author of a diary, or possibly autobiography, about the childhood of a half-Scots, half-Russian girl before the Russian Revolution. She had a wonderful, highly priviledged childhood (decorating Easter eggs with real gold leaf!), but is able with hindsight to recognise the hard life the servants had. I think the family escaped to Scotland when the revolution started. Can anyone name it?

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The Goncourt journals are fascinating, they were two brothers who moved in artistic and literary circles in Paris and they wrote a very candid account of everything that went on. The diaries are from about 1850-1870  I think and I'd reccommend looking for one of the abridged versions, they run to 22 volumes in French! My copy is a sinnle volume.

 

There's also Creevey - he was a politician and his memoires cover the Regency period, I haven't read them for ages but remember how entertaining they were.

 

The Memoires of William Hickey - India in the eighteenth century. Read them years ago but loved them.

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I recommend The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx. Rockstar debauchery at it's best. Also recommended is Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister, Sally Wainwright and Anne Choma, a book taken from the diaries of Anne Lister who wrote in code and therefore frankly about everything in her life including sex as a lesbian (not as distasteful as that makes it sound but it is there so depends on your personal taste and it's not explicit).

 

Also, The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady but I haven't read it and it's not that easy to find.

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Thank you, everyone. Viccie, I have read the Thomas Creevey papers, but your other suggestions look fascinating, though I agree 22 volumes is too much. Pepys' Diary is long enough!

 

Luna, Gentleman Jack sounds good. I wouldn't be squeamish about that, but I might about The Heroin Diaries. I hate seeing people in dramas pretending to shoot up, and I don't think I'd like reading about it either. Sounds like one to get from the library, if possible.

 

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady I have from when it was first published. It's not something to read as a diary of current events: I remember reviewers complaining that on days when major national events were happening she wrote only 'Saw lovely primroses at...' or similar. The point of it is the charming illustrations. If you did want a copy there are lots of second-hand ones about.

 

I have remembered the name of the book: it's 'The House by the Dvina' by Eugenie Fraser. Autobiography, but highly recommended.

 

I am saving all suggestions to a list and will try to get hold of them in turn.

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11 minutes ago, Heather said:

Luna, Gentleman Jack sounds good. I wouldn't be squeamish about that, but I might about The Heroin Diaries. I hate seeing people in dramas pretending to shoot up, and I don't think I'd like reading about it either. Sounds like one to get from the library, if possible.


A library copy, if available, might be a sensible option but as I recall there are no graphic descriptions of the injection of heroin. The diaries are frank so there might be the odd swear word but not grisly in description. Amazon allows you to download a free sample for Kindle if you have one - I have the app on my tablet - and then you'll know if it's for you.

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And another one - Fanny Burney's diaries. I haven't read them but I finished a biography about her recently and they sound rivetting. I'm going to try and track them down for myelf.

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6 hours ago, Heather said:

 

I have remembered the name of the book: it's 'The House by the Dvina' by Eugenie Fraser. Autobiography, but highly recommended.

 

I read that 6 or 7 years ago.

 The thread I started on it is here

Well, I say 'read'. It was an audiobook

 

eta: The first memory that came to mind when this book was mentioned was the daily ritual of tea around the samovar.  Having looked at the thread on it, other memories are slowly surfacing, but sadly not of the comment mentioned in the last line of my review - although I clearly thought it would be sufficiently memorable for me just to refer to it obliquely! 

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On 09/06/2021 at 17:35, Viccie said:

And another one - Fanny Burney's diaries. I haven't read them but I finished a biography about her recently and they sound rivetting. I'm going to try and track them down for myelf.

I found the Everyman version of the diary in a charity shop. It's very good. Which biography did you read? Do you recommend it?

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Just wondering f you would enjoy "Led By The Nose", by Jenny Joseph?

Extract from my thread on this book posted in 2005:

Quote

 

When this book was 'recommended' to me by Amazon I assumed that it was a book of poems about scented gardens, but I was wrong...there are no poems.

What it is, is a celebration of scented plants in the form of a monthly diary describing the fragrances J.J. is aware of as she spends time in the garden, or prepares the vegetables she has grown..

 

 

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More ideas to add to my list! I'm now reading the letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh and having trouble with them. They are full of throwaway references to people I don't know anything about, and though the editor has painstakingly footnoted them all, I don't find this makes them particularly interesting.

 

I have found a book in a charity shop which looks promising: The Letters of Edwin Lutyens to his wife Lady Emily. His occasional illustrations remind me of another collection of letters I really loved - by Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll. Beware, though, of The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll by Stuart Collingwood, which isn't at all the same thing.

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If you are interested in epistolary books as well as in diaries and if, in particular, you have an interest in gardens, I am sure you would like "Dear Friend and Gardener", a volume of letters between the two eminent gardeners Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto. I read this getting on for 20 years ago and it gave me a great deal of pleasure

 

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I'm not really a gardener.  I can see gardening would make a great topic for an interchange of letters, as things are always changing.

 

Has anyone ever exchanged letters about the poetry of T.S. Eliot? Possibly - but I don't suppose they'd ever be published.

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