Saturday, May 14, 2011
The Latent Power of the Diary
In some ways the blog has taken over the role of the diary. Our diarists are bloggers. But how intimate is a blog, really? Our most private thoughts can rarely be voiced in a public, or even semi-private, blog. Which means the deep dark secrets of the diary must remain forever locked away in our hearts. That may be a good thing for some. For others, it's a pity.
My mother (the novelist Charlotte Lamb) kept a diary for a large swathe of her life. Some years there is a full page entry for every day, regardless of the fact that she may have also written as many as 17 novels in the same year. (For yes, that was how many novels she wrote in 1977-8, and other years in the Seventies were not too dissimilar in output.)
It's odd to read these diaries, and sometimes disturbing too. It's an eyeopener to get a more rounded view of a parent who wasn't forthcoming about her private thoughts and feelings, and it's also useful for me as a writer, for my mother reveals many of the typical issues and doubts as most other novelists - despite her success.
Much of her innermost thoughts are about her writing rather than her family. It's very much a Writer's Diary (she loved reading Virginia Woolf's diaries herself).
But now and then I get a mention, which is comforting. (Though sometimes not!) My memories of my childhood are pretty cloudy, but I do remember this day below. It was fantastic to come across it in her diary and remember the actual events, from Saturday 2nd October 1976:
We went up to London at noon to have lunch at Luigi's and then went to the British Museum so that Jane could look at her favourite Egyptian rooms. She loves them. Then we went to Islington to St. George's to see Richard III. Jane really loved that. She caught Alan Badel's eye & he began to "ham" in her direction. The more she laughed, the more he played the pantomime demon-king.
The following month, my mother was diagnosed with a "massive tumour", after months of illness, and successfully underwent surgery to remove it.
I was completely unaware of this until I read her diaries, though I remember her disappearing into hospital for a few weeks around that time. I suppose, in the Seventies, in middle-class families, such problems were not openly discussed. Even today illness is rarely discussed in much detail. People 'die suddenly' or have 'long illnesses' which are otherwise unexplained. Perhaps we're still not very far removed from the Victorian aura of silence around the family in that respect. That may be a good thing. I can't decide.