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The diary as literature 

Over the weekend The Cowboy Girl received another favorable review that highlighted the way Caroline Lockhart had so many insecurities despite her successes. (Reviews are collected here.) I was delighted that the reviewer liked the book, and pleased that I had rendered Lockhart's inner life effectively enough for him to comment on it.

But I was surprised that he was surprised.

Much of what we know about Lockhart in the years 1919-46 comes from her diaries. Throughout her life, her love of expressing herself through the written word grew, and as her publishing career faltered, it seems she devoted more of her writing energy to her diaries. (I say "seems" because the pre-1919 diaries were lost -- some say they were destroyed because they were so scandalous -- so we can't judge for sure their volume or quality.)

As I read through the diaries -- especially the abridged version published in the book Caroline Lockhart: Liberated Lady -- I too found a lot of doubt, petulance, and self-pity. But I wasn't surprised. After all, when I kept a diary myself many years ago, it painted an equally unattractive portrait of the diarist.

In a sense that's the point of a diary, and it's brought home very effectively by Louis Menand in this week's New Yorker. He asks both why some people keep diaries and why some (other, more numerous) people read them. It's odd, he says, because they aren't really that revealing:
Inside, everyone sounds, more or less eloquently, like the same broken record of anxiety and resentment. It’s the outside, the way people look and the things they say, that makes them distinct.

In depicting Lockhart's inner life, I had hoped to capture that universality. Indeed, Lockhart's humor and writing skill made these depictions of inner insecurities more effective than most diaries (read: mine). I guess reviewers are surprised to see them revealed in a biography, which typically involves chronicling accomplishments. But my goal in writing the book wasn't merely to draw attention to Lockhart's career. It was to craft a work that, in its depiction of life's inner and outer struggles, sought to approach literature.

By the way, Menand's article is wonderful for another of its counterintuitive conclusions: Commenting on Arthur Schlesinger's regret that he hadn't produced more books, Menand says:
Anyone who reads [Schlesinger's] “Journals,” though, will feel that he had nothing to be sorry for. Life is only once, and Schlesinger had the good fortune to enjoy his in company that gave him pleasure. The world has plenty of books.

I'm always interested in feedback, via info at johnclaytonbooks dot com

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