A diary is a book for fragmentary writing.
Samuel Pepys is the earliest diarist that is well known today. Although he had contemporaries who were also keeping diaries. (John Evelyn for one.) Pepys also was apparently at a turning point in diary history, for he took it beyond mere business transaction notation, into the realm of the personal.
The oldest diaries we have are Oriental. (Although they are not well known, generally.) Pillowbooks of Japanese Court Ladies and Asian travel journals, being some of the oldest surviving specimens of this genre of writing.
It does seem that around the turn of the last century, diary writing was for the rich or well off. Most literary figures from that time seem to have kept a diary. (see list below)
Often I find diaries are perceived to be written only by teenage girls. The onslaught of diaries sold in ‘cute’ colors with locks and keys helped this illusion. (Not sure when those became popular – 1940’s or 1950’s.) Nowadays, many people prefer the word “journal” so as to avoid this common misconception.
The word Diary comes from the Latin word for Day (I’ll have to look up exactly how to spell it in Latin) and seems to mean daily. I do believe that the word Journal comes from the same root as the word Journey. (But I don’t have that info handy either.) (Can anyone elaborate on this???)
Diaries have evolved from business notations, to listings of weather and daily personal events, through to inner exploration of the psyche, or a place to express one’s deepest self. Some diarists think of their diaries as a special friend, even going so far as to name it. Anne Frank called her diary Kitty.
In the 1960’s Tristine Rainer wrote a book called The New Diary. It was revolutionary in expanding our awareness of diary keeping as a literary genre. In it she identified techniques that people either use spontaneously or have employed in their daily writing to explore themselves and their experience of the world in which they live. The idea, as expressed with the title, being that a diary doesn’t have to be a dry recording of weather or daily events.
One of the most tempting things about diaries is that writing one is accessible to anyone with a pen and paper. No education is needed. One doesn’t need to know how to spell or use grammar. Writing a diary is something some people are driven to do. A way to put their existence into perspective.
As we move into the 1980’s and 1990’s diaries, or journals, become fertile ground for therapy. Many books have been published about how to write a diary. (For self awareness, for finding your true self, for healing from any number of personal troubles…)
An entire culture has evolved around the practice of journaling. There are many techniques to be attempted. (Many of these techniques enjoyed their first mention in Tristine Rainer’s book.)
Some people use the words diary and journal interchangeably, others apply strict differences to journals, diaries and journaling. (Dated, undated, inner focused, outer focused, forced etc.)
More than 16,000 diaries have been published since book publishing began.
Some of the more literary ones include:
- James Boswell
- Fanny Burney
- Anne Frank - The Diary of Anne Frank
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh
- Anais Nin
- Samuel Pepys
- Sylvia Plath
- May Sarton
- Virginia Woolf
Other diarists represented on Wikipedia :