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The terms “journal” and “diary” are often used interchangeably to describe an account of an individual’s experience written at regular intervals. Sometimes the term “diary” suggests a daily record. The term “journal” may be used to describe an ongoing record that is less regular or more elaborate than a diary, or that covers a limited period of time, but which still retains a chronological arrangement. Both the diary and the journal employ a personal perspective, even when recording historical events or scenes of travel, as the journal writer sets down what he or she is able to observe. The journal is a highly flexible form, with few rules about subject matter or narrative style, or even, for that matter, about the frequency or length of entries.
The entry, which is the basic unit of the journal, is often, but not always, given a date.
Entries may follow a range of patterns, but the most common is a simple sequential recounting of the events of a particular day. Another common pattern is more like a meditative essay in miniature, which reveals the writer’s inner response to what is happening at the time. While a central convention of the journal is that entries are made daily in the midst of, or shortly after, the experience, many well-known diarists, including
Samuel Pepys and Dorothy Wordsworth, often wrote retrospectively, sometimes using notes made close to the time of the experience. Even when they did so, they used the dated-entry form to create the impression of regularity and immediacy.
This convention of appearing to record immediate experience makes the journal form appear casual and linear. Coupled with the ostensibly private purposes of most journals, this leads to a common notion of the journal as a naive, frank, and sincere form, although some journals are actually complex in design, developing dialectic or symbolic patterns through entries that question or echo what has gone before. Novelists have sometimes capitalized on the journal’s appearance of sincerity and immediacy by giving their stories the shape of a journal. Two notable instances are Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) and André Gide’s La Symphonie pastorale (1919; The Pastoral Symphony).
Like an essay, a journal may enact a sort of imagined conversation in the form of a dialogue with one’s later or earlier self, an extended epistle to a real or imagined friend, or a confession addressed to God. In The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay (1988), Graham Good suggests that the essay, as the “book of the self,” bears a likeness to the journal because both forms continue Montaigne’s practice of paying attention to one’s individual experience and recording it in ways that mirror its fluidity and contradictions. But, Good points out, the essayist focuses on a series of topics even when dealing with them over time, while the journal writer concentrates on the chronological unfolding of experience.
In Private Chronicles: A Study of English Diaries (1974), Robert A.Fothergill lists four types of journals: the journal of travel, the public journal or eye-witness record of historic events, the journal of conscience, and the journal of personal memoranda, noting that the great journals often combine elements of several categories. Within these broad categories more specialized forms arise, such as the religious diary or prayer journal as a variety of the journal of conscience, and the journal of erotic adventures as a specialized form of personal memoranda.
Although there have probably been journals as long as there have been literate people with an interest in recording the facts of experience, the words “diary” and “journal” first began to be used in their modern senses in the 16th century. In addition to offering accounts of travel and military experience, during the 17th and 18th centuries journals focused on selfimprovement, as the journal-keeper scrutinized his or her life in light of a personal, religious, or cultural ideal. Most of these journals were not made public during the lives of their writers; some were not published until the 19th and 20th centuries. By the middle of the 18th century, however, increasing interest in reading about private lives paved the way for the wider appearance of the journal as a published form. From that time on, journal writing has been characterized by a tension between reticence and the need to please readers. Isaac D’Israeli’s “Some Observations on Diaries, Self-Biography and Self-Characters” (1796) presents a common justification for publishing private journals—that their truthfulness makes them useful to readers. But Samuel Johnson, writing in the Idler (no. 84), argued that private accounts must be kept private to preserve the writer’s integrity. Some 19th-century reviewers of published journals feared that the popularity of such works would create a plague of self-absorption and idle curiosity. Still, the rise of the Romantic sensibility focused on the development of the individual, and the publication of important diaries, such as those by 17th-century diarists John Evelyn (1818) and Samuel Pepys (1825), added to a growing consciousness of the journal as a literary form. In some ways, Samuel Pepys is to the diary what Montaigne is to the essay, for his balance of interior and public comment, variety of subject matter, and the apparent simplicity of accounting become models for the journal. For Enlightenment rationalists, keeping a journal was an element of an ordered life, while for dissenting Christians in England and on the continent, the journal was a means of assessing one’s progress in sanctity. The Journal of John Wesley (wr. 1725–91) set the stage for increasing interest in using the journal as a spiritual discipline. Toward the end of the 18th century the pleasure of recollection and the treasuring of memories became an important part of journal writing, and the quest to understand the unfolding self tended to replace moral selfscrutiny.
The 19th century also saw the rise of the journal that recorded the life and creative processes of the artist and, in the wake of psychoanalysis, 20th-century journals often frame their accounts of self-discovery in psychological, symbolic, and therapeutic terms.
In the 20th century, the publication of complete or nearly complete unexpurgated editions of journals from the past has spurred much critical thinking about literary genres, the canon, and the complexities of self-representation. James Boswell’s Journals (wr. 1763–78) reveal the conflicts of the private man behind the biographer. Dorothy Wordsworth’s Alfoxden Journals (wr. 1798) and Grasmere Journals (wr. 1800–03), with their self-effacing but engaging pictures of ordinary life, have raised questions about the literary status of private writing and the manner in which journals, letters, and private memoirs can shed light on women as writers. Benjamin Robert Haydon’s Diary (wr. 1808–46; pub. originally as The Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon: Autobiography and Journals, 1853) transforms the rhetoric of emotion, removing it from a religious context.
Instead of writing about emotions, he writes emotionally, making it fashionable to dramatize the self as a creature of sensibility. The collaborative Journal kept by the brothers Edmond and Jules Goncourt from 1851 to 1870, and continued by Edmond until 1895, exemplifies the journal as a chronicle of an intellectual and artistic milieu. By the 20th century Anaïs Nin could make the keeping of a journal central to her life’s work; her Journals, which began to appear in 1966, raises the journal of self-exploration to new levels of aesthetic and psychological awareness.


The Book of American Diaries, edited by Randall M.Miller and Linda Patterson Miller, New York: Avon, 1995
A Day at a Time: The Diary Literature of American Women from 1764 to the Present, edited by Margo Culley, New York: Feminist Press of the City University of New York, 1985
English Diaries of the XVIth, XVIIth, and XVIIIth Centuries, edited by James Aitken, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1941
English Family Life: An Anthology from Diaries, edited by Ralph Houlbrooke, Oxford and New York: Blackwell, 1988
The Faber Book of Diaries, edited by Simon Brett, London and Boston: Faber, 1987
Leaves in the Storm: A Book of Diaries, edited by Stefan Schimanski and Henry Tree, London: Drummond, 1947
Private Pages: Diaries of American Women, 1830s–1970s, edited by Penelope Franklin, New York: Ballantine, 1986

Arksey, Laura, Nancy Pries, and Marcia Reed, editors, American Diaries: An Annotated Bibliography of Published American Diaries and Journals, Detroit: Gale Research, 2 vols., 1983–87
Cline, Cheryl, Women’s Diaries, Journals, and Letters: An Annotated Bibliography, New York: Garland, 1989
Goodfriend, Joyce D., Published Diaries and Letters of American Women: An Annotated Bibliography, Boston: Hall, 1987
Guide and Index to Women’s Diaries: A Readex Microfilm Collection, New Canaan, Connecticut: Readex, 1984– (in progress)
Havlice, Patricia Pate, And So to Bed: A Bibliography of Diaries Published in English, Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1987
Matthews, William, editor, British Diaries: An Annotated Bibliography of British Diaries
Written Between 1442 and 1942, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1950

Further Reading
Blodgett, Harriet, Centuries of Female Days: English Women’s Private Diaries, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1988
Fothergill, Robert A., Private Chronicles: A Study of English Diaries, London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1974
Girard, Alain, Le Journal intime, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1963
Good, Graham, The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay, London and New York: Routledge, 1988
Hocke, Gustav René, Das Europäische Tagebuch, Wiesbaden: Limes, 1963
Hoffman, William J., Life Writing: A Guide to Family Journals and Personal Memoirs, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982
Kagle, Steven E., American Diary Literature, 1620–1799, Boston: Twayne, 1979
Kagle, Steven E., Early Nineteenth-Century American Diary Literature, Boston: Twayne, 1986
Kagle, Steven E., Late Nineteenth-Century American Diary Literature, Boston: Twayne, 1988
Mallon, Thomas, A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries, New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1984
Matthews, William, “The Diary as Literature,” in The Diary of Samuel Pepys: Volume 1, edited by Robert Latham and Matthews, Berkeley: University of California Press, and London: Bell, 1970
Nin, Anaïs, The Novel of the Future, New York: Macmillan, 1968
Nussbaum, Felicity, The Autobiographical Subject: Gender and Ideology in Eighteenth- Century England, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, revised edition, 1995 (original edition, 1989)
O’Brien, Kate, English Diaries and Journals (Britain in Pictures series), London: Collins, 1943
Ponsonby, Arthur, English Diaries: A Review of English Diaries from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century, London: Methuen, 1923
Ponsonby, Arthur, More English Diaries: Further Reviews of Diaries from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries, London: Methuen, 1927
Ponsonby, Arthur, Scottish and Irish Diaries from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries, London: Methuen, 1927
Ponsonby, Arthur, Samuel Pepys, London: Macmillan, 1928; New York: League of America, 1929
Ponsonby, Arthur, British Diarists, London: Benn, 1930
Spalding, Philip Anthony, Self Harvest: A Study of Diaries and the Diarist, London: Independent Press, 1949
Willy, Margaret, English Diarists: Evelyn and Pepys, London: Longman, 1963
Willy, Margaret, Three Women Diarists: Celia Fiennes, Dorothy Wordsworth, Katherine Mansfield, London: Longman, 1964

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