Diaries keep secrets, harbouring our fantasies and fictional histories. They are substitute boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses and friends. But in this age of social media, the role of the diary as a private confidante has been replaced by a culture of public self-disclosure.
The Private Life of the Diary: from Pepys to Tweets is an elegantly-told story of the evolution – and perhaps death – of the diary. It traces its origins to seventeenth-century naval administrator, Samuel Pepys, and continues to twentieth-century diarist Virginia Woolf, who recorded everything from her personal confessions about her irritation with her servants to her memories of Armistice Day and the solar eclipse of 1927.
Sally Bayley explores how diaries can sometimes record our lives as we live them, but that we often indulge our fondness for self-dramatization, like the teenaged Sylvia Plath who proclaimed herself 'The Girl Who Would be God'.
This book is an examination of the importance of writing and self-reflection as a means of forging identity. It mourns the loss of the diary as an acutely private form of writing. And it champions it as a conduit to self-discovery, allowing us to ask ourselves the question: Who or What am I in relation to the world?
Sally Bayley is a Teaching and Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford and a Lecturer in English at Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford. She has written widely on visual responses to literature, including a jointly authored study of Sylvia Plath's relationship to the visual arts: Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual and a study of Plath as a cultural icon: Representing Sylvia Plath. In 2010 she completed a cross-media study of Emily Dickinson as a way of thinking about America's relationship to space and place: Home on the Horizon: America's Search for Space, from Emily Dickinson to Bob Dylan.
Sally's book of narrative non-fiction, The Private Life of the Diary: from Pepys to Tweets, tells the story of the diary as a coming of age story, and she is now completing a literary memoir about growing up in an all-female charismatic household and her escape by reading.