Thursday, December 24, 2020

I will become a fighter

‘I want to devote my life to science, and I will, but if necessary, I will forget astronomy for a long time and I will become a fighter.’ This from the diary of a young Russian woman, Yevgeniya Rudneva, born a century ago today. She was studying astronomy at Moscow University but heeded a call by Stalin’s government to train as a military aviation navigator. She flew over 600 bombing raids and, tragically, died aged but 23.

Rudneva was born on 24 December 1920 in Berdyansk, a Black Sea port in southeast Ukraine. (Although most sources, including the Russian-language Wikipedia, cite this as her birthday, the English-language Wikipedia cites it as 24 May 1921). Her mother was Jewish but her father was Russian Orthodox. She went to secondary school in Moscow, and then studied astronomy in the faculty of mechanics and mathematics at Moscow State University. 
In October 1941, after Stalin’s government began recruiting young women to fight in the war (the so-called Frontovichki), Rudneva volunteered for military service. She undertook a navigators courses at the Engels Military Aviation School, and made her first flight in early 1942. Later that year she joined the 588th Night Bomber Regiment (later known as the 46th Guards Night Bomber Regiment) and was deployed to the Southern Front.

Rudneva flew some 645 night time bombing missions (in Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes) across the Transcaucasian, North Caucasian, and 4th Ukrainian fronts as well as in battles for the Taman and Kerch peninsulas. During her career, Wikipedia says, she flew with many pilots, including future Heroes of the Soviet Union, Yevdokiya Nikulina and Irina Sebrova. She was shot down on the night of 9 April 1944 - she was still in her early 20s! Subsequently, she was honoured as a Hero of the Soviet Union and with the Order of Lenin. Several monuments were built in her memory; and Asteroid 1907 Rudneva, a school in Kerch, streets in Berdyansk, Kerch, Moscow and Saltykovka were all named after her.

There is very little information about Rudneva freely available online, though Wikipedia has a short article, and tbere are more biographical details in Soviet Women on the Frontline in the Second World War (available to preview at Googlebooks). However, she did keep a diary, and this was published after the war by a contemporary of hers, Irina Rakobolskaya, who had seen Rudneva shot down. (Rakobolskaya went on to become a celebrated scientist, living to the age of 96.) A few extracts from Rudneva’s diary translated into English, can be found in the same book, and also at Top War and this Russian site.

31 December 1936
‘Although I want to live peacefully
For war I am ready - here is the reason why:
Beware! Not only I alone proudly
Hold a Komsomol ticket!’

‘So that the enemies of sleep have forgotten.
If the year flew together,
If there are more than two hundred sorties,
Wherever I later be,

Anyway, I won't forget you.
I will not forget how weave sat down,
As on the Manych guns we were beaten,
Over the burning homeland, we raced.’

‘I know very well, the hour will come, I can die for the cause of my people . . . I want to devote my life to science, and I will, but if necessary, I will forget astronomy for a long time and I will become a fighter . . .’

January 1942
‘On January 5, for the first time in my life, I was in the air for 10 minutes. It’s such a feeling that I don’t dare to describe, because I still don’t know how. It seemed to me later on earth that I was born again on that day. But on the 7th it was even better: the plane made a tailspin and performed one coup. I was tied with a belt. The earth swayed, swayed and suddenly stood over my head. There was a blue sky under me, clouds in the distance. And I thought at that moment that the liquid does not pour out of it when the glass rotates . . .

After the first flight, I seemed to be born again, began to look at the world with different eyes ... and sometimes it even scares me that I could live my life and never fly . . .’

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Live only in your art

Beethoven, possibly the world’s greatest composer, was baptised - his birth date being unknown - 250 years ago today. Although not a diarist of significance, he did leave behind some diary fragments from a Tagebuch or day book he started around 1813. The very first entry refers, enigmatically, to someone called A, possibly his ‘Immortal Beloved’. Otherwise, though, his diary jottings seem mostly religious/metaphysical.

Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, during the last weeks of 1770. Although the exact date of his birth is not known, records do show that he was baptised on 17 December. His father, a musician at the electoral court, taught him at home, but he also received instruction from, and was employed by, Christian Gottlob Neefe, a composer and conductor. For a while after his mother died, when he was 17, Beethoven supported his brothers since his father by this time was an alcoholic. In 1792, he moved to Vienna where he studied with Joseph Haydn and others, and where he established a reputation, first as a piano player, and then as a composer.

Unlike other musicians who relied on the church or the royal court for an income, Beethoven pursued an independent path, making a living through public performances, sales of his music, and grants from patrons. Nevertheless, he often had financial problems. He was also often beset with emotional difficulties - such as when Antoine Brentano, possibly she who Beethoven referred to as ‘Immortal Beloved’ in letters, broke up with him. During the so-called early period, he composed his first and second symphonies, his first two piano concertos, as well as string quarters and piano sonatas, including the famous Pathétique.

During a middle period, when he began to go deaf, Beethoven composed heroic works, not least six symphonies and his last three piano concertos. Beethoven’s ninth symphony and his last string quartets and piano sonatas were written in the so-called later period, which lasted from 1816 to 1826. He died in 1827. Further biographical information can be found at WikipediaGramaphone, or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Beethoven was not a committed diarist, and there are only fragments included in Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations first published in English in 1951 by Thames and Hudson (edited and translated by Michael Hamburger). There are very few extracts from these fragments available on the internet (see The Diary Junction for links), but William Kinderman refers to them in his biography, Beethoven, published by Oxford University Press in 1997, and much of this is available to view on Googlebooks. Here are three paragraphs from Kinderman’s book.

‘In 1813 [Beethoven] experienced a creative impasse that was undoubtedly linked to his personal life. He produced virtually nothing of artistic importance during that year. There is evidence, moreover, that his life was in disarray during the aftermath of the ‘Immortal Beloved’ affair. At about this time he began a Tagebuch, or personal diary, that he kept for six years, until 1818. An excerpt from the very first entry reads as follows: You may not be a human being, not for yourself, but only for others, for you there is no more happiness except within yourself, in your art. O God! give me strength to conquer myself, nothing at all must fetter me to life. Thus everything connected with A will to go destruction.

A may refer to Antonie Brentano, from whom Beethoven was presumably attempting to disengage himself. Several other entries in his diary document Beethoven’s intention to embrace art while rejecting ‘life’, reflecting a disposition akin to Arthur Schopenhauer’s ‘negation of the will to life’ . . . Beethoven writes in an 1814 entry in the Tagebuch that ‘Everything that is called life should be sacrificed to the sublime and be a sanctuary of art’. Another, later inscription reads, ‘Live only in your art, for you are so limited by your senses. This is therefore the only existence for you’.

[Some] have suggested that Beethoven visited prostitutes around this time . . . That Beethoven would have felt guilt about such encounters may be surmised from entries in his Tagebuch like the following . . : ‘Sensual gratification without a spiritual union is and remains bestial, afterwards one has no trace of noble feeling but rather remorse.’ ’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 17 December 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

What use is it?

‘Dubois nodded proudly. “Ja, Mama, that is the skull. That is Pithecanthropus Erectus.” His mother looked up at him and he saw how much she had aged in eight years. ‘J, Mama, this is it,” he repeated softly, gently. “But boy” - she sighed heavily, looking bewildered at his treasure - “what use is it?” ’ This is a revealing anecdote about Eugène Dubois, a Dutch paleoanthropologist who died 80 years ago today, sourced from the diaries of an assistant. Dubois is remembered today for discovering Java Man, which he claimed was an intermediate form between apes and man. In 2001, he was the subject of a biography by Pat Shipman who notes in her sources that the assistant recorded, in his diary, many conversations with Dubois ‘apparently verbatim’.

Dubois was born in 1858 and raised in Eijsden, at the very southern tip of The Netherlands, close to the Belgian border, where his father was an apothecary, and later the mayor. As a teenager, he attended school in Roermond, boarding with a family there, and went on to study medicine at the University of Amsterdam, graduating in 1884. He married Anna that same year, and they had three children that survived into adulthood. Appointed lecturer in anatomy at the same university in 1886, Dubois spent several years investigating the comparative anatomy of the larynx in vertebrates. But, influenced by Ernst Haeckel, he became increasingly interested in human evolution. 

In 1887, Dubois went to the East Indies as a military surgeon and, on the island of Sumatra, began to excavate caves in search of remains of early hominins. After several futile years, he moved to Java, where a hominid skull had been found. In 1890, his team found a human-like fossil at Koedoeng Broeboes. Dubois excavated the rest of what came to be known as Java Man. Before his return to the Netherlands in 1895, Dubois published his findings, describing them as neither ape nor human but an intermediate species - a position he would stick to through the rest of his life. On the way back, the ship was caught in a storm, he, his family and his fossils barely survived.

Dubois expected that his discovery would be feted in Europe, but instead he found that many scientists refused to accept his analysis. In 1897, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in botany and zoology from the University of Amsterdam, and in 1899 he was appointed professor. Thereafter, he ceased discussing Java Man and hid the fossils away. He spent the next 20 years researching, especially in the study of proportions of brain and body weight. He was also (1897-1928) keeper of paleontology, geology and mineralogy at Teylers Museum. In 1919, he became member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. It was not until 1923, that Dubois again allowed scientists access to the fossils, which re-ignited the debates over Java Man, especially as his fossils were similar to other newly-found fossils which had been dubbed Peking Man. However, by this time Dubois had become set in his ways, stubborn; he lost his wife and friends. He is said (by Shipman, see below) to have died - on 16 December 1940 - ‘alone, bitter and misunderstood’. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Eugène Dubois Foundation, The TalkOrigins Archive, Strange Science, or The New World Encyclopedia.

More than half a century after his death, Dubois’ somewhat tarnished reputation was given a polish by Pat Shipman, an American professor of anthropology, in her biography: The Man Who Found the Missing Link - The extraordinary life of Eugène Dubois (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001). Some pages of an American version (Harvard University Press, 2002) can be read at Googlebooks, and a review can be read at Nature. Although Shipman credits - in the after notes - her sources as Dubois’ ‘pocket agendas (a sort of daily calendar), his journals, diaries and notes; and various drafts of brief autobiographies’, it is the diaries of an assistant - Bernsen - that she quotes most often. She says: ‘I relied as well on the diaries of J. J. A. Bernsen, OFM, Dubois’ assistant from 1930 to 1932, in which many conversations with Dubois are recorded apparently verbatim.’ Here are several extracts from Shipman’s book (i.e. her quoting Bernsen, in his diary, quoting Dubois).

13 February 1931
‘[Much later he articulated these feelings.] I always knew that if I could succeed in concentrating my thoughts well on a problem, then I will my true life. Then I am absorbed by the problem. To achieve great things, one must cast aside the unimportant and the sentimental, one must follow truth.’

March 1931
‘Dubois nodded proudly. “Ja, Mama, that is the skull. That is Pithecanthropus Erectus.” His mother looked up at him and he saw how much she had aged in eight years. ‘J, Mama, this is it,” he repeated softly, gently.

“But boy” - she sighed heavily, looking bewildered at his treasure - “what use is it?” ’

2 March 1932
‘I have not published enough. How little I have done about Pithecanthropus,’ [Dubois mourned miserably one day early in March 1931], [ . . ] I have too little ambition and was satisfied as soon as I knew it for myself. After finding the truth, my interest was gone. [. . .]

Only after 1923 did I start to work on Pithecanthropus in earnest and to publish the results, [Dubois continued morosely.] That will be of little account, that the discoverer says so little and so late about a famous find. And then Osborn was pressuring me through the Royal Academy that I should get the work finished and the publication done, so they will say I would never have done it without him and he will get the credit, not me. It has not been enough, what I have said about it. I should have written thick books, like the others who made famous discoveries. My work will be forgotten, overlooked.’

12 May 1932
‘You know, Bernsen, we must talk once more about our relationship. This is all your fault, from the beginning. There is something hostile in you toward me, I have always noticed it. You have repeatedly humiliated me, corrected me, pointed out every error, criticized and questioned my judgements. Even as a small boy I was always treated with special respect. But no, not you, Father, you cannot respect me. You must humiliate me and bring me down out of jealousy at my high position. In recent months I have gone through so much sorrow. It has aged me. I have even wished for the release of death to end this misery. Oh, not that I would commit suicide [. . .] for suicide is cowardly.’

[Bernsen could not contain himself, he was so indignant at being accused of torturing Dubois with his criticisms. ‘Is not the most important thing that the collection be correct? Have you not said this. Professor? Now I see that you are hard and that everything must give way to your interests. I personally mean nothing to you. although for two years I have done the tedious work for the collection, day in and day out. Now I see you differently and my sympathy for you has cooled.’ . . .]

‘Ja, Father, it is true. I am hard in that respect. I have always felt that everything must give way for the goal, everything must be arranged to serve the ends of science. So perhaps I have driven you too hard and given you only criticism, but it is for the collection, for science. I have driven myself as hard, sacrificed as much. Personally, I have always had compassion for you in this tedious work; I find you a good fellow, vou know. Father.’

Sunday, December 13, 2020

We’re going for broke

 ‘I don’t want to return to the shuttle, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in Dayton, so we’re going to go for broke now. We’re going to be out of here in a week. That’s our plan, and I think it’s a very good one. If these guys want to make peace, they can do it in a week.’ This is from the diaries of American diplomat Richard Holbrooke who died 10 years ago today. It was written during an intense period of negotiations that led to the Dayton Peace Accords, the end of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As far as I can tell, Holbrooke’s diaries, both audio and written, have not been published. However, they have certainly been used for a 2015 documentary on the man, and for a widely applauded biography by George Packer.

Holbrooke was born in 1941, in New York City. His father was a doctor who had been born to Jewish parents in Poland. His mother, a potter, also came from a Jewish family which had fled Germany in the mid-1930s for Argentina before coming to New York. However, he was not brought up in the Jewish faith, rather he was taken to Quaker meetings. His father died when he was but 15, and he spent much time with a friend whose father, Dean Rusk, became President Kennedy’s Secretary of State in 1960. Holbrooke was educated at Scarsdale High School, Brown University and was later a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University (leaving in 1970). He joined the Foreign Service in 1962, learnt Vietnamese and spent six years in Vietnam at first working with development programmes and then as an assistant to the ambassador. Back in Washington DC he worked with President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam team. 

Holbrooke served as Peace Corps director in Morocco from 1970 to 1972, and he then edited the quarterly magazine Foreign Policy until 1976. The following year he was called back to government when President Jimmy Carter appointed him assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. From 1981 to 1985, he was vice president of Public Strategies, a Washington consulting firm, as well as senior adviser to the New York investment firm Lehman Brothers. From 1985, he was managing director of Lehman Brothers - until 1993. Under President Bill Clinton he was ambassador to Germany (1993-1994) and assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs (1994-1995). In the latter role, he was the chief US negotiator between belligerent parties in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia leading up to the Dayton Accords. In 1996, he became vice chairman of Crédit Suisse First Boston, but the following year he was appointed special envoy to Cyprus, where he attempted to broker a settlement between Greece and Turkey. In 1998-1999, he was involved in trying to end the conflict between the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Holbrooke was appointed US ambassador to the United Nations in 1999. As such, he negotiated the settlement of a dispute concerning some $900 million in back dues owed to the UN. He left government in 2001 to serve as vice president of Perseus LLC, a private equity fund. He was Hilary Clinton’s lead foreign policy advisor during her 2008 campaign for president. When Barack Obama appointed her as Secretary of State, she wanted Holbrooke as her deputy but this was vetoed by Obama. Instead Holbrooke was named special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke married Larrine Sullivan in 1964, and they had two sons. He married twice more (Blythe Babyak, Kati Marton), and, between those marriages had a long-term relationship with Diane Sawyer - all three women were writers/journalists. He died on 13 December 2010. Further information is readily available online from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Guardian, Prospect, or The Washington Post.

Holbrooke seems to have kept diaries, written and audio, though I’ve not been able to track down any details of what diaries he left behind. He certainly kept audio diaries during some of his foreign missions. The New York Times has a long report on a 2015 documentary that features Holbrooke’s (last) audio diary, written in Afghanistan, focusing on his disagreements with Obama’s White House. He also kept an audio diary during time in the Balkans. This latter is referred to in Our Man - Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century by the American journalist George Packer (Alfred A. Knopf, 2019) - which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Some pages can be previewed at Googlebooks.

For example, the following extract from the book is annotated as being sourced from Holbrooke’s Bosnia audio diary 12 May 1994. ‘In the middle of May 1994, Holbrooke got a midnight phone call in Germany from Strobe Talbott, who had become deputy secretary of state. The assistant secretary for Europe, a Wall Street lawyers named Stephen Oxman, was a flop. The Europe bureau was leaderless while Bosnia continued to deteriorate and the question of NATO enlargement loomed. Talbott and Tom Donilon, Christopher’s chief of staff, were pushing Christopher to replace Oxman with Holbrooke.

“Look, Strobe,” Holbrooke said, “you’re asking me to go back to a rank I had seventeen years ago, in a situation where that job’s been diminished.” He said that he planned to leave government in a year for personal reasons - Kati - and until then he had unfinished business left in Germany.

“Well, one of the reasons we want you back is that even your detractors recognize you’ve done an extraordinary job in a short period of time.” Talbott went on. “I would like you to consider it because Christopher himself proposed you, and this suggests to me that he realizes you’re the best person available.”

This wasn’t true. Christopher was, as always, repelled by Holbrooke. “Christopher and I can work fine,” Holbrooke said. This wasn’t true, either, but Holbrooke tried hard to conceal what he really thought - that Christopher was too vain to risk making any mistakes in the job. “We’ve never had a cross word. This whole thing about problems between us IS one-sided. Strobe, he’s not qualified to be secretary of state, but he is, and it’s of national importance that we help him. The real problem is Tony, and you know it.” [. . .]’

Packer’s biography also references Holbrooke’s written diaries, especially with regard to the negotiations that led up to the Dayton accord. The following extract (specifically starting with ‘But at Packy’s’) is annotated as being sourced from Holbrooke’s diary 1 November 1995: ‘On the first night, Holbrooke took Milosevic to Packy’s Sport Bar & Grill in the Hope Hotel. Haris Silajdzic and Chris Hill were sitting at a table near a wall of wide-screen TVs. Silajdzic, the Bosnian prime minister, was a Sarajevo academic, just turned fifty, with a modern vision of multi-ethnic Bosnia, but he was moody, given to sullen glooms, rages, and vengeful hard-line stands. Holbrooke, always formal with Izetbegovic, could deal with Silajdzic as an equal. Since Izetbegovic was an unwilling negotiator, Holbrooke knew that Dayton would come down to getting these two men, Silajdzic and Milosevic, to talk. But at Packy’s they ignored each other, barely shaking hands. Milosevic as in a foul temper over sanctions. He said that Holbrooke’s whole approach to the negotiations was stupid. “You don’t understand the Balkans.” “I’m sure I don’t, Mr President, but we’re here to make peace and I hope you’ll help us.” ’

And then there are a few (but only a few) direct quotes from Holbrooke’s diary.

4 November 1995
‘The most difficult thing here now is to gauge the psychological moments to put pressure on and to take pressure off, [Holbrooke told his diary]. How do we bring them to discuss their core issues? I do not yet know, but I know that it is like a psychological group session and it will take a lot of effort.’

9 November 1995
‘It’s increasingly unlikely we will have a peace agreement here, although it’s not impossible. There’s too much work to be done and too little time left. We don’t have enough support from Washington, and the Europeans are whining and moaning the whole time that they’re not being adequately consulted. But above all, the Bosnians are refusing to give us serious positions on any of the major issues. Without those positions, it’s impossible to negotiate.’

10 November 1995
‘Saturday, Sunday, Monday will be all map, [Holbrooke told his diary]. Christopher will come back Monday night and he leaves for Asia Tuesday. He will extend his stay and delay Asia if we’re close. If we’re not, he’ll leave for Asia, and we’ll start to figure out how to get out of here in one piece by the end of the week, announcing interim agreements and suspending this and saying that in a few weeks we will return to the shuttle after we digest. Well, this is all a ploy, I hope. I don’t want to return to the shuttle, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in Dayton, so we’re going to go for broke now. We’re going to be out of here in a week. That’s our plan, and I think it’s a very good one. If these guys want to make peace, they can do it in a week.’

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Dickinson and the diary

Emily Dickinson, widely considered one of the greatest American poets, was born 190 years ago today. She was reclusive and largely unpublished during her lifetime, but left behind nearly 2,000 poems many of which she had compiled and bound in little notebooks. There is no evidence of her being a diarist. However, at least one literary academic has studied what she thinks are important links between Dickinson’s poetry and the diary genre.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, on 10 December 1830. Her father was a lawyer and a trustee of Amherst College. She studied at the co-educational Amherst Academy, and then attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary but only for a year. In her twenties, after she’d moved back into the renovated family home (the Homestead) - she focused increasingly on writing, building on the poetry she had started composing when a teenager. By the age of 35, she written more than a 1,000 poems full of emotional content, many of which she bound into small notebooks, or ‘fascicles’. A few of her poems were published in magazines, but anonymously. Biographers suggests that during this period she had a serious and troubled romantic attachment.  

In the mid-1860s, Dickinson was treated for an eye disorder, and thereafter she seems to have settled into a reclusive existence, rarely leaving the Homestead, with her parents and sister. Though she did continue to write poetry she no longer bound this into booklets - thus what she left behind of her writing from this period is often on scraps of paper. She had a romance with Judge Otis Phillips Lord, a friend of her father, for a while, but her later years were marked by ill health and sadness at the deaths of family members. She died in 1886. Subsequently, her fascicles containing some 1,800 poems were found by family members. A first selection of poems appeared in print in 1890, but a complete volume did not appear until 1955. Although little known during her own life, her stature has grown so much that she is now considered one of the most important figures in American poetry. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, The Poetry Foundation, Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Emily Dickinson Museum

Dickinson left behind no diaries. Nevertheless, she has become the subject of so much literary and biographical investigation that one English academic - Desirée Henderson -  has written a paper entitled ‘Dickinson and the Diary’. This can be found in The New Emily Dickinson Studies (Cambridge University Press, 2019) - some pages available to preview at Googlebooks.  

Here are Henderson’s opening paragraphs.

‘In 1851, Emily Dickinson wrote a letter to her brother Austin, who was teaching in Boston, in which she mischievously accuses him of murdering his pupils. She begs for the gruesome details of his reign of terror because she “[likes] to get such facts to set down in my journal,” adding, in the same mock-gothic vein, “I dont [sic] think deaths or murders can ever come amiss in a young woman’s journal”. Four months later, in another letter to Austin, Dickinson prefaces a detailed description of an ordinary day with the statement that “ ‘Keeping a diary’ is not familiar to me as to your sister Vinnie, but her own bright example is quite a comfort to me, so I’ll try”. In the first instance, Dickinson not only claims to write a diary but also indicates an awareness of the gendered conventions of diary writing. Dickinson transforms the domesticated diary into a blood-soaked record to extend, and to bring home, the image she has spun of a topsy-turvy universe in which teachers murder students. In the second instance, Dickinson denies writing a diary and displaces the practice onto her younger sister Lavinia; she describes diary writing as a method of representation she recognizes as having value but one she does not elect to practice - except, apparently, when she does. “I’ll try” to write diaristically, she states, and the letter that follows mimics a diarist’s close observation of the quotidian.

These references to diaries raise tantalizing archival questions. Did Dickinson keep a diary? If so, what happened to it? The archival record provides no evidence of such a diary, which, had it existed, almost certainly would have been destroyed along with Dickinson’s other personal papers after she died. Rather than presenting a research dead end, however, Dickinson’s epistolary statements raise an equally intriguing interpretative question: to what extent was Dickinson responding in her poetry to the culture of diary writing that flourished in the nineteenth century and was widely practiced by those around her, including her family members? In this essay I argue that Dickinson’s poems demonstrate that she thought about and positioned her writing against the prevailing conventions of the diary, including the gene’s association with memory. Dickinson’s depiction of memory and its material forms challenges the idea that a diary could function as textual receptacle for recording and preserving an individual’s memories. At the same time, in her skepticism about the diary’s functionality, Dickinson proves herself to be an insightful critic of the genre, mapping out key questions about the diary’s appeal and its limitations that may guide diary readers even today.’

A little further on, Henderson writes: ‘My analysis begins with the premise that diaries are complex works of literature whose historical marginalization is the result of gendered value systems that deserve to be dismantled. As a consequence, locating Dickinson within diary culture neither minimizes her work nor limits its expressive possibilities. Instead, this context provides a new framework for understanding the ways in which Dickinson responded to the prevalent literary practices of her day. In this essay, I introduce two communities of diary writers in which Dickinson was embedded: the schoolgirl diarists at Mount Holyoke Female Academy and Dickinson’s family and social circle in Amherst. Whether or not she wrote a diary herself, Dickinson would have been exposed to diary writing through these communities and would certainly have been aware of the conventions of the genre. While, as I show, there are formal characteristics that link Dickinson’s fascicles with the diaries written by her friends and family members, my focus is less on material form and more on the diary’s impact on Dickinson’s thinking about and representation of autobiographical memory.’