Saturday, 11 June 2005

The assassin’s cloak

Listening to:

Bach, Komm, heiliger Geist, BWV 651, one of the “Eighteen” chorales.

Just read:

The assassin’s cloak: an anthology of the world’s greatest diarists, edited by Irene and Alan Taylor.

This book is an impressive collection of diary entries by a large variety of authors. It’s arranged in a clever way: sorted by date within the year, so that every day of the year has two or three entries by that many different authors. For example, on 11 June, there are entries by Violet Jacob (1897), Siegfried Sassoon (1922), Naomi Mitchison (1940) and Harold Nicolson (1942).

I’d heard of many of the diarists. They range from Pepys and Evelyn in the 17th century to Anne Frank and Andy Warhol in the 20th. But there are also a number in the book that I’d never heard of. Whether famous or not, the editors did a good job of picking the diarists. I was little disappointed to see that, apart from Katherine Mansfield, there weren’t any from Australia or New Zealand. Indeed, the only entries that were written in the Southern Hemisphere were by Darwin, and by members of Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic. On the other hand, I was pleased to see entries from non-English speaking diarists: among these were the brothers Goncourt, Goebbels and the Tolstoys.

Some authors are only represented by one or two entries (Darwin has four), but others keep cropping up through the course of the book’s year, and it’s pleasant to be dipping into the various diarists’ stories. Most of the entries are of the 20th century, and the two World Wars are loom large amongst these, but with the great variety in authors, I felt that there was always something new to look forward to as I progressed through the year.

A very enjoyable read.