Valeria Taddei is an Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at University College Dublin. She obtained her doctorate from the University of Oxford with a project on literary epiphanies in Italian and English short stories by Luigi Pirandello, James Joyce, Federigo Tozzi and Katherine Mansfield. Her current research focuses on writers’ diaries written in Italian, English, and French in the early 20th century. She published articles and book chapters on Pirandello, Tozzi, and Mansfield, and serves as book reviews editor for Pirandello Studies. Her main field is literary criticism, with a particular interest in comparative studies, twentieth-century fiction, and European modernism.
“Uses of the Personal Diary: a Modernist Writerly Tool?”
A non-fictional diary is a hybrid object, suspended between practical note-taking and literary expression, particularly difficult to pin down when kept by professional authors. This hybridity makes its writing wildly variable in topic, focus, and linguistic register. There is, however, a point which any diarist feels compelled to address: their purpose in writing. Some purposes of diaristic writing intersect key areas of modernist experimentation: record life’s unfolding, put mental processes into words, probe the writer’s consciousness. Considering that many modernists undertook to make their art true to life, it is worth asking whether they viewed their diaries, physical thresholds between life and literature, as tools to further this aim. To begin answering this question, this paper will compare passages in which some European modernist writers, among whom André Gide, Virginia Woolf, and Carlo Emilio Gadda, reflected on their diary and its use. Did they write it to aid future memory, or to dig into their present consciousness? Did they want it to preserve fragments of life in the hope that they would make sense in retrospect? And did they consider it a writerly resource? Over time, Woolf’s diary-writing evolved alongside her literary experimentation; similar observations are possible for Gide, whose fiction developed in such a close kinship to diaristic writing as to borrow its form; even Gadda’s diary, although early and much shorter, contains anticipations of his signature linguistic pastiche. Comparing their and other writers’ reflections on their diary will enable us to find out what was their intention in keeping it, if this proximity between personal and fictional writing was intentional, and whether any transnational trend may be observed. A hypothesis will then emerge on whether European modernist writers used their diary to inform their modernist fiction, or conversely used their modernist sensitivity to guide even their private writing.