For at least the past twenty years, the publishing world has uncovered and published a flood of women’s diaries and letters. Manuscripts have been found in attics and basements. Some were sitting in libraries unpublished and forgotten. Feminist scholars and family members have discovered who the women in their families really were. Men’s writings have always been published. The patriarchy has seldom published women’s written words. So they have had to write under a pseudonym. For instance, George Sands was a women who wrote under a man’s name.
The terms diary and journal denote dailiness. Recently the word discontinuous prose is being used. While some writings were obviously secret and never meant to be published, others are written as if to a reader or an imaginary friend. Some journals recap the woman’s daily writings and others also document the unusual, the events and thoughts that made a day memorable. Journal-keepers often focus on just a few aspects of events or on special parts of their lives.
Some diaries and journals have been categorized by their duration, some are lifelong beginning in childhood. Other writings stop and start which reflects the fact that sustaining daily writing could get hard in the face of children, housework, and, more recently, jobs. They are also written in a variety of styles reflecting the personality of the woman writing. Because of sexism, women were frequently illiterate, lacked paper and pen or felt they had to keep their own personal thoughts private. To reveal what they were thinking could bring the husband’s wrath down upon them. For black women, it was against the law for them to learn to read and write.
The overall effect of reading women’s diaries and journals is to fully grasp the restrictions on the lives of all women, but more so on the black woman. I love to read these. It helps to keep a perspective on your own life. It illuminates the big picture and explains why hundreds of years ago, women had no choices and were as much owned as any slave. This is the reason that once a woman was widowed and had enough money, she did not remarry. Now they were free and they didn’t want to loose that freedom.
Marie Noel was the pseudonym of Marie-Melanie Rouget, who lived all her life in the provincial town of Auxerre, France. She was the oldest child and the only girl in the family. Her household chores took much of her time but she did write. She wrote several tomes of poetry, and a journal that documented her lifelong struggle to be authentic and to express her religious doubts. Here is an excerpt from Marie’s writing:
“The mere fact of passing outside time so modifies the soul that it is no longer recognizable.If time and space-the two essential modes of our thinking-are removed from us, what will remain?
What is eternity, life without time or place? Nonexistence, perhaps.
Relative, not total, nonexistence. ( There is something other than this conscious, definite, limited self. There is Being. ) Nonexistence comparable to the “Night” of ecstasy, in which all the faculties-memory, imagination, thought, reason-have disappeared ; outside time, outside space, the breath of God, the impalpable soul which reaches God because it first comes from God, returns to God, is fused and with God.
Ecstasy enables me to understand death, beatitude. It is accompanied by the momentary destruction of the person. In ecstasy there is no more time or place, man has crossed over, gone outside himself.”