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diary

diary [Lat., = day], a daily record of events and observations. As distinguished from memoir (an account of events placed in perspective by the author long after they have occurred), the diary derives its impact from its immediacy, requiring each generation of readers to supply its own perspective. The earliest diaries extant are the Roman commentarii —household account books, senators' speech notebooks, and Caesar's account of the Gallic Wars. Diaries are of particular interest to historians because they depict everyday life in a particular place and time, often illuminating important historical events. Examples of such diaries are the Journal d'un bourgeois de Paris, written by an anonymous French clerk from 1401 to 1431; accounts of daily life in the American colonies by William Bradford, John Winthrop, William Byrd, and Samuel Sewall; Anne Frank's diary (1947, tr. 1953), an account of the early days of World War II by a young German-Jewish girl who died in a concentration camp; and Harold Nicolson's diaries (1964–68), which treat the world situation from 1929 to 1962. A particularly unusual diary is that of the painter Eugène Delacroix (covering 1822–24 and 1847–63), which contains many extraordinary drawings. Among the many diaries of literary and psychological interest, the greatest is probably that of Samuel Pepys. While presenting a detailed portrait of life in 17th-century England, the diary also renders many charming and humorous incidents, the product of Pepys's observant eye and delightful style. It records, for example, the New Year festivities of 1666: "Then to dancing and supper and mighty merry till Mr. Belt came in, whose pain of the tooth-ake made him no company, and spoilt ours." Other important literary diarists are John Evelyn, Jonathan Swift, Dorothy Wordsworth, Jules and Edmund Goncourt, Charles Baudelaire, André Gide, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, and Anaïs Nin, whose 126-volume diary represents her efforts to "unmask the deeper self," so that it might be studied by psychiatrists.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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