Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 45 (2014)
The diary genre has been repeatedly explored both as a confessional, retrospective form of writing and 'as an inherently female genre' (p. 17). Refreshingly, Millim challenges these approaches by stressing not only the genre's multiplicity, but also its ability to shape future, rather than past, experiences. This study is positioned alongside the more recent 'pragmatic, rather than ideological' (p. 23) approaches of Delafield's Women's Diaries as Narrative in the Nineteenth-Century Novel (2009) and Steinitz's Time, Space, and Gender in the Nineteenth Century British Diary (2011). Millim's The Victorian Diary is less wide-ranging (unlike Delafield and Steinitz, she does not also tackle fictional diaries), but bravely engages with some of the more unaccommodating species of the genre, such as the 'bare-bones' diary.
One of Millim's most thought-provoking contributions to diary scholarship is her insistence on the economic and managerial properties of the genre. Strikingly, the study proposes that its selection of diarists used the form less as a 'repository of lived experience' than as a tool to 'achieve maximal professional productivity through imagining, establishing and/or maintaining an ideal self, an emotional balance, or state of contentment, which they perceived as necessary for optimal professional performance' (p. 25). Millim, drawing on the work of Philippe Lejeune, traces this function back to the origin of the diary as an accountancy tool. In the opening chapter, Elizabeth Eastlake (the famously disapproving critic of Jane Eyre) and Henry Crabb Robinson are discussed alongside each other as the authors of 'public autobiographical, rather than informal private, writing' (p. 32). Both, Millim argues, used their diaries to explore their ambivalence towards emotion. Crabb Robinson felt that he lacked the necessary emotional make-up to achieve success as a writer, but also distrusted 'open fervour' (p. 55), while Eastlake privileged emotion which presented itself as respectable and altruistic, and used the diary, shaped into a series of aphorisms by her nephew, to teach emotional selfawareness. Ruskin (discussed in chapter three), felt that 'perception was governed by an inherent emotional dynamic' (p. 144) and, in order to maintain this dynamic, recorded experiences he would be able to draw on in times of emotional exhaustion.