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In the Presence of Audience

The Self in Diaries and Fiction

Deborah Martinson

“In the Presence of Audience is a substantial contribution to the current interest in non-fiction writing, whether that be termed life writing or autobiography or diary. Martinson goes beyond the usual—in her claims, and in her juxtapositions of diary with fiction in each author’s case. Her reading of Virginia Woolf—the longest in the book—is superb.” —Linda Wagner-Martin, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

“This solid study is likely to appeal to both an academic audience and members of the wider community with an interest in women’s diaries or women’s writing  generally.” —Lee Edwards, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

As a diary writer imagines shadow readers rifling diary pages, she tweaks images of the self, creating multiple readings of herself, fixed and unfixed. When the readers and potential readers are husbands and publishers, the writer maneuvers carefully in a world of men who are quick to judge and to take offense. She fills the pages with reflections, anecdotes, codes, stories, biographies, and fictions. The diary acts as a site for the writer’s tension, rebellion, and remaking of herself.

In this book Martinson examines the diaries of Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Violet Hunt, and Doris Lessing’s fictional character Anna Wulf, and shows that these diaries (and others like them) are not entirely private writings as has been previously assumed. Rather, their authors wrote them knowing they would be read. In these four cases, the audience is the author’s male lover or husband, and Martinson reveals how knowledge of this audience affects the language and content in each diary. Ultimately, she argues, this audience enforces a certain “male censorship” which changes the shape of the revelations, the shape of the writer herself, making it impossible for the female author to be honest in writing about her true self.

Even sophisticated readers often assume that diaries are primarily private. This study interrogates the myth of authenticity and self-revelation in diaries written under the gaze of particular peekers.

Deborah Martinson is associate professor of English writing and women’s studies at Occidental College, Los Angeles.

Oct 2003
20th-century American and British Literature
192 pp. 6 x 9

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