Course Description

What is this course about?

In this paper you will study a series of diaries, journals and daybooks kept by a range of writers over a period of almost a thousand years. What all these texts have in common is that they're all concerned with crises of various kinds: civil war, drug addiction, famine, imprisonment, madness, physical hardship, plague ...

How do people cope with such traumatic events, day by day?

  • Lady Daibu and Mary Chesnut were both non-combatants in a time of Civil War. We'll discuss what unites them and what sets them apart from each other.
  • Lydia Ginzburg and Arthur Koestler were each imprisoned, in different ways, during the devastating wars of the early-to-mid twentieth century.
  • Both Denton Welch and Alice James were invalids. We'll talk about the psychopathology of invalidism: its worldly uses as well as its obvious drawbacks.
  • Born in the same year, 1889, the omnitalented Jean Cocteau was an Opium addict, the great dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (at least latterly) a paranoid schizophrenic. Is this somehow in tune with the history of twentieth-century extremism in art?
  • Last but not least, Douglas Mawson was a fearless Antarctic explorer who's been somewhat unfairly overshadowed by his contemporaries Shackleton and Scott, Daniel Defoe a jobbing journalist who might be said to have almost singlehandedly invented the English novel. They have in common a brusque, no-nonsense fondness for raw facts, combined with a surprisingly poetic temperament

It is important to emphasise that this course covers both theoretical and practical aspects of Diary Writing. The emphasis will be on the study of a set of texts, but this will be conducted with the pragmatic end of improving your own work within this genre.

What are our learning objectives?
The paper aims to:

  • introduce you to a variety of diaries published over a variety of epochs;
  • introduce you to some of the literary issues and critical vocabulary germane to the interpretation of these texts;
  • introduce you to some of the ideological issues involved in the representation of your own and other cultures;
  • encourage you to integrate your critical awareness of the various genres subsumed under the general heading "journal-keeping" into your own creative practice;
  • enhance your creativity and skill as a writer working in this genre.

What am I expected to do each week?

You will attend one hour-long lecture and one two-hour workshop every week.

To prepare for the lecture, you must read the texts in the Course Anthology prescribed for that particular session (for further details, see the Course Timetable). There will be further discussion of these readings in the workshop.

You are also expected to complete as many as possible of the writing exercises set for each week's workshop. A failure to read out and discuss any of these short assignments with the class may affect your final grade. On the other hand, you don't need to share your work every week, without fail. We won't always have time to go right round the class for each exercise. You'll have the chance to select your favorite pieces to go in your Course Journal at the end of the semester.

Attendance at both lectures and workshops is compulsory. A roll will be taken at each workshop. More than four unexplained absences may lead to failure in the course.

What is good lecture etiquette?

  • All lectures & workshops begin at on the hour and continue till ten to the hour.
  • Please be punctual. If you arrive late, try to take a seat as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.
  • If you know you will have to leave early (for whatever reason), try to inform your lecturer of this in advance. Avoid disruption to other students by sitting at the end of a row. Try to close the door quietly as you go out.
  • If you are expecting an urgent phonecall and need to keep your cellphone on, you must clear this with your lecturer in advance. Otherwise, all cellphones should be turned off at all times. If you forget, and it rings by mistake, don't answer it.
  • Don't talk unless there's a class discussion underway. Make sure your remarks are addressed to the group as a whole, not your immediate neighbour.

What are the protocols of a writing workshop?

  1. Be courteous and supportive of each other – constructively critical, not negative.
  2. Be honest. Don’t give out praise or blame if you don’t really mean it.
  3. Make no introductions to or apologies for the piece of work you are reading out. Let it speak for itself.
  4. Don’t refuse to read your work out too often, or it will become an increasingly frightening prospect.

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