Marilyn Monroe made the character Lorelei Lee famous after her portrayal of the diamond-loving gold-digger in the 1953 Howard Hawks musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. But author Anita Loos, who was born on this day, invented the outrageous blonde in her 1925 Jazz-Age novel of the same name. Written in the form of Lorelei’s diary, spelling mistakes and all, Loos captures the character’s personality and obsession with wealth and status in the opening entry. These other fictional diaries are equally telling, revealing powerful themes and insights into each character from the very first page. It’s also fascinating to see how the diary format has often been relied upon to express the inner world of fictional women throughout literature.
Filmmaker Jennifer Lynch, daughter of David Lynch, wrote The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer after the first season of Twin Peaks aired in 1990 when she was 22 years old. Written from the point of view of the troubled homecoming queen Laura Palmer (played by Sheryl Lee in the TV series), the diary opens with a chilling excerpt that foreshadows the terrible traumas to come and goes on to chronicle Laura’s life from age 12 to her tragic death at 17.
July 22, 1984
My name is Laura Palmer, and as of just three short minutes ago, I officially turned twelve years old! It is July 22, 1984, and I have had such a good day! You were the last gift I opened and I could hardly wait to come upstairs and start to tell you all about myself and my family. You shall be the one I confide in the most. I promise to tell you everything that happens, everything I feel, everything I desire. And, every single thing I think. There are some things I can’t tell anyone. I promise to tell these things to you.
Knowing the twists and turns of Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl (and the movie adaptation directed by David Fincher), the opening of character Amy Dunne’s (née Elliott) diary is worth a thousand smirks. The book pushes the unreliable narrator to the extreme as we uncover the truth about Nick and Amy Dunne’s marital struggles.
JANUARY 5, 2005 – Diary entry –
Tra and la! I am smiling a big adopted-orphan smile as I write this. I am embarrassed at how happy I am, like some Technicolor comic of a teenage girl talking on the phone with my hair in a ponytail, the bubble above my head saying: I met a boy!
But I did. This is a technical, empirical truth. I met a boy, a great, gorgeous dude, a funny, cool-ass guy. Let me set the scene, because it deserves setting for posterity (no, please, I’m not that far gone, posterity! feh). But still. It’s not New Year’s, but still very much the new year. It’s winter: early dark, freezing cold.
Author Helen Fielding captures the self-loathing and bodily obsession that many women experience in the opening diary entry of 30-something Londoner Bridget Jones.
Sunday 1 January
129 lbs. (but post-Christmas), alcohol units 14 (but effectively covers 2 days as 4 hours of party was on New Year’s Day), cigarettes 22, calories 5424.
Food consumed today: 2 pots Emmenthal cheese slices 14 cold new potatoes 2 Bloody Marys (count food as contain Worcester sauce and tomatoes) 1/3 Ciabatta loaf with Brie coriander leaves — 1/2 packet 12 Milk Tray (best to get rid of all Christmas confectionery in one go and make fresh start tomorrow) 13 cocktail sticks securing cheese and pineapple Portion Una Alconbury’s turkey curry, peas and bananas Portion Una Alconbury’s Raspberry Surprise made with Bourbon biscuits, tinned raspberries, eight gallons of whipped cream, decorated with glacé cherries and angelica.
Alice Walker won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction after writing the novel The Color Purple. Set in the rural South during the 1930s, Walker opens the book with a heartbreaking diary entry from young African-American narrator Celie, who we learn has suffered horrifying abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to care for her.
You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.
I am fourteen years old. I am I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s early feminist fiction, written from the perspective of a woman who has been confined to her bedroom by her husband due to her “slight hysterical tendency,” unveils the common struggles of women during that time period who were quickly and carelessly branded as mentally ill. The narrator’s frustration with her husband’s stance is detailed in the first lines of her journal entry.
It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer.
A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity — but that would be asking too much of fate!
Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it. Else, why should it be let so cheaply? And why have stood so long untenanted?
John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage. John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.
John is a physician, and PERHAPS — (I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind) — PERHAPS that is one reason I do not get well faster.
You see he does not believe I am sick!
And what can one do?
Gore Vidal’s 1968 novel subverts gender and sexual norms and boasts an eponymous, classic Hollywood-loving character who represents the “New Woman,” in the age of the “Woman Triumphant, of Myra Breckinridge.” Vidal once said, “From Myra’s fist appearance on the page she was a megastar” — and her opening diary entry underlines this.
I am Myra Breckinridge whom no man will ever possess. Clad only in garter belt and one dress shield, I held off the entire elite of the Trobriand Islanders, a race who possess no words for “why” or “because.” Wielding a stone axe, I broke the arms, the limbs, the balls of their finest warriors, my beauty blinding them, as it does all men, unmanning them in the way that King Kong was reduced to a mere simian whimper by beauteous Fay Wray whom I resemble left three-quarter profile if the key light is no more than five feet high during the close shot.
“The Moth Diaries delves deeper into the neuroses and psyche of female adolescence than anything I’ve read,” wrote Nicola Morgan for the Guardian in her 2004 review of Rachel Klein’s novel. “It is dark and dangerous, gothic, brutally revealing, regularly shocking and perfectly controlled. We know from the preface that the main character has “borderline personality disorder complicated by depression and psychosis”. We know she recovers. That foreknowledge never weakens the story’s grip.” The opening diary entry by Klein’s narrator reveals a taste of her growing obsession with roommate Lucy Blake and the twist their relationship takes while at an exclusive girls’ boarding school.
My mother dropped me off at two. Practically everyone is back. Except for Lucy. I can’t wait for her to come so that we can unpack together. I’m going to write in my journal until she’s here. After my mother left, I felt an emptiness in my stomach that spread up through my throat to the back of my eyes. I didn’t cry, even though I probably would have felt better afterward. I needed to hold on to that feeling, that pain. If Lucy had been here, she would have distracted me. I had a moment of panic when I said good-bye to my mother. I begged her not to leave me here. It’s so strange.
The opening diary of Jean-Paul Sartre’s debut novel, written from the perspective of despondent historian Antoine Roquentin, is full of all the existential feels.
Monday, 29 January, 1932: Something has happened to me, I can’t doubt it any more. It came as an illness does, not like an ordinary certainty, not like anything evident. It came cunningly, little by little; I felt a little strange, a little put out, that’s all. Once established it never moved, it stayed quiet, and I was able to persuade myself that nothing was the matter with me, that it was a false alarm. And now, it’s blossoming. I don’t think the historian’s trade is much given to psychological analysis. In our work we have to do only with sentiments in the whole to which we give generic titles such as Ambition and Interest. And yet if I had even a shadow of self-knowledge, I could put it to good use now.
Slate’s Laura Miller explains how Chuck Palahniuk’s Diary plays with point of view in a quasi journal format:
The gimmick of “Diary” is that it’s supposed to be a journal Misty is writing for Peter should he ever emerge from his coma. Employing that kind of ventriloquism in a suspense novel would be a tricky thing to pull off for even an accomplished and careful writer, and since Palahniuk is neither, he makes a real hash of it. The narrative wobbles between an unlikely but probably easy-to-write third-person, an aggrieved second-person addressed to Peter, and another second-person narrative addressed, bafflingly, to Misty herself. Eventually, when Misty is kept imprisoned and blindfolded by the townsfolk, it’s not clear who’s writing it.
June 21 The Three-Quarter Moon
Today, a man called from Long Beach. He left a long message on the answering machine, mumbling and shouting, talking fast and slow, swearing and threatening to call the police, to have you arrested.
Today is the longest day of the year — but anymore, every day is.
The weather today is increasing concern followed by full-blown dread.
The man calling from Long Beach, he says his bathroom is missing.
Jonathan Harker’s diary entry, written while the character is on his way to meet with Transylvanian noble Count Dracula, creates anticipation in the reader as the naive English solicitor embarks on a journey into the exotic and unknown territory of the Carpathian Mountains.
3 May. Bistritz.—Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets. I feared to go very far from the station, as we had arrived late and would start as near the correct time as possible.
The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East; the most western of splendid bridges over the Danube, which is here of noble width and depth, took us among the traditions of Turkish rule.