From the Diary of Caroline Dall: On Writing

After my last post in which I included snippets from Caroline Healey Dall’s diary, I thought I would post a few of her diary entries in their entirety.

The first, posted here, is from near the beginning of her diary.  She was fifteen-years-old and living on Beacon Hill in Boston, MA.

excerpt is from “Daughter of Boston: The Extraordinary Diary of a Nineteenth-century Woman”  edited by Helen R. Reese

Sept. 2nd 1838-

“I have been wondering what it is that raises my spirits, and encourages me in the task which I have undertaken?  Certainly neither father nor mother, brother nor sister, have ever expressed any interest in what I have  written, or ever desired to read anything I have published, – It is strange, I think I should take pride & pleasure in the virtuous endeavors of a child of mine- and this apathy , this indifference breeds coldness- on my side, and there is no sympathy between me and my parents. 

My mother oftentimes expresses harsh, disapproval of my love of study, and her daily life seems to express but one wish- that I were as fond of housewifery as my sister Ellen.  She knows  not the depth of wound she probes, and the unbidden tears, which often spring to my eyes, are imputed childish weakness- Why then should I persevere, if those whom I wish to honor, seem insensible to my truly filial feelings?  Because, in my father’s anxiety to procure me every literary advantage, in his kind smile, and gentle voice, I find at least one assurrance that he will joy in his child’s success, and grieve for her disappointment. 

People talk of literary struggles, and of the trials which a man who chooses this department of life, has to endure.  These do not spring from the nature of literature, but from the interference of friends, the obstacles raised by the envious, and the discouragements, the cold indifference, with which his labors are regarded by the very ones who should be the first to support and aid him. 

Nothing is easier, than this, if he be a man of talent, he forgets in the inspiration of his genius, the disagreeable manual labor, to which his inclination subjects him.  This is a pleasure & not a task.”

Published in: on April 6, 2010 at 9:32 pm  Comments (17)  
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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Interesting insight. Just goes to show that writer’s go through the same thing no matter the era.

  2. It’s difficult for some people to see the merits in writing, although with the number of people writing these days, it appears not to be as much of an issue as it was, perhaps, in times past. 🙂

  3. I am floored by her command of the language at such a young age! And to be so dismissed by her parents, their complete lack of interest in her writing, my heart aches for her. Her mother was clearly a very small-minded woman, wanting nothing more for her daughters than to become housewives, and we know many other women of the time were nothing of the sort. She seems to contradict herself in saying that neither her father nor her mother were interested in reading anything she wrote, but yet goes on to say her father encourages her studies and will take some joy in her successes. Perhaps a touch of teen angst in this? 🙂 Some things never change.

  4. Ralfast,

    Indeed. And at least today, those who don’t have support from family, can find other writers online.

  5. Jenna,

    It is strange how many more people are writing nowadays. Some have suggested it’s because of how much easier it is to type out a novel on the computer, versus either the typewriter or pen and paper.

    And then, of course, people find out there’s soooo much more involved than hitting the keys!

  6. DD,

    I know. She was an amazing writer. I wonder how she might have fared as a novelist.

    Her entry regarding her father does seem contradictory, but I think she was just grasping at any sign of support or encouragement.

    Her father was a real jerk. Only a couple of passages later, on her 16th birthday, he tells her how she hasn’t lived up to his expectations. 😦

  7. To address the number of people writing today, we have one thing on our side that many of our predecessors did not: leisure time. Our modern conveniences free us from a lot of the daily toil our grandmothers dealt with (although I have also seen the studies that suggest we have LESS time because of those same conveniences. We are expected to do MORE in a day than previous generations).

  8. That was fasinating

  9. It is definitely nice to know that the writer’s dilemma of why don’t you do some real work is not just relegated to the modern era.

  10. DD,

    Interesting theories.

    I’m not so much sure if it’s the time issue, versus that in the past, people were more focused on doing specific things in their spare time: reading, writing, studying languages, practicing the piano, etc…

    While today there is so much more multi-tasking. I like to focus on one thing at a time, but so many people are harried…doing a zillion things at once

    Studies have shown that with each generation, people tend to be less satisfied, less happy. Yes, they have the modern conveniences, but instead of stopping to enjoy the life around them, it’s all rush, rush, rush.

  11. Glad you liked it, Chazz! 🙂

  12. Indeed, Lyra! 🙂

  13. How very sad and how very true. What she writes about writing is true also of so many other things. Think of love affairs, sexual orientation, life priorities and other issues which one’s parents and social milieu might disapprove of and harass. Being true to oneself is not only a matter of understanding who one is and being at peace with it, but also in finding a way to survive with equanimity (or avoid) the reproaches of others who seem to think they have the right to judge one. :-/

  14. Amen, Sputsie!!!

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  15. That I cannot believe. 🙂

  16. I find it astounding (though I know I shouldn’t) that a 15-year-old girl living so many years before me had the exact same feelings about writing, the same angst about her passion not being celebrated or supported. I just wish she and I could have a nice long talk about this! And how sad that my own kids, who can write quite well, aren’t the least bit interested in pursuing it.

  17. Hi Mary,

    I know what you mean. There’s something comforting and wondrous about it. I get the same feeling when I read Charlotte Bronte’s letters where she laments on writer’s block, or how Nathanial Hawthorne threw countless drafts in the fire out of frustration.

    There’s a sense of unity. All writers, famous or not, face the same struggles and rewards. And that’s pretty neat.

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