Samara O'Shea

“A black day to begin a blue journal. . .”

I have just learned that there is a mega diary exhibit at the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan. It’s called The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives and runs from January 21st through May 22nd. How such an exhibition could exist without my knowing is beyond me. The important thing is, I found out about it with enough time to see it. I plan to go up the weekend of May 13th.

The title of today’s blog comes from Tennessee Williams. The Morgan website says, “Tennessee Williams, too, relied on his diary in times of loneliness. In February 1955 he made his first entry in a cheap Italian exercise book with a cover featuring white polka dots on a blue background: ‘A black day to begin a blue journal.’”

If you aren’t up for reading the whole exhibit description, here’s what stood out to me:

~ As more and more diarists turn away from the traditional notebook and seek a broader audience through web journals, blogs, and social media, this exhibition explores how and why we document our everyday lives.

~ The exhibition illustrates that even before the era of web diaries, many writers envisioned (or invited) an audience.

~ The marriage notebooks of American author Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) and his wife, Sophia (1809–1871), for example, were interactive documents. The newlyweds made entries in tandem, reading each other’s contributions and building a joint narrative of their daily lives, from Nathaniel’s first contribution— “I do verily believe there is no sunshine in this world, except what beams from my wife’s eyes”—to Sophia’s breathless declaration “I feel new as the earth which is just born again.”

~ One of those who read and benefited from Scott’s revealing journal was English art critic John Ruskin (1819–1900), who kept a diary in 1878 leading up to a severe mental collapse. After he recovered, he meticulously re-read his diary, marking it up and indexing it in search of warning signs to help him anticipate future breakdowns.

~ The Morgan holds the corrected proofs for the first published edition of Pepys’s diaries—evidence of the longstanding human impulse to read other people’s diaries.Notable Diarists Included in the Exhibit: Henry David Thoreau, Albert Einstein, John Steinbeck, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charlotte Brontë, Tennessee Williams, Anaïs Nin, Sir Walter Scott, and Samuel Pepys.