A Young Girl’s Diary

2 Jun

A Young Girl’s Diary by AnonymousA Young Girl's Diary, DailyLit

(This post references the DailyLit site I’ve reviewed in the past. To understand what I’m talking about, you might want to read that entry before continuing with this one.)

I knew almost nothing about A Young Girl’s Diary, by Anonymous, when I started reading it on DailyLit. I knew it was about a young girl as she grew into her early teens, and that it was written in diary format (yes, I am quite the detective). But I liked the idea of it because a) I like books written from a young adult perspective, and b) it was short (99 instalments of average length, compared to the 423 of Anna Karenina, for example).

But by the end, those 99 instalments just weren’t enough – which is funny, because for most of the story, nothing massively huge happens.  It really is just a girl’s diary as she grows into her teens – she’s going to school, realising boys might not be so bad after all, avoiding her condescending older sister, and sharing her secrets with her BFF.

One point of difference between A Young Girl’s Diary and similar novels: it’s set in Germany in the early 1900s. This means there are maids, noble families, evidently socially acceptable public crushes on female teachers, and passages like this:

 I’ve taken to wearing snails*. Father calls them “cow pats”; but everyone else says they’re exceedingly becoming.
*Flat rolls of hair-plait covering the ears – Translator’s note.

So, you know, it’s educational! Cow pats!

But there are also sections that remind you how good writing is timeless. Sitting on top of a hill, the narrator notes:

When I see so extensive a view it always makes me feel sad. Because there are so many people one does not know who are perhaps very nice.

I’ve felt like that. It was perfect.

However, the time and culture in which the novel was written does raise its head. A lot of the diary – especially later on, as the writer gets further into her teens – focuses on boys and even (gasp!) sexual matters. When talking about these things, the author uses so many vagaries that I was left wondering if she was even writing about what I thought she was writing about.

Dora says she took a dislike to S. from the first because he — — — –. It’s an absolute lie! — — — has clammy hands. It’s simply not true, on the contrary he has such entrancingly cool hands.

What the hell… clammy hands?  Was this scandalous at the time? Sexy? How confusing… yet intriguing. Men, do YOU have clammy hands? Is this a sign of sexual deviousness? Let me know.

But overall, hand moisture mysteries aside, this was a fascinating read. Family tragedy intertwines with the whole coming-of-age thing, but the author doesn’t dwell on the sad times. It’s just a girl growing up, and these are the things that happen to her, wonderfully noticed.

* Word on the street is that the author was actually a psychoanalyst who specialised in child psych matters, not an actual teenage girl. It doesn’t really matter.

Read it when you want to find out how it felt to live as a somewhat-pampered German girl in the early 1900s, annoying siblings, frenemies, crushes on older boys and all. 

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