I like reading other people’s diaries and letters….

That’s not such a confession of blatant prying as it seems! Yesterday, I went to get the book I’d reserved from the library, Nella Last’s War.

Nella Last kept a diary throughout World War Two, under the auspices of the Mass Observation Archive. Her record of events offers a unique insight into one woman’s war – on the Home Front.

Home Front: World War Two

I came across Nella Last through Victoria Wood’s TV wartime drama Housewife, 49,based on the real diary of this ordinary, Lancashire housewife, when it was screened on ITV, at the end of last year.

Although I do read biographies, sometimes  reading a collection of letters and diaries  creates an immediate connection with the person from the past, far more than through the interpretation of a biographer.

On my bookshelves, close to hand, I have Stanley Spencer: Letters and Writings and Carrington: Letters and Extracts from her Diaries. My copy of Carrington’s letters also includes the little drawings that she used to put in her correspondence.

Update: I have since acquired The Letters of Lytton Strachey edited by Paul Levy, providing some of the corresponding correspondence to Carrington’s letters.

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4 comments on “I like reading other people’s diaries and letters….

  1. Brett Holman says:

    Nella’s a popular lady! She pops up a lot in Juliet Gardiner’s Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 too. I’ve never really had much interest in biographies, but I do like the immediacy and freshness of diaries. Simon Garfield’s We Are At War is sitting on my bookshelf at the moment, a compilation of 5 diaries from 1939-41 … I may look up Nella’s diary after I’ve read that one.

  2. saesferd says:

    Thank you for your comment.
    Another work based on personal Wartime diaries that I’ve read is : “To War With Whitaker: the Wartime Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly 1939-1945”. Whitaker is the Ranfurlys’ man-servant:
    “and he [Whitaker] said, ‘To the war my Lord?’ and Dan said ‘Yes’. “And Whitaker said: ‘Very good, my Lord,’ as though Dan had asked for a cup of coffee.”
    The Countess had a lot of famous acquaintances, and was involved in the War as a confidential secretary and as a personal assistant to some very important people.
    I think Nella’s popularity is because she gives a voice to all the ordinary, working-class housewives, trying to get on with their day-to-day lives and ‘doing their bit’ for the war effort.

  3. worldwar1letters says:

    Readers will also enjoy Soldier’s Mail: Letters Home from a New England Soldier 1916-1919 which features the writings of U.S. Sgt. Sam Avery during the American involvement in the Great War. A compelling eyewitness narrative from the hot sands along the Rio Grande to the cold mud along the Meuse.
    http://worldwar1letters.wordpress.com

  4. saesferd says:

    Thank you for the recommendation and link to your blog, worldwar1letters.

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