Saturday, April 26, 2008
The Diaries of Dawn Powell
Across the continent and around the world countless men and women have written diaries and journals. Their styles and contents are as varied as the writers themselves. The reasons for keeping diaries is also diverse. The diarists' insistence on asserting their own personal voices reflects a picture of their lives, hopes, fears, and disappointments. Diaries also show glimpses into the pastor history of the author and oftentimes provides readers with a written account of what was happening in the world at the time of the writings. The recent discoveries of The Diaries of Dawn Powell has given rebirth to her long-forgotten novels as well as many of her other written works. Since the publication of her diaries, public interest has also risen in Powell's personal, professional and social life. Tim Page, the compiler and editor of Powell's diaries says, "The hope is that their publication may spark greater interest in a neglected and misunderstood figure in American letters. They have extraordinary value as autobiography, literature, social history and psychological case study."
Powell had a difficult time selling her novels during her life because she refused to give in to the popular, fluffy story lines that people seemed to want during the Depression years. Powell had written several novels and numerous stories for the New Yorker magazine and other popular magazines. She had one novel, Dance Night, that sold fairly well, but she had a difficult time motivating herself to finish other works to be published. Throughout her diaries, Powell expresses knowledge of the causes of her lack of ambition. Page has discovered, through her diaries that she placed truth on paper for others to find after she was gone. He tells us "heavy drinking that was debilitating at times, recurrent and often mysterious health problems, and what might now be described as bi-polar personality disorder, contributed to this lack of ambition. However, it is amazing that she could still write as well as she did, considering the emotional and physical problems she had to deal with.
Powell's frustration with writing for popular public are reflected in her diaries again and again. After analyzing her beliefs about writing and how they contributed to her money problems, Powell finally decided to write what the public wanted. Se commits to her diary alone that she was not happy about it. "A sincere symphony from a serious composer is nothing -- but one from a celebrity is something else again. From now on, by God, I am determined to distort every thought into tawdry easy lines the world can applaud."
Giving the public what they want too often requires one to sell out on his or her own principles.