Extract from Secret Diaries Past & Present

I must not be obsessive

Although I feel mentally stable, self-aware, and well balanced, I do sometimes question my addiction to recording my life, and the two or more hours every day that I devote to it. Do you feel that Anne Lister’s obsessiveness was in any way unhealthy?


Most dictionaries explain that obsessive behaviour can be:

  • motivated by a persistent overriding idea or impulse, often associated with anxiety and mental illness, or
  • applied to a person who is continually preoccupied with a particular activity.

Lejeune, the specialist in autobiography, asks in On Diary, ‘Is journal-writing a neurotic or obsessive activity or an exercise in training or self-discipline?’ Having worked through the whole of the 6,600 pages of Anne’s journals, my conclusion is that Anne exhibited all three behaviours: neuroticism, obsessiveness, self-discipline.

Anne’s neuroticism can be seen in her concern for her health, which began to figure prominently in her daily entries following the discovery that she had contracted a venereal infection from her married lover, Mariana Lawton. She gave explicit descriptions of her symptoms almost every day for a number of years and when the infection had run its course she began to obsess about her bowel movements.

Anne’s obsessiveness is evident in the daily writing of her journal, no matter what circumstances prevailed, whether it was rough notes to be transferred to her journal proper later or to entries made on the day in the comfort of her own little study.

And, of course, Anne’s scrupulous attention to her journal reveals her self-discipline.

View Secret Diaries Past & Present on Amazon.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>