Witnessing resistance in the diaries of Mary Perkes, Alice James and Anne Frank / by Marion Cathryn Bishop.
Anne Frank opens her diary by writing that "neither I--nor for that matter anyone else--will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl." She could not have been more wrong. Diary-writing sustained her through two years in hiding. After the war, her "unbosomings" personalized the Nazi's atrocity for the world and helped define the Holocaust. Diaries work on two levels. Fluid, flexible texts, journals can be configured in a variety of ways to address a woman's most immediate concerns. But then once the journal has enveloped that concern, the words a woman writes linger, bearing witness against or about the issues that sent her to the diary in the first place. Hence, on the first level, diaries are nurturing, safe spaces, where women can use language to work through their most private needs. But on the next level, once those needs are written down, journals become potent, powerful testaments of the issues women take to them. My dissertation shows how three diarists write to meet personal needs and as a result leave texts that witness the issues that prompted them to write. Mary Perkes, a Mormon pioneer, takes on the doctrine of polygamy in her diary. Securing a monogamous marriage for herself, she simultaneously documents the costs that practicing polygamy can exact from a young girl. Alice James keeps a diary to create the privacy she does not have in everyday life: while doctors invade her body, in her diary she makes boundaries. But by doing this, she also challenges nineteenth century definitions of female behavior and invalidism. Anne Frank seeks the diary as a survival strategy against Nazi-enforced incarceration. Creating an audience that will understand her most intimate feelings, she witnesses the Holocaust. Taken together, these women's diaries illustrate the principle of witnessing resistance: writing to articulate and protect themselves from unfair or incorrect societal expectations and definitions, in the diary women both witness their resistance, and witness to resist.
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