Jess van Netten reviews Secret Diaries Past & Present: Q&A with Helena Whitbread & Natasha Holme


In understanding my consumption of the diary of Anne Frank, my devouring the entirety of Anne of Green Gables, Susan Howatch’s Cashelmara, Bryce Courteney’s Jessica and later in life pouring through Ruth Maier’s diary in one sitting, you could say I have a fascination with the personal details of others; particularly women. As such, I found great delight in reading about the writing of such personal details in the recent conversation between Helena Whitbread (Anne Lister’s editor and reader) and Natasha Holme (lesbian diarist).
Published as Secret Diaries Past & Present. Q&A with Helena Whitbread & Natasha Holme, you as the reader are the proverbial fly on the wall while diaries separated by generations are casually, critically compared. To my surprise, I had never heard of Anne Lister or Natasha Holme’s diaries prior to this encounter and just one chapter in, I commit to buying all related materials.
The account of the interview between the editor and the diarist flicks possession throughout with both asking questions lending themselves to personal and professional reflection. Even without any earlier knowledge, a picture of both women (and the third, omnipresent diarist Anne Lister) forms fully and intimately in my mind. In the same way that reading a diary creates a relationship between you and the author, so too do I feel privately connected to all three protagonists in different ways. Both Anne and Natasha struggle with religion, sexuality and self acceptance and express their feelings with the written word. Further, editor and historian Helena’s own developed interest in revealing history and understanding through learning strike a chord with my sense of self.
Almost inextricably, while reading about these three women, I find myself feeling contemplative and self-reflective; both challenged and embraced. The interview is easy to read and gaps are filled with actual entries from the different diaries mentioned to further contextualize the comparisons. I also wonder about prolific and current diarist Natasha’s experience during these conversations. As she mentions, she diaries obsessively – often every detail within the day is recorded – and I can’t help but wonder about her keeping note of these conversations and interviews about her own diaries within her own diaries. Even more meta, to consider her reading this review about her writing in her diary about me reading the interview and writing a review of it. As they say, does life imitate art or does art imitate life!
Secret Diaries Past & Present. Q&A with Helena Whitbread & Natasha Holme is recommended for lovers of history, diaries and all those who enjoy a good conversation between educated and interesting women. With or without any other information, the interaction is intriguing and well developed; an easy entry read for someone just dabbling in both stories or a fulfilling connection for the well-read reader.

2 Replies to “Jess van Netten reviews Secret Diaries Past & Present: Q&A with Helena Whitbread & Natasha Holme”

  1. listorian

    Just to say how much Natasha Holme and I appreciate your wonderfully perspicacious review of “Secret Diaries Past & Present”. It was very heartening to read your words and know that you have truly grasped the essence of what we wanted to convey in this exercise of comparing and contrasting two lesbian diarists living in two very different eras. I hope that you find a great deal of enjoyment in any further reading of the Anne Lister material which has been published, including Jill Liddington’s “Female Fortune.Land, Gender and Authorrity. The Anne Lister Diaries and Other Writings 1833-1836”. The BBC are making a ten-part series of Anne’s life, based on Jill’s book – the writer of the series is the highly acclaimed Sally Wainwright. All good wishes for the New Year of 2017. (Helena Whitbread).

    1. AdrenalineGirl

      Thanks Helena for taking the time to respond. I appreciate the thrilling feeling when authentic connections are made above and beyond the story at hand. All the best with your future adventures !