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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Public designs for a private genre : community and identity in the diary McNeill, Laurie Ann


This study analyzes the contemporary diary in English as an autobiographical form that intersects public and private spheres, lives, and narratives. I examine how the diary performs social actions both personal and communal, and thus both "public" and "private." I take this inquiry to three distinct sites of contemporary diary writing, studying these texts within the particular circumstances of their production and reception. Using both autobiography and New Rhetorical genre theories, my analysis considers what contemporary diarists do with the contemporary diary, and how the diary adapts to fit these various functions. I incorporate linguistic pragmatic and discourse analysis to illuminate how identity construction and audience design operate at both the micro level of utterance and the macro level of genre. Chapter One discusses the diaries of May Sarton, Emily Carr, and P.K. Page, professional writers who use the "private" diary for both professional and personal functions. Chapter Two studies the diaries of Americans Natalie Crouter and Elizabeth Vaughan, and future Canadian Peggy Abkhazi, all civilian women who were interned in the Philippines and China by the Japanese during World War II. Trapped in a situation each clearly saw as historic, these women turned to the diary to keep public records that simultaneously served to write themselves back into subjectivity. In the third chapter, I consider diaries on the Internet, focusing on texts by Sara Achenbach, Justin Hall, and Steve Schalchlin. In analyzing these Weblogs, I discuss how the combination of the "private" diary and the public medium of the Internet challenges not only generic stereotypes but also traditional aesthetic and value systems that have determined whose life stories can be told. As all the texts I consider are published diaries, issues of authenticity, privacy, gender, and literariness are critical to this thesis, and each collection of texts illuminates how these concerns influence audience design, generic function, and textual production and reception. Throughout this study, I examine how the diary, a form long dismissed as artless, a-literary, "feminine," and consequently irrelevant, has in fact social and cultural, as well as personal, implications.

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