I've been reading lots of diaries lately, for something I'm working on. 'And now with some pleasure I find that it's seven; and must cook dinner,' Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary on Sunday 8 March 1941. 'Haddock and sausage meat. I think it is true that one gains a certain hold on sausage and haddock by writing them down.' It turns out (though I didn't know this) that this paean to everdayness is quite a famous line: it found its way into Ned Sherrin's Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations and another anthology called Great British Wit. Odd, because it isn't really funny at all. Just before it, Woolf wrote, 'I will go down with my colours flying.' 20 days later, she found a big stone to put in her pocket and weigh her down, and then slipped into the fast-running River Ouse to drown herself.
Sunday, 9 December 2012
A certain hold on sausage and haddock
But the sausage and haddock line does point to what's often interesting about diary entries: the nearest thing to being post-it notes to the self, they go off at strange tangents and can be gnomic and surreal in their meanings. Woolf wrote her diary very quickly straight after tea, when she she wasn't too tired – 'fast impressionism done from an armchair with a dip-pen'. She saw diary-writing as a runaway carriage 'jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles' but took comfort from the fact that 'this diary writing does not count as writing' because 'if I stopped and took through, it would never be written at all; and the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidently [sic - Woolf was a terrible speller] several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the diamonds of the dustheap'. When she got behind in her diary, she fretted that the people she had met and the events she had attended had 'gone down the sink to oblivion'.
I found this strange echo in Sylvia Plath's diary for 25 February 1957:
'And just now I pick up the blessed diary of Virginia Woolf which I bought with a battery of her novels Saturday with Ted. And she works off her depression over rejections from Harper's (no less! and I hardly can believe that the Big Ones get rejected, too!) by cleaning out the kitchen. And cooks haddock and sausage. Bless her. I feel my life linked to her, somehow … her suicide, I felt I was reduplicating in that black summer of 1953. Only I couldn't drown. I suppose I'll always be over - vulnerable, slightly paranoid. But I'm also so damn healthy and resilient.'
Woolf only wrote one more diary entry after the sausage and haddock one. The last line of it reads: 'L is doing the rhododendrons...'