Thursday, April 11, 2024

Q&A with Sarah Gristwood




Sarah Gristwood is the editor of the new book Secret Voices: A Year of Women's Diaries. Her other books include The Tudors in Love. A journalist, broadcaster, and historian, she is based in the UK.


Q: What inspired you to create Secret Voices?


A: I’ve been fascinated by women’s diaries for many years now - the way they allow you to see right into the past, and discover that our foremothers had very much the same concerns that we do today.


Q: How did you choose the women to include on each particular day?

A: I started with a longlist of all the entries I could find for that day, and then started narrowing it down. Partly, of course, the criterion was sheer readability - but I wanted also to draw on as wide a range of diarists as possible, and across as broad a time frame.


It was just my personal editor’s gripe that so many women seemed to write on, say, August 12, and so few on August 13!


Q: In the book’s introduction, you write, “The diary has been the echo chamber for a woman's own voice, as opposed to what she was supposed to say.” Can you say more about that? 


A: I took away from my research a strong sense of women’s frustration; albeit that it was often expressed wryly or humorously. I believe that women in the past did often use their diary to voice feelings - anger, ambition - that would have seemed unacceptable in their own day.


Q: Do you see any changes in how women diarists expressed themselves over the centuries?


A: The very first diary in this book - that of Lady Margaret Hoby in the late 16th century - chiefly chronicled her spiritual practices. But even there, the old Adam (or the old Eve!) keeps creeping in.


And I think the real surprise for me was how often women on from centuries ago spoke in just the same tones as we do today.


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: I’d like to stay with the world of women’s voices for a bit, before returning to my other great love - the history of Tudor times.


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: Well, only that the publishers have made Secret Voices an absolute joy to see and to handle. And that a number of British readers have, very appropriately, been buying it as a gift for our (March) Mother’s Day…


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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