Sarah Gristwood: ‘Women used diaries to voice the feelings they couldn’t voice publicly’

Author Sarah Gristwood on what she learned from reading the diaries of other women

Listen | 44:04

What do Oprah Winfrey, Florence Nightingale and Beatrix Potter all have in common? At one stage in their lives, each of them kept a diary. And those diaries, where their innermost thoughts and desires lived, are just some of the extracts that feature in the new book Secret Voices: A Year of Women’s Diaries.

The anthology is edited by British author and journalist Sarah Gristwood, who says a lot can be learned about the female experience by what women were writing in the privacy of their journals. “Women used diaries to voice the feelings that they couldn’t voice publicly in their day,” she tells Kathy Sheridan on the latest episode of The Women’s Podcast.

“I think these were voices that in their day were very often private, secret, forbidden almost, transgressive, even if the diarists hoped that later the world might change and they could be heard more clearly”.

The collection boasts diary entries from a whole host of remarkable women including Virginia Woolf, Anne Frank, Louisa May Alcott and even Queen Victoria.


Gristwood says the book, which spans from January 1st to December 31st, offers an insight into “the variety and richness of women’s experience”.

“We can wind up thinking of women in the past in slightly black and white or, you know, slightly not highly coloured terms. But guess what? They were having extraordinary adventures, as well as agonies, claiming their own rights and identities, having fun, having furies, just the whole range of experience,” she says.

You can listen back to this conversation in the player above or wherever you get your podcasts.

Suzanne Brennan

Suzanne Brennan

Suzanne Brennan is an audio producer at The Irish Times