A Life Fully Lived: the diaries of Queen Victoria

Dear Diary.

That urge to write a life down: it has come to most of us. Circumstances drive us into the act of recording details from our lives: Anne Frank responded to the stress of incarceration in a tiny secret hideout by writing, eloquently, evocatively. Samuel Pepys was a systematic archivist at heart, recording the details of a life full of event at a fascinating time.

And Joe Average has his share of diary writing. Take the fabulous introduction written, ostensibly, by Charles Pooter in Diary of a Nobody: “Why should I not publish my diary? I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see – because I do not happen to be a ‘Somebody’ – why my diary should not be interesting.”

The details of the Nobody invented by George and Weedon Grossmith prove totally engrossing: from his affable friends who pop round for chats, to Sarah the cantankerous maid, to their headstrong son Lupin: the whole diary is a romp around the fine detail of a happy existence.

Highlights include Lupin’s pony-and-trap road rage; and his spectacular avoidance tactic when he loses Charles and his friends money on a ‘sure thing’: he jumps out of the drawing room window and runs away.

I keep my eye on the new bloggers coming through on WordPress. That first post after the generic ‘Hello World’ is so often a variation of Pooter’s introduction. It is a tentative toe into the world of diary writing: and a few go on to make it part of their day-to-day existence.

Why do we do it? Share the detail of our life with anonymous readers?

Dr Matthew Lieberman, a psychologist from the University of California in Los Angeles, thinks he may have the answer.

It is roughly three years since he and his team got together a group of people and scanned their brains before they wrote. Half were asked to write about neutral experiences: half chronicled a recent emotional incident.They wrote for 20 minutes a day, for four consecutive days.

And the scans revealed more than any diary could: it concluded that those who wrote about their emotions were unconsciously using a part of their brain which helped to reduce strong emotions.

Dr Lieberman told the Guardian: “Writing seems to help the brain regulate emotion unintentionally. Whether it’s writing things down in a diary, writing bad poetry, or making up song lyrics that should never be played on the radio, it seems to help people emotionally.”

So writing a diary can overcome emotional upheaval, and actually make you happier, it seems.

Which is a good thing, especially if you’re the reigning monarch of a country and an empire. Queen Victoria wrote diaries throughout her 64 year reign. She wrote to the diary alone: a private audience with a notional reader.

She started her diaries at the age of 13, and tailed off just weeks before her death, creating 141 volumes and some 43,000 pages. The tales chronicle her meeting, marriage with and mourning of Albert, her many struggles with matters of state, and issues great and small.

Initially they were very private: latterly one could get to see them by special appointment at Windsor Castle.

But to celebrate our present queen’s milestone 60-year reign, Oxford’s Bodleian Library and The Royal Archives have collaborated to put the whole glorious lot online.

We can peruse Victoria’s words, some written in Victoria’s hand: and soon transcriptions of pages will also be available.

You can find them here. An unbelievable window into history in which one can read about the events of the last Diamond Jubilee, courtesy of the present one.

But it’s only for a short while. From July 2012, the diaries will be available only to those in the United Kingdom, and to specific libraries elsewhere.

So here are your starters orders as we in Britain head into our weekend of Diamond Jubilee celebrations: Ladies and gentlemen, these diaries are historical gold dust. They have been available to a chosen few academics for a very long time. And unless you live where I live, you have a month –  a precious window –  to read the diaries of the lady who gave her name to the Victorian era.

On your marks.

Get set.


Image via Wikipedia

42 thoughts on “A Life Fully Lived: the diaries of Queen Victoria

  1. You are so very right in pointing that out. writing definitely reduces the strong emotions. In my case, it relieves me of lot of inbuilt tension that I feel many times.

  2. Wow- where do I start with Victoria? I suppose, at the start and just keep going. what a resource!
    All my diaries and journals have been long dumped; only the virtual versions of memineandotherbits exist. Sorry, future historians… 😀

    1. I have a feeling they will find a way of keeping archives of online materials, Fiona. Hope so. There are more than 600 of my posts on here, and nowhere else…

    1. So well worth checking out, Roger. Thanks for spreading a word. We can only hope that a French library opts in to get access to them. (I’ll try not to snicker at the very idea)

  3. I think that Victoria must have soaked up a lot of information and culture over the years through keeping a diary. A Victoria Sponge?

  4. I have steadfastly resisted writing down personal thoughts, frustrations, heartaches and the like; might be good for me at the moment, but not necessarily for others to find when I am gone! Who’s to say that I’d remember to burn such writings with sufficient frequency to ensure that nothing which might be deemed hurtful remained if my time here ended suddenly? I have held on to some originals of the random holiday missive, etc., more for their time capsule properties than anything else, but think I’ll leave journaling, per se, to more intrepid souls.

    Thanks for the link to Queen Victoria’s diaries though….just looked at her entry for the date of my grandmother’s birth….struggled a bit with the handwriting in places, but I think it snowed there that day! Wonder if it did here in Indiana? Off to see whether I can find out!

    1. Amazing that you could look up such an exact time and find out what happened, Karen! Even Victoria had her moments in her diaries, I believe. But what a chronicle….

  5. Dear Kate – what a gold mine of information you are. Thank goodness we have longer in which to read these wonderful diaries – thank you.
    When writing, I am not usually thinking about the strangers who will probably browse it, that is perhaps a mistake on my part.

      1. WordPress and Blogger must be having a spat, is all I can think, Rosemary. the number of glitsches in the past week or so! Apologies…

  6. I’m not surprised by these findings. My writing has kept me sane, and for the most part, made me much easier for MTM to live with. So, that’s a plus regardless of who reads it.

    I can’t wait to dive into these diaries. What a gift. Thanks for sharing the links with those of us who aren’t in the UK.

  7. Like Victoria, I started keeping a diary at age 13 through college graduation. Unlike Victoria, my diaries have all been shredded. Good riddance to that load of rubbish. 😛

    I shall sneak a peak at hers . . . especially in the latter years. Thanks for the heads up.

  8. Interesting, Kate. Writing in journals has always worked for me, though I tend to do it less and less now that I’ve entered the wonderful world of blogging.
    I popped over to Queen Victoria’s dairies and will visit them often – until July. What a remarkable thing for the UK and the Queen to share with the world.

    Enjoy the celebrations there. I’ll have a cup of English tea, compliments of a friend of Jennifer’s, in honor of this Diamond Jubilee.

  9. I am so thrilled you shared the link to Queen Victoria’s diaries. I find it fascinating that she was so faithful to write across her lifespan. What historical treasure! I’ll be with you in sprit for the Jubilee…I’ve already found few little items to add to my collection 🙂 I find it all quite thrilling, actually. And I have kept diaries and journals most of my life. They are indeed excellent mood regulators! Now on to Victoria! 🙂 Debra

  10. Thanks again for sharing such great info, have bookmarked and will dig in when I can over the next month.
    Interesting study on what may prompt folks to write and share their thoughts, I’m certainly glad that you share yours as I always learn something from them. Cheers for a wonderful Jubilee Celebration.

  11. Utterly fascinating. In passing, I am horrified to find one of her early drawings described as Horses’ Head. Even in England, the proper use of the apostrophe is a lost art?
    Diaries are fascinating things. What may seem utterly mundane to one can be of greatest interest to another in a different era, class, or part of the world

  12. interesting one Kate – I guess my blog has become a sort of diary of interelated scenarios that may not have happened on the actual day – but isn’t that what all diaries truly are… Inaccurate?

  13. Thank you for the link, Kate. I’ve oft toyed with starting another blog that shall just be a ‘dear diary’ so I can be as self indulgent/unliterary, ah hem, that is, more than more normal indulgences on current blog, ha!

  14. That’s a fabulous resource. I love reading diaries, and of course, now blogs. Though I’ve often picked up a diary of someone, whose context I don’t know anything about at all, and wondered why I should be reading it. But this is a fabulous resource. I’m going to try and download all the entries while I can, though I think it’s going to be a huge task.

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