By the author of National Velvet, which if you’ve never read it is a quite unusual book with a distinctive prose style and atmosphere that I find quite lovely, especially at the beginning. It doesn’t read at all like your typical girls-and-horses book, though it is that as well.

A Diary Without Dates is Bagnold’s memoir of nursing soldiers during WWI. It’s also written in an unusual, distinctive style, with an unusual, distinctive atmosphere, both gritty and impressionistic. She captures fleeting moments of beauty or horror or unexpected humor, and the sense of how fleeting those moments are, in a way that reminds me a bit of Banana Yoshimoto, of all the unlikely comparisons. I’ve read a number of memoirs by WWI nurses, and this is by far the most interesting on the level of literature. It’s not so much a diary as a record of memorable moments, thoughts, and feelings.

Though it’s not about therapy, it’s one of the books that comes closest to capturing what doing therapy feels like for me. Bagnold delicately and precisely observes the odd mixture of intimacy and distance between nurse and patient, in an institutional setting with inhuman rules against which intensely human dramas are played out, and how you can share a person’s greatest agony one hour, and then walk outside and be moved by the beauty of a flower or annoyed by the next nurse over, and have all those moments be equally real and deeply felt, though some seem trivial and some profound. But to Bagnold, they're all profound because they're all real moments of life, and life itself is profound. A few other works that have that feeling to me are the Tove Janssen's The Summer Book and Anita Desai's The Peacock Garden, and the WWII movie Hope and Glory.

Though it’s not particularly an expose, Bagnold writes rather unflatteringly about some of her bosses and some of the rules at the hospital where she worked. As a result, she was fired when the book came out. So she went to London and became an ambulance driver. I think she must have been quite an interesting person, and reading her diary, I wished that I could have known her. I think we might have had a lot in common and a lot to talk about.

Note: Contains some of-the-period racism and other isms. Not a lot and it’s typical of books written in that period by white people (as opposed to being more racist than usual), but there’s at least one instance though I have now forgotten the details.

A Diary Without Dates (Free on Kindle; the print version almost certainly has better formatting, though the free version is readable.)
sputnikhearts: (Default)

From: [personal profile] sputnikhearts


That sounds really cool. Grabbed the Kindle version. Thanks for the link!
musesfool: Peggy Carter in sunglasses (the only empire i will ever build)

From: [personal profile] musesfool


This sounds very interesting. Thanks for the link!
shehasathree: (library)

From: [personal profile] shehasathree


Thank-you for sharing that! I particularly liked your explanation of how it "feels like" doing therapy (i just became 100x more interested in reading this book.)
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)

From: [personal profile] cyphomandra


I love National Velvet and never realised she wrote anything else! I think I thought I'd checked and found nothing, but I suspect that given how young I was when I first read it, I found that there wasn't a sequel and gave up on looking at anything else.

(I had a massive horse book phase that still lingers a little. National Velvet is definitely one that transcended the category. Lucy Rees' Horse of Air is another - disaffected teenage girl from indifferent family goes on the run with difficult horse.)

Amazon is not letting me get it from your link, but I found it on Project Gutenberg.

From: [personal profile] indywind


ooh, I had no idea Bagnold had written anything else. This is a really interesting and useful review.

From: [identity profile] osprey-archer.livejournal.com


This sounds right up my alley. I'll have to read it.

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com


I loved The Peacock Garden, which I read on your recommendation. This sounds really interesting, too. She does sound like an interesting person.

To Bagnold, they're all profound because they're all real moments of life, and life itself is profound. --This is something I believe so strongly that reading that sentence makes me get a bit choked up.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


I love that you actually managed to obtain and read A Peacock Garden. It's one of my very favorite books and you are probably the only person I know who has read it. I've read some of Desai's other books, but none had that same atmosphere. The chipped clay fruit - such a perfect detail of childhood. The horror outside, present but not really felt, and the peace and beauty within.

From: [identity profile] nipernaadiagain.livejournal.com


Hm, I guess I am not yet "person you know", so it does not count I did read "A Peacock Garden"

It was interesting, I guess that for me the narrative of my life filled it with different images and feelings that did your personal experience for you.

From: [identity profile] dancing-crow.livejournal.com


My Great Aunt Mary Lee (sorry - I am never sure what to capitalize there, and she really deserves as many capital letters as I can squeeze in!), my grandmother's oldest sister, also wrote a book about nursing in WWI - it was eventually printed because it won a prize, and I read it before I had a clue what I was looking at, in 8th grade I think.

I should find it again, because having read some of Phryne Fisher's memories of being a driver, and your review of this book which I am going to fetch and read next, it might make more sense and add a new aspect to a woman who is already pretty amazing.

This is a short bio of her: http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~sch00699

From: [identity profile] icecreamempress.livejournal.com


I had not heard of this book somehow---thank you for this!

From: [identity profile] oracne.livejournal.com


I have read numerous WWI memoirs, and hers is the frankest of them so far.

From: [identity profile] coyotegoth.livejournal.com


This sounds fascinating; I'll have to check it out.

From: [identity profile] carbonel.livejournal.com


It's also available free from Project Gutenberg, and I've downloaded the ePub version. Looks short but interesting.

Gutenberg also has The Happy Foreigner, which I'd never heard of.
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