Charles Ritchie and the English diary tradition
Master of Arts
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The literary merit of the diaries of Charles Ritchie is apparent to anyone who reads them. A more critical assessment is hindered, however, by the fact that there is as yet in Canada no literary context in which the writings of any indigenous diarists may be placed. In order to assess the literary merit of the diaries of Charles Ritchie, therefore, this thesis examines them in relation to the "conceptual perspectives" for English diary-writing as established in Private Chronicles; A Study of English Diaries, by Robert A. Fothergill of York University in Toronto. The introduction presents the case for such an examination and outlines the history of the English diary tradition and the scope of Fothergill's study. Chapter One defines the criteria which Fothergill believes have been developed for the diary genre by the "great" diarists themselves, and which are based on the two complementary concepts of "book of the self" and "imprint." These two concepts are then applied to the writings of Charles Ritchie, and his use of "new forms" containing "new expressive possibilities" is described. Various motives for diary-writing are discussed in Chapter Two, in relation to the discernable motives of Charles Ritchie. Chapters Three and Four divide the four volumes of Ritchie's diary into two distinct parts, with Chapter Three discussing the two earlier diaries as the work of a "Becoming" diarist, and Chapter Four treating the two later volumes as the work of a diarist who has "Become". Ritchie's "autobiographical consciousness" is the subject of Chapter Five, which asserts his claim to the title of "serial autobiographer." Chapter Six looks at Ritchie’s contribution to the "history of 'sensibility'" and shows how his particular sensibility reflects not only the age in which he lives, but also his Nova Scotian Canadian identity. This study concludes by determining that Charles Ritchie is a "serial autobiographer" with creative "sensibilities," who has found a "new form containing new expressive possibilities." As such, he deserves an honoured place in the English diary tradition and membership in that company of "great" diarists which includes such distinguished peers as Samuel Pepys and Anais Nin.