WARNING: Lying to Your Journal Could Be Fatal

Two decades after Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley were published, she wrote the novel, Edith’s Diary.

I can’t imagine how she got the manuscript published, except on the strength of her name. It seems she did have a tough time selling it to her publisher. The (London) Telegraph called it a masterpiece; perhaps it’s one of those “great books” readers derive little enjoyment from. But, always on the lookout for books related to journal keeping, I persisted.

Edith, her husband Brett, and their young son move from New York to suburban Pennsylvania, where Edith’s main occupations are keeping house and gardening. She writes irregularly in a diary, but refuses to record anything unpleasant in it. (A diary should clarify, not obscure.)

When he is forty, Brett leaves Edith for his wealthy, young secretary, whom he subsequently marries. His elderly, bedridden Uncle George, he leaves with Edith. It is she who serves him his meals on a tray and sees to his bedpan.

Cliffie, the son, has baffled both his parents since he was a toddler. He grows up into an alcoholic layabout, who hangs out in his bedroom listening to loud music unless he’s strolling to the refrigerator for a beer. Outside the house, he has run-ins with the law.

Her husband gone, Edith takes up sculpting, and revives the newspaper she and her husband had run when they first arrived in Pennsylvania.

Her political opinions become increasingly wild and contradictory; local residents stop speaking to her. As her lackluster life becomes more and more disappointing, Edith goes from avoiding the unpleasant to tweaking the truth in her diary.

Although he knows nothing of her diary, Brett brings a string of psychiatrists to the house where Edith and Cliffie live to try to convince her to go into counseling. (A family friend has told him Edith has become eccentric.) He suspects she knows that Cliffie killed Uncle George with an overdose of medications. He also considers Edith unbalanced because she declined an inheritance from Uncle George that Brett tried to share with her.

But Edith refuses therapy. Instead she fills her diary with more fanciful entries. She writes that Cliffie is respectably employed, and has a lovely wife and two children; and that Brett is dead.

Ultimately, the diary fantasies spill over into real life and Edith imagines her perfect family in her dining room with her and the real Cliffie, enjoying a lobster and champagne lunch. But the scene is interrupted by another visit from her ex-husband and a couple of doctors. When Edith agrees to let them see her sculpture, kept in the room with her diary, the result is deadly.

Though Edith’s Diary was an unrewarding read, maybe its warning is worthwhile: The punishment for prevaricating in your diary could be death.

In another post, I’ll tell you if I lie to my journal. Let me know if you lie to yours.

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2 thoughts on “WARNING: Lying to Your Journal Could Be Fatal

  1. My journal is my blog. I don’t necessarily lie to it, but it is named Based on a True Story so I am free to make the stories more interesting.

    I was a little worried about where you were going with your post about journals. I try not to dwell too long on the unpleasant parts of my life in my blog. Yet I try to paint a balanced picture of my life events. My goal is to either find humor in the negative or at least learn a lesson. Otherwise it’s not worth posting, in my opinion.

    Lying to a journal to the degree this woman did is a real problem. How sad that she could only dream of a beautiful life without actively trying to create it.

  2. Thanks for sharing your view of journaling; it’s probably a pretty healthy approach. I’m intrigued that your journal is your blog, and can’t wait to scoot over there to see what you write. You’re brave to put your journal entries online. I admire that!

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