For my self directed learning I reread a book I have with excerpts from Wilford Woodruff’s journal. Whenever I think of journals and personal writing I always think of him. He was the one who inspired me to keep a daily journal on my mission, and this time I decided to focus on the literary value vs the historical value that his texts have.
The first thing that I noticed about the journals were that not only did they provide a record of his daily life, but because he was extensively involved in the development of the church and the spreading of missionary work they also provided records of larger events of that time. The thing that I found interesting was that he wasn’t a historian, much like many of the men and women who wrote journals. As such, whether they had bias it was usually noticeable as his personality shows through his writing quite obviously. He wasn’t trying to be objective, instead he was just recording what happened to him each day, and if what happened to him happened to be a historic occasion then it was recorded just like all the more mundane details. As a historical record the journals of Wilford Woodruff, and other Journals, are very unique compared to official historical records. Since they are written as personal writings they aren’t influenced by any kind of official agenda. In other words, they are more or less excluded from the conventional wisdom that “The winners write history.” As such we get a pretty unique view of history from these journals. It’s kind of like a history that offers a comparative view from other sources of history.
Literary wise it isn’t surprising how much the writing style improved from the earlier entries to the later entries. Early on it is pretty clear that Wilford Woodruff, while perfectly capable of writing in a coherent way, was not quite as comfortable as he was later on. I’ve always admired him for his diligence, and thought that the improvement in his writing is a testament to daily practice, no matter what it may be. As far as the overall literary quality goes, it’s a surprisingly good read. Normally when I think about journals I think that all of them are as boring as mine, especially if they are daily entries. Because most of the time my entries are never really worth reading because the things that happen in my day really aren’t that interesting. However, Wilford Woodruff was able to write in such a way that made even the more mundane days in his journal seem all that much more interesting. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s the most important determining factor of literary quality. If your writing keeps people from wanting to read it, then it failed one of its most basic purposes.