March 2010 Time Capsule: Truth Be Told

March 2010 Time Capsule: Truth Be Told

Ancestors in their own words.

What if, seized without warning by a fatal illness, I should happen to die suddenly! I should not know, perhaps, of my danger; my family would hide it from me; and after my death they would rummage among my papers; they would find my journal, and destroy it after having read it, and soon nothing would be left of me—nothing—nothing—nothing! This is the thought that has always terrified me. To live, to have so much ambition, to suffer, to weep, to struggle, and in the end to be forgotten;—as if I had never existed. … The record of a woman’s life, written down day by day, without any attempt at concealment, as if no one in the world were ever to read it, yet with the purpose of being read, is always interesting. … I write down everything, everything, everything. Otherwise why should I write?
—Marie Bashkirtseff
Russian-born Marie Bashkirtseff wrote this in Paris, May 1, 1884, in a preface to her journals, which were published in 1889 as Marie Bashkirtseff: The Journal of a Young Artist, 1860-1884 (read it in our Google library). Although some diarists want their journals destroyed upon their deaths, Bashkirtseff had a different take. She wrote her diary to document the struggles of a woman artist; she meant for others to read it. Fortunately, she’d made her wishes known, so her family saved her journals. Six months after writing this passage, she died at age 25 from tuberculosis.
The tragic part of the story (if dying at 25 isn’t tragic enough) is that her family censored and abridged the diaries before publication. Her parents—who’d conceived their daughter before marrying—even changed her birth date. When someone discovered the original diaries in the French national library, the published version didn’t quite match. The unabridged diaries have since been published in France; Phyllis Howard Kernberger and Katherine Kernberger translated excerpts from 1873 to 1876 in I Am the Most Interesting Book of All: The Diary of Marie Bashkirtseff (Chronicle Books).

From the March 2010 Family Tree Magazine

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