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Edith Holden: an extraordinary lady? The vexed debate about the diary of a nobody

Edwards, S.M. (2005) Edith Holden: an extraordinary lady? The vexed debate about the diary of a nobody. Life Writing, 2 (1). pp. 41-66. ISSN 1448-4528

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Abstract

Edith Holden's Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (1906, published posthumously 1977) is one of the bestselling books in British publishing history.Yet critical reactions to this work have puzzled over both its canonical status and, in the light of the internationally successful merchandising industry that the diary has spawned, Holden's own status as a public figure. Is she a representative 'ordinary' woman or a more familiar type of celebrity, the 'exceptional' woman? In this exploration of the difficulty of categorising Holden and her diary, I consider the binary nature of much Western criticism and recent critiques in feminist work. I argue that the Holden 'phenomenon' unwittingly engages with such critiques and unsettles traditional configurations of gender, class and liberal ideology. Holden represents an ascendancy of the 'middlebrow', and I consider the varying implications of this model within popular and high culture during the 1970s and 1980s.