Publisher / date: Sessions Book Trust/Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, 2004
I purchased this a few months ago, but only recently started reading from the beginning (rather than “dipping” into the text here and there). Adelaide Darby is 16 years old when the diary opens. She is a DELIGHT to get to know!
The Private Journal of Adelaide Darby of Coalbrookdale opens in 1833. The impetus for beginning to keep a journal was reading The Young Christians – which encouraged all readers to keep a journal. Ample notes identify who people and places are – the Darbys are a multi-generational group associated with the Ironbridge (built by Adelaide’s grandfather).
Adelaide’s journal is actually the third in a series of diaries – all transcribed by the late Lady Rachel Labouchere. (The other two concern Deborah Darby, 1754-1810 and Abiah Darby, 1716-1793. Both are still offered ‘new’ by Sessions Books.)
The layout of each year begins with a ‘Comment’ section by the editor, Emyr Thomas. This underscores (though sometimes ‘repeats’) what the diarist has to tell us. Adelaide’s opinions of neighbors and relations bring fun into the proceedings. There are times that she is QUITE opinionated! As when she calls one young man, “the detestable.” Adelaide is also seeing the ‘death’ of the coaching era as trains will take over more and more – and her family take part in all that business. There’s no index, so any nuggets that come when she mentions her readings will be discovered as they happen – but of Maria Edgeworth’s Helen she was writing (in 1834), “Helen is such a beautiful natural and good character…. All the people are to the life.” So despite her protests that she should not be reading novels, Adelaide does manage to pick them up from time to time.
The Darbys were Quakers (“Friends” is the term used in the book); and it’s not a surprise, therefore, that Adelaide should meet the Gaskells – “Mrs. Gaskell is the most delightfully simple, girlish creature imaginable.”
The family were involved with the local politicians, so there is a bit of the current political climate cropping up.
The book’s cover describes the diary’s contents as, “In her early years she [Adelaide Darby] records her feelings about a succession of unsuccessful suitors. Approaching her thirties she realised how much she like church music and singing (and fine clothes) contrary to the simple Quaker practices of her upbringing, and was baptised into the Church of England. In 1852 [the diary goes up to 1861], at age 35, she married Henry Whitmore, MP for Bridgnorth, Shropshire, who served in Lord Derby’s second and third Tory administrations…. Adelaide, from her London homes, recorded an increasingly glittering political round in increasingly staccato Journal references.”