Skip to main content
The Collation

Interiority and Jane Porter’s pocket diary

It’s been a critical commonplace after Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel to view the novel as the first literary form to represent psychological individuality in the context of everyday life. My research, however, examines how the spaces and objects of daily life in eighteenth-century England worked as vehicles of interior experiences in their own right. Working from this angle might change our conceptions of the novel, not only its historical relationship to how selfhood is defined, but also its relationship to the material culture of the greater society around it.

By using my Folger long-term fellowship to look at written documents of daily life from real eighteenth-century lives, I thought I might complicate claims about the early novel’s method of representing interior or psychological experience through diurnal structures. 1 One line of my exploration was how a form of portable interiority surfaced in the small books that were designed for carrying in one’s pocket. The novel itself, in its eighteenth-century print manifestation, was pocket-sized, conveying not only its affordability and portability, but also its ability to be held in the hand and worn against the body. Just as the novel conveyed its own interior worlds to readers, the experience of reading the physical book created an interior world between the novel and its reader, even when carried into exterior settings, from pleasure gardens to carriages for travel. 2

Among the holdings of eighteenth-century pocket-sized books I found at the Folger is The Ladies Memorandum Book, for the Year 1796 (M.a.17), a green leather book with gold tooling around its edges. At 12×7.5 cm, it can easily be held in the palm of one’s hand. Its fore-edge is covered by a flap that extends from the front cover and is attached to the back by a gold clasp. Flipped to its back, with its diagonal seamed flap, the book resembles a modern day envelope. Yet its sides are left open, and there is a thickness to its body created by the stack of pages sewn into its spine. Further examination of the book will reveal it indeed functions as much of an envelope and a pocket as a book.

The front cover (left) and back (right) of the pocket diary

The front cover (left) and back (right) of the pocket diary

  1. Stuart Sherman has done important work in showing how eighteenth-century literature registered breakthroughs in time-measurement technologies by incorporating new diurnal patterns in different prose forms; see Telling Time (University of Chicago Press, 1996).
  2. See William Warner, Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel Reading in Britain, 1684-1750 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 131-139.
  3. I am grateful to Devoney Looser for verifying factual information about Porter’s life.
  4. Robert Dodsley is credited with having published in 1748 the first book of this kind with Memorandum-Book. Several imitations from different printers followed, including R. Baldwin, the publisher of Jane Porter’s diary. See Sherman, 171-172 and Harry M. Solomon, The Rise of Robert Dodsley: Creating the New Age of Print (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996); see also Molly McCarthy, The Accidental Diarist.


Oh, this is an exciting post, indeed! I’ve worked on pocketbooks as precursors to the 19th-C literary annual (and have a large section on them with images in my forthcoming book). The pocketbooks in my personal collection have very little writing in them and absolutely nothing left in the pockets! I’ve even got the men’s version of this pocketbook. There’s tale of a pocketbook that was intended to be stowed in a man’s hat, but I’ve never found or seen one.

Please keep up the good work and post again about your findings.

Katherine Harris — July 25, 2014


This is excellent. You’ll probably be interested to learn that there is a similarly “invisible” cache of Jane Porter’s correspondence at the Pforzheimer collection at the New York Public Library, which I believe is still not fully cataloged.

Sean — July 28, 2014


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *