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Diaries and Photographs

This article continues the discussion of the hero begun in the first article on Draycot’s memoir and military sketches. While the latter were seen to complement each other, the diaries and photographs cannot be so easily compared because they have no chronological equivalents (Draycot’s photographs are often undated), they were taken for different purposes, and they belong to different fictional modes, as defined by Northrop Frye. There are, nonetheless, sufficient common features to make a comparison productive.

The photographs and diaries are viewed here as disconnected stories, frozen in time and space. Both are autobiographical texts in the sense defined by Oliver Sacks and reproduced in the section ‘Autobiography, identity and fiction’: ‘each of us constructs and lives a “narrative,” and ... this narrative is us, our identities ... for each of us is a biography, a story’.i At the same time, textual and pictorial media represent different modes of referentiality that are not necessarily mutually supportive: ‘reference is not secure in either, neither can it compensate for lack of stability in the other’.ii As I will show, a comparison of textual and pictorial evidence highlights inconsistencies and ambiguities, pointing to a vision of ‘self’ which could never be realised because it is based to a greater or lesser degree on myth.

As in the earlier discussion, the focus is on the ‘I’ who narrates and is narrated. I have already demonstrated that the memoir and military sketches belong on the knife-edge between the low-mimetic and ironic modes of fiction as defined by Northrop Frye: they depict a soldier in bondage, living in a world of disharmony and disruption, where demonic images abound. Draycot is trapped in a maze of water-logged trenches lined with the bodies of dead soldiers. Subject to the whims of his commanding officers and the vagaries of fate, there is little room for personal initiative.

The photographs present a different reality, as they portray an individual who transcends his circumstances, is in command, ready for action, and defies death. The photographs of Draycot discussed here (the photographer is anonymous) present a consistent view of their subject, suggesting that he is also the director. They provide an alternative view of the ‘self’, where the suggestion of order is no longer a function of the genre but an integral part of the picture presented.

The photographs are carefully mounted in an album which bears evidence of having been frequently consulted. As the Draycot collection at the North Vancouver Museum & Archives has received little scholarly attention to date, it must be assumed that it was primarily Draycot himself who turned the pages of his World War One album. The present text focuses on the photographs of Draycot rather than those by him, as the former are particularly important to the discussion of Draycot’s status as a hero.

As a fragmentary account, the narrative of Draycot’s diary inevitably lacks coherence. It is an autobiographical medium whose purpose is to conceal as well as reveal. The information provided in Draycot’s war diaries is necessarily brief, owing to shortage of space and the circumstances of writing. As there was a danger that a diary would be read by other soldiers, it is likely that sensitive or controversial information was deliberately excluded. The photographs, on the other hand, deliberately misrepresent reality: the cleanliness, orderliness, defiance and authoritative nature of the subject of the photograph present an idealised view which belongs more to the world of myth and romance. Whereas the memoir belongs on the knife-edge between the realistic and ironic modes, the photograph belongs very clearly to the mythical/romantic mode.

i Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (New York: Summit, 1985), 105.
ii Timothy Dow Adams, Light Writing and Life Writing: Photography in Autobiography (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), xxi.

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