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Text and Image

Before examining Draycot’s diaries and photographs it is necessary to consider the relationship between text and image. It is also important to take into consideration the specific features of the two media discussed here. In the final section of the article, selected diary entries and photographs are discussed alongside each other. Text and image are different in terms of the vision of the ‘self’ projected and the kinds of experience to be represented. As W.J.T. Mitchell argues, text and image reflect:
the difference between the (speaking) self and the (seen) other; between telling and showing; between ‘hearsay’ and ‘eyewitness’ testimony; between words (heard, quoted, inscribed) and objects or actions (seen, depicted, described); between sensory channels, traditions of representation, and modes of experience.iii
Difference is as important as similarity when studying autobiographical texts. Draycot’s records of the war both reinforce and contradict each other because they present two different subjects: one in bondage (memoir, sketches and diaries), and the other seemingly in control (photographs). The following discussion accounts for some of the differences in the nature of representation in the diaries and photographs and the consequences of these for the autobiographical subject.
The Diary
A diary records events and observations on a daily basis. The accounts, fragmentary by nature, are chronological and based on experience. They can be consulted and reviewed at a later date. As Margo Culley argues, a diary is ‘a text in process’ where the outcome of the plot, that is the diarist’s life, is unknown; it is ‘always in some sense a fragment’.iv There is no definite end to the story. A diary thus contains a series of surprises not only for the reader but also for the writer him- or herself.

Diaries are essentially private and intimate, and distinguish themselves from the more public memoir or photograph. While autobiographical texts such as the memoir are based on a preconceived idea of individual development and are written from a ‘position of historical superiority’, a diary ‘charts the fluctuations of temperament on a daily basis without the benefits of hindsight. To some extent it is this very regularity which also functions as a stabiliser, endowing the diary with its identifiable voice’.v A similar effect may be achieved when photographs from a particular period or place and/or with the same subject are collected together in an album. At the same time, a diary contains formal tensions and ironies not found in other autobiographical texts owing to the writer’s relationship to ‘real time’ and his or her representation of ‘time passing’, creating an illusion of a fixed chronological point. The unique dynamic nature of the periodic text is underlined by the juxtaposition of what is known with what is unknown to the writer. The diary contains silences and mysteries that require the reader to be unusually active in his or her attempts to identify the world within the diary and thereby the ‘I’ of the text.

This is a complex process, as the diarist usually has more knowledge about his or her world than the reader; the latter, on the other hand, has knowledge which was not available to the diarist. As Culley argues, ‘[A]ll diarists operate within the limits of their own self-knowledge, limits the reader may be able to transcend’.vi One way to transcend these limits is to compare different autobiographical narratives with themselves and/or other, related accounts, such as those provided by biographers or historians. The Internet greatly facilitates such comparisons.

Much scholarship on diaries has focused on female rather than male writers. Critics such as Cynthia Huff, Margo Culley, Elizabeth Hampsten and Helen Buss have emphasised that the diary has traditionally been a means for women to record and give meaning to daily experience, a kind of reprieve from basic daily chores. This was particularly true of nineteenth-century emigrant diary writers.vii

Draycot: in the trenches - Vimy Ridge - click to enlarge For Draycot, too, diary writing was a daily ritual, a space – temporal as well as physical – that was separate from the horrors of war. While women have used diaries to escape from the routine nature of their daily existence, Draycot used his to distance himself from the demonic world of bombs, death, gas and mechanical destruction. He did not attempt to transcend this world, neither did he try to transform it. The pages of his diary are records of selected events and phenomena that he regarded as important at the time and which were accessible to the narrating ‘I’, who subsequently revised them for his own satisfaction. They are not staged observations because they have no audience: they are by and for the writer, and reflect what Steven Kagle terms ‘the gradual acquisition of knowledge and shifting of values that occur in life’.viii The photographs of Draycot, on the other hand, are intended to be exhibited, and reflect a reality that is immediate and conclusive; it is also one that is desired rather than actually experienced.

The photograph above, taken at Vimy Ridge in 1917, is an excellent example of the representation of desired reality. The world of death, physical hardship and mud is gone. Instead, Draycot is standing bolt upright with what looks like a grenade in his hand. He has a superior look on his face, and the text around the edge of the photograph – in his own handwriting – describes him as ‘Sergeant Draycot’ who is ‘going my rounds when i/c [in charge] of intelligence’. Text description of observation post - click to enlarge He gives the impression of being in control of both his own destiny and that of those whose lives depend on his intelligence reports and military sketches. It is thus not surprising that the feature that is highlighted is the steel observation tower. To ensure that future viewers of the photograph understand what they are looking at, there is a typewritten explanation (right). This makes clear that Draycot is in charge of a number of observers, referred to as ‘my observers’, and that he reports directly to General Macdonnel.

Draycot’s observations are crucial for keeping the general up-to-date. The map referred to was drawn by Draycot himself. The work of an intelligence officer was dangerous: Draycot was constantly required to go to the front line and report on damage to trenches, as well as on enemy troop movements. The narrating ‘I’ of the memoir records that he has luck on his side and constantly escapes death by the skin of his teeth. While this reality could be reproduced in print, it was impossible in photographs as photography was still in its infancy during World War One.

iii W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 5.
iv Margo Culley, A Day at a Time: Diary Literature of American Women from 1764 to the Present (New York: Feminist Press, 1985), 19.
v Judy Simons, Diaries and Journals of Literary Women from Fanny Burney to Virginia Woolf (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990), 197.
vi Margo Culley, A Day at a Time: The Diary Literature of American Women Writers from 1764 to the Present (New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY), 22.
vii See for example, Jane Mattisson, ‘The Journey through Selfhood in The Journals of Mary O’Brien 1828–1838 and A Gentlewoman in Upper Canada: The Journals of Ann Langton’, Prose Studies 25:2 (Autumn 2002): 51–78.
viii Steven Kagle, American Diary Literature 1620–1799 (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979), 15.

Next: Photographic Truth
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