Mary MacLane wrote this diary when she was 19 years old and lived in Butte, Montana. It covers roughly the first three months of the year 1901 and describes the frustration and unhappiness that she felt as an intelligent and ambitious young woman, due to the constraints society placed on her and the lack of any cultural stimulus in a mining town like Butte.
These negative emotions are not only wielded like a weapon, she also hits her readers over the head with the notion that she is a genius, and then likens herself to Napoleon, only “in a female translation”, which severely limits her chances of making something out of this disposition. Still, she brags about herself, looks down on other people, openly confesses her love for another woman, makes a list of all the things she hates, and wants to marry the devil.
This devil she calls a possibility, and he represents all that is not available to her at the moment. At one point, she cites Valeria Messalina, Emperor Claudius’s third wife, who was widely described as a powerful, ruthless, and promiscuous woman, as one of her ideals because Messalina did whatever she wanted, and that is how MacLane ultimately wants to live, too. What is not going to help her get there is God, because God means giving in and adhering to what is expected of her as a woman which would only perpetuate this state of nothingness, as she calls her current situation, for the rest of her life. The devil, on the other hand, represents being free and living the life that she feels is her due.
This actually made me root for her despite all the bragging and adolescent angst. To write like this, as a young woman at the beginning of the 20th century, is amazing and has to be praised. Her frustration and loneliness is tangible and understandable, and the feeling of being trapped in a never-ending cycle of routine and boredom translates well. The downside to this is that it becomes repetitive for the reader, too. MacLane wildly oscillates between elation, despair, and anger, and by the fifth time, I began to wonder if it would lead anywhere, but it didn’t. There is no overarching narrative, the book is a glimpse of her life in which she presents her inner self to an audience, and while this is engaging for the most part, it now and then becomes tedious. Besides, the writing is of mixed quality; while some parts are stunningly brilliant, others border on amateurish or just plain ridiculous.
I think that this is a work that has to be read in context to be truly appreciated. If her age and the time of its creation is taken into account, it is an impressive book because of its straightforwardness and fearlessness, while otherwise it could be considered trite self-aggrandizement adorned with too much teenage angst. As for me, I liked it more than I did not, because despite the generally serious tone of the book she made me laugh more than once, and because for a young woman to be that self-confident and brash is just incredibly uplifting.