Our Hidden Lives: The Everyday Diaries of a Forgotten Britain 1945-1948 by Simon Garfield (ed) - review by J W M Johnson

J W M Johnson

A Nation Writes

Our Hidden Lives: The Everyday Diaries of a Forgotten Britain 1945-1948



After spending some time studying cannibals in the South Pacific, the anthropologist Tom Harrisson came home in 1936 and decided that it would be just as interesting to subject the ordinary people of this country to similar scientific scrutiny. This led to the creation of Mass- Observation, very much a typical product of the period. The aim was to achieve an 'anthropology of ourselves' organising a close study of everyday people leading regular lives. Part of the chosen technique was to test volunteers around the country to keep private diaries of their daily doings, with the promise that their identities would protected. These documents (dutifully posted off to Mass- Observation headquarters) - pare now included in a massive archive held by the University of Sussex. They run to about a million pages. By the time the Second World War ended in 1945, the diarists, originally numbered in hundreds, had dwindled to only a few; but evidently they were all possessed of a certain talent, since it is from their diaries that this most engaging book has now been compiled.

Diaries are usually fascinating, even when the On material is unspectacular. Whether the writer is a James Lees-Milne, moving elevated social circles, or a Parson Woodforde, recording the minutiae of a quiet life in an eighteenth-century country parish, the reader gains a unique sense of what it was like to

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