A Diary Without Dates by Enid Bagnold (1917)

A diary without dates Enid Bagnold

During World War I, Enid Bagnold was a member of the British Women’s Services. She served for about a year and a half in the V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment), as a nurse’s aide.

Her duties were to attend to the non-medical needs of wounded British soldiers recovering from wounds in the Royal Herbert Hospital, just a few miles southeast of London. Some of the injuries she witnessed were absolutely horrific.

A Diary Without Dates was written almost as a dreamlike prose-poem, portraying the suffering of soldiers, many of whom faced mutilation, wrenching pain, and death. Thus, it became a timeless commentary on the traumas of war.

Suddenly both an author and a fired nurse

Upon the book’s publication, however, Bagnold’s negative commentary on the doctors and nurses she worked with led to her dismissal. She also depicted visitors as voyeurs whose charitable acts served to bolster themselves rather than soothe the suffering troops. 

In 1935, Bagnold, who had been writing for some time, became much better known with the huge success of National Velvet, even though she had been writing for some time.

As it often happens, when a writer achieves such success, sometimes their earlier, lesser-known works receive a second glance. So it was with her first work, A Diary Without Dates, reviewed more than 10 years after its initial publication:

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Enid Bagnold at age 18

Enid Bagnold at age 18

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A Backward Glance at A Diary Without Dates

From the original review in The Literary Guidepost by John Selby, November, 1935 of A Diary Without Dates by Enid Bagnold (first published in 1917):  “Myself When Young,” Enid Bagnold should have titled the book she calls A Diary Without Dates.

It’s very seldom that the reader has such an opportunity as publication of A Diary Without Dates gives. The chances are that he has read, or at least read of, National Velvet, in which Miss Bagnold tells the story of a little English girl whose mania was horses, of her family, their life, and certain delightfully improbable events which she makes seem an entirely probable.

There is a warmth of human sympathy in the book, not maudlin sympathy either, which makes it almost unique among recent novels. 

Now one is able to go back to Enid Bagnold at 19, and to see what of the girl has survived in the woman. This might be expected, human sympathy is the chief characteristic.

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Enid Bagnold as a World War I volunteer nurse

Learn more about Enid Bagnold

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The diary was written while Miss Bagnold was serving in an English hospital, early in the war [referring to World War I]. It is partly a record of states of mind, partly of events, partly of incident which has been observed obliquely, and translate it itself into what we insist on calling “color,” or “atmosphere.”

It would be easy to quote a few of the more pungent paragraphs: doing so would throw the book out of perspective, however, for the important thing is that it shows and essentially juvenile mind, apparently that of a protected girl of good breeding, is it forms and hardens under the blows of experience.

It is a sensitive mind, brilliant sometimes and beautiful and others. Miss Bagnold was fired from the hospital for publishing the diary, although why, it is difficult to see at this distance.

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Enid Bagnold

A Diary Without Dates on Amazon.com

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Excerpt from A Diary Without Dates

Chapter 1: Outside the Glass Doors

I went into a soldiers’ ward to-night to inquire about a man who has pneumonia.

Round his bed there stood three red screens, and the busy, white-capped heads of two Sisters bobbed above the rampart. It suddenly shocked me. What were they doing there? Why the screens?

Why the look of strain in the eyes of the man in the next bed who could see behind the screens? I went cold and stood rooted, waiting till one of them could come out and speak to me.

Soon they took away the screen nearest to me; they had done with it. The man I was to inquire for has no nostrils; they were blown away, and he breathes through two pieces of red rubber tubing: it gave a more horrible look to his face than I have ever seen. The Sister came out and told me she thought he was “not up to much.”

I think she means he is dying. I wonder if he thinks it better to die…. But he was nearly well before he got pneumonia, had begun to take up the little habits of living. He had been out to tea. Inexplicable, what he thinks of, lying behind the screen.

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National velvet by Enid bagnold

Enid Bagnold’s best-known book is National Velvet

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More about A Diary Without Dates by Enid Bagnold

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