Hannover, Germany: 1897. Black cloth over boards with tape label to front board. Spine perished and boards soiled; but internally tight and intact. Comprised of 193 pages (measuring 6.75 x 8") in the single hand of fifteen year old Daisy Spaight (1882-1955), daughter of U.S. Vice-Consul Dr. James Spaight and Esther Frances nee Babcock. Documenting a key year in her evolution toward adulthood, Daisy's diary contains a majority of entries in English, several in German, and one in Chinese; it also contains three pages of taped in photos and ephemera, five handwritten samples of musical notation and two original sketches. In all, it is a fascinating and unique look into turn-of-the-century adolescence shaped by heightened access to education, travel, language, and music.
"If by chance I should lose this book And you by chance should find it - Remember Daisy is my name And Spaight comes behind it. Black is the raven. Black is the rook. But blacker still is the wicked cow Who steals this book." So begins the diary of a young woman raised in a diplomatic family, spending a year in Hanover to study German, French, and music. It is undoubtedly a reminder of her age -- 15, a moment suspended between childhood and adulthood -- and it sets the tone for the remainder of her diary. As much as she asserts her own identity in the preliminaries (after all, she asserts her nickname rather than her legal or paternal ones as "my name"), she is also trying throughout to define that identity.
In so many ways, a reader sees Daisy performing cultured adult femininity. A US citizen born in Demerara, she enjoys telling people about her global upbringing and keeps track of how many languages (and how well) her acquaintances speak. She records attending performances of Goethe and Chopin. She makes reading lists. She pays close attention to her attire, noting "in the evening I had on my new red dress - it looked lovely" (30 January) and reporting on shopping trips: "Went out with Fraulein alone and bought gloves" (1 February). Museums, concerts, and lessons shape her days; and she slips in and out of English in her entries like the most cosmopolitan of women. And she pays attention as the days go on to which young men are attractive, dress well, speak well, or pay her compliments.
Yet for all of her attaching "dear little" to the names of anyone 14 and under who she encounters, we also get constant reminders that Daisy is still a child in many ways, experiencing immature excitement in some moments, shock and a lack of preparation in others. In one episode, for example, when she and a friend want to show a new photo to a young man of their acquaintance, Raoul, she is first exuberant and then thrown into shock when "He came to the [hotel room] door to fetch it in shirt sleeves, his braces hanging and his trousers open. I looked away quickly but we saw him quite well" (8 February).
A young person trying to develop an adult self, Daisy uses her diary in fascinating ways to perform different voices. Sometimes she writes, in stage-play form, the conversations she's had with others. At others, she documents the fashion choices of chic women she admires or belittles those who make her feel small by writing lists describing them like characters in a play (as on 9 February). To quell her own self doubt and bolster confidence, she also documents the praise she receives. "They all thought the photo of myself quite nice" (28 February). "I was congratulated several times for my dancing" (10 March).
Daisy's diary is a research rich and unique object, presenting scholars with multiple directions for study, including but not limited to education of Americans in Europe, the history of girls' education, the 19th century rise of travel and tourism, the history of adolescence and adolescent development, language, paleography, music and music performance, courtship and etiquette, clothing and fashion, the history of global politics, and genealogy. (Item #3882)