“A wonderful view of an upwardly mobile family”

Emeritus Professor Richard G. Wilson, the former Director of the Centre of East Anglian Studies at the University of East Anglia and an internationally renowned brewery and business historian, has contributed a detailed book review of the Diary volumes. It is published in the Parson Woodforde Society Quarterly Journal, vol. 46, no. 4 (Winter 2013), pages 21–6.  These form only brief excerpts from the 5½-page article.

“A notable addition to the long roll-call of English diaries”

Richard Wilson repeatedly pays tribute to the value of the diary texts:

“All half a million words of them are edited and published by Margaret Bird. It is a most remarkable venture, the outcome of a quarter of a century’s intense and enthusiastic labour. They are a notable addition to the long roll-call of English diaries, one of the great joys of our historical record.”

“A first-rate database”

Professor Wilson agrees with the editor’s judgment that the diary is not in itself inviting to read: “Mary Hardy, a busy woman, writes without much colour, conversations are not recorded, ideas not discussed. Yet they are a first-rate database.

And across 36 years the diarist provides a wonderful view of an upwardly mobile ‘middling family’ immersed in making their way at the outset of England’s real surge to extended prosperity and European dominance.”

An element of surprise

The review brings out one of the great values of the diary—which may come as a surprise, given its authorship by the unknown wife of an equally obscure farmer and brewer. It records at personal and village level the great changes sweeping across the country:

“Perhaps surprisingly from the heart of rural Norfolk they [the diaries] provide a revealing insight into the powerful forces at work in accelerating economic and social change.

If commentators such as Virginia Woolf have perceived the Norfolk of Parson Woodforde’s diaries as almost comotose, impervious to the great forces of industrialisation, population growth and war, the almost exactly contemporaneous ones of Mary Hardy quickly dispel that view.

Essentially, she records a world of work and of advancement. Even in religious matters, still central in people’s lives, the unsettling impact of Methodism and Dissent is an ever-present theme in the diaries.”

“Reader-friendly” . . . “a goldmine for genealogists”

Like all the other reviewers, Richard Wilson is struck by the attractive presentation of the material:

“The four volumes are most attractively produced. The reader-friendly marginal notes are extensive and always illuminating. The voluminous indices to each volume are superb. Together with helpful family trees and numerous appendices they are a goldmine for genealogists as well as allowing readers of the diary to make complete sense of a succinct text.

Almost every page is enlivened by an illustration.”

You can read more from this review under the Burnham Press reviews.

Professor Wilson gives some interesting comparisons between Mary Hardy and the famous 18th-century diarist, the Revd James Woodforde, who was writing at the same time only a few miles away. You can read about his life on the website of the Parson Woodforde Society.