Date of Award

Fall 2022

Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Paula R. Feldman


In the nineteenth century, the Victorian desire for utility, respectability, and self-improvement became deeply ingrained in daily life, and consequently, the diary grew to be a popular tool to measure and evaluate time management and personal development. Accounting diaries, in particular, set out to provide a record of activity and achievement (or conversely, inactivity and failure). This thesis performs a case study of the accounting diaries of Marian Evans (George Eliot) and Louisa May Alcott, exploring how they document progress towards their personal goals of utility, morality, and productivity. Specific diary-writing techniques—such as an efficient style, income tracking, illness recording, annual retrospective accounts, and returning to past entries—help Evans and Alcott in their efforts to quantify the value of their work and to improve the selves that produced it. By attending to textual themes, the diaries can be positioned clearly within the cultural zeitgeist, emphasizing the Victorian obsession with self-improvement and efficiency. This case study demonstrates some techniques for rich analysis of nineteenth-century diaries and emphasizes the importance of reading historically.


© 2022, Ashley A. Alvarado