on 5 August 2010
Francine Prose is not the first person to argue that Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl is not the innocent, spontaneous, passionate thoughts of a teenager, but a consciously crafted literary work. She is, though, the first person to write a book that covers a phenomenon that has, through deliberate commercialization, become the saga of Anne Frank.
In Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, Prose explains many of the facets of what is a remarkable story. Beginning with an engaging sketch of Anne's life, she then details the circumstances that led to the writing of the diary and how she went about her task.
It is interesting to learn that Anne wrote and rewrote, revised and edited, always with an eye to publishing it in novel form after the war, a fact that could determine how a modern day general reader interprets her narrative. Is it a diary, or a memoir, or even an autobiography?
However, even though a vast number of people have become acquainted with Anne Frank through the diary there are many others who've gained their knowledge of her through the stage play and the film. But in so doing Prose contends they will come away with the wrong impression of Frank's complex personality and self-presentation skills. They will have been`conned' by sentimentalized, cosmetic versions of her life, a view Prose deals with at length in the second part of her book. Her tone is angry, but at the same time controlled and objective.
As the title suggests, Prose wants to do more than comment on Anne Frank and her diary, so she has produced a self-contained piece of work: one doesn't need to go to the original to get a feel for the genius of the memorable teenager who was Anne Frank.
on 13 August 2010
I have read a lot about Anne Frank and disagree slightly with the other review - i found there to be quite a few revelations and new insights into Anne's diary - particularly the fact that she had been revising and editing it in the last weeks of her life. The changes she made reflect her development both as a young woman and a writer and add a lot to our knowledge.The author discusses this at length, using excellent examples from the diary. I also found the chapter about the inception and the wrangles of dramatising the diary into a play was fascinating, although at times rather depressing - the whole issue of the Anne Frank "industry" is also covered and in a very perceptive way. Erudite, at times disturbing but always thought provoking, I thought this was well worth the intellectual "effort" of reading what is in some ways a very academic, but nevertheless, very interesting and well written work. Excellent.
It's been a few years since I last read The Diary of Anne Frank but I think I might revisit it after reading this book. The Diary is such a seminal work, such an important part of how we remember the Holocaust; for many young people it serves as their first introduction to the horrors of World War Two and the Nazi genocide. And yet somewhere along the way, many of us have lost sight of the truth at the heart of The Diary, of the truth of Anne's nature, her talent, her outlook on life.
Francine Prose explores how over the years since its first publication in 1947 The Diary has been interpreted and misinterpreted, presented and misrepresented, lauded as an historical document and dismissed for its literary value, accused of fraud and historical distortion. Anne's father Otto Frank has been accused of almost everything from creating The Diary as a hoax to being the one who betrayed his family and the others in the Secret Annexe. The Diary has been at the centre of court cases, libel suits; it has been portrayed on both stage and screen, and is taught in innumerable classrooms around the world.
Yet as Prose shows, there was nothing inevitable about the success of Anne's diary. Even with its 'universal' themes of war, fear, hope, love, adolescent angst, if it wasn't for the sheer power and eloquence of Anne's words the diary would have languished in some historical archive, of interest perhaps only to a niche audience. Prose shows how Anne revised and polished her words, how she intended her diary for future publication, for a much wider audience than just herself. She argues that dismissing Anne's diary as simply an historical document, albeit an intensely moving and poignant one, serves to disguise just how much literary talent, even genius, went into its composition. Anne deserves recognition for her gifts as a writer, even as much as her status as a victim of the Nazis.
on 13 June 2013
Anne Frank's Diary is one of the most popular books ever printed. Francine Prose shows that few appreciate the manner of its writing or the mode of its construction. Most assume it consists of the spontaneous day to day thoughts and observations of Anne in her attic hideaway. In fact from 1944 Anne began to revise her earliest entries significantly, as she intended or hoped for her work to be published. The title she proposed was Het Achterhuis. When her father, Otto, rediscovered the diary after the war he edited a script composed of elements of both of Anne's versions as well as excerpts from her other writings. Finally, further amendations were insisted on by publishers.
However, all of the text is emphatically Anne's. More importantly, the second version with only her revisions shows a rarely talented writer, whose life and promise were brutally ended in Belsen. This is the Anne Francine tries to rescue.
The Broadway play of 1955 and subsequent film took the dilution further and gave currency to an entirely different image. She became a typical American teenager. This portrayal guaranteed huge commercial success and a vast international audience. But clearly a great deal was lost. This book charts the partial recovery of the historical Anne Frank. No longer just a guide through the angst of puberty, a perky optimist with a wry sense of humour. The work of the Anne Frank Foundation has driven the fight against racism and intolerance in all societies. For many young people the diary is a way into an understanding of the Holocaust. The author recognizes that the power of the diary is precisely that it can mean so many things, and indeed that it was crafted by so many editors and publishers and publicists to be just that - "universalistic".. She also agrees that ultimately every reader will come to find Anne's soul in the end, and the more readers the book gets so in the end the better.
A question considered only briefly is what would have happened to Het Achterhuis if Anne had survived. Would it have been confined to college reading lists?
Francine Prose makes much of the place of the Diary on the school curriculum. She makes several suggestions as to how it should be tackled. However, she is not a teacher and the only class she describes is with a group of very bright 20 year olds in a university seminar on literary criticism. I would lie to know how middle and high school teachers do use the text.
There is much else in this book about the history or afterlife of the diary, as well as depressing sections on those who find it pornographic and those who deny the Holocaust completely. Such people are few if vocal.
This really is an essential book for anyone who has ever read about the annex until the light fades, the door is broken and Anne goes to her death.
Like most people, I came across "The Diary of a Young Girl" while still at school and became acquainted with Anne. Later, I came to appreciate Anne Frank as the gifted writer that she was, and this book helped to explain the diary and the life it has taken on in the media and in education. I read the diary as just that - a diary written in the moment, but it was interesting to read that Anne had written, re-written and revised her diary, expecting and hoping it would be published. The diary was, therefore, more a memoir and, as Anne became more reflective and aware, she refined sections.
The book is split into three sections: the Book, the Life, the Afterlife. The first part looks at the diary itself, how Anne re-worked it and how her father later edited it, removing parts he felt might be hurtful or too explicit. This is the version that most people still think of as 'the diary'. The author then examines Anne's life, how it ended and what happened during the arrest and to all the principal characters in the diary. Lastly, she looks at how Anne's diary has evolved. The saga of the play, along with lawsuits and the problems with finding someone to produce the script; the later film adaptation, the museum and how the diary is taught in schools.
This is a very informative account of everything to do with the Diary and the life of Anne Frank. For anyone interested in how the diary has been interpreted, how it has inspired and how it still survives as such an important document, this book is a must.
This book is an analysis of Anne Frank's diary as a work of literature, particularly comparing the three different versions - a (the original version she wrote day by day), b (the revised version she rewrote in mid 1944 after Dutch Minister Bolkestein's radio call for Dutch citizens to preserve their wartime reminiscences for posterity, which reflects her maturing views as a 15 year old rather than a 13 year old) and c (the synthesis of a and b and which was the original published version in 1947). It also analyses the 1950s Broadway and Hollywood versions of the diary - the bitter arguments over their purpose and the best approach to their presentation, especially over the former, make for unedifying reading. Though not nearly so unpleasant as the (mercifully) quite short chapter about the attempts of Holocaust deniers to try to show the diary was a hoax. The book concludes with some reflections by the author on the challenges and opportunities teaching Anne Frank to students. I wasn't always convinced by the author's literary conclusions, but this was mostly quite interesting in covering differing aspects of this remarkable diary and its author.