Anne Frank as Literature

Anne FrankI have always had a problem seeing Anne Frank’s Diary on the must read or top 100 lists. Although I had never read this book, I felt I knew the story through all the commentary and press it received and couldn’t imagine that a thirteen year old girl had written a text, even in diary form, which was of lasting literary value. As a poignant and emotional reporting on the atrocities of the German occupation during the war, it naturally qualifies for study, otherwise it is 1952’s answer to Love Story or Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Yet several things have expanded my understanding relative to the Diary. First, I read it. What I found was a bit too mature and too orchestrated to pass as the writings of young girl in hiding during the war. Then I realized that the translator probably had as much to do with the mature prose as did Anne Frank. A little further reading and it became clear that Anne was in fact a budding writer and spent a great deal of her time editing and revising her work for publication as an account of the lives of the Dutch during the conflict. Each of these extra-textual things is helpful in explaining the quality of the writing, even for a thirteen year old girl.

Unfortunately, like many personal texts, the Diary was edited, revised, corrected, translated, and otherwise tweaked until it is difficult to discover which edition is the most authentic. I read where one edition was going back to the original edition and then, presumably, would be more accurate. This is usually a sure sign that an author’s text has become a problem (although, there are some original texts that are full of printer errors and later editions are actually more accurate). I always think first of Proust:  Proust’s Recherche has been rolling over in this translation game since the beginning but also because as it was being printed, Marcel kept running into the publisher with new modifications to the galleys. In a real sense, there is no single authentic version of Proust’s masterpiece (and read it in French, for goodness sake!).

So if you, like me, have never given Anne Frank’s Diary a good close reading, I recommend it. My edition was titled The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, edited by Otto H. Frank [the father who survived] & Mirjam Pressler, translated by Susan Massotty. The publisher calls this the “Definitive Edition” but I’m not sure how much faith you can put in that.

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