What is in a title?

When I first saw the front page of our convict’s little excerpted diary (the one I wrote about in a previous post), I thought to myself, what a curious title. The title was, of course, one of the main things that encouraged me to poke my nose into it in the first place.  If our protagonist were to give the diary a slightly less literary title, he might have called it “A Prisoner’s Diary” or just “Selections from my Diary.”  Instead he has chosen “Promiscuous Leaves from my Diary.”  In other words, it might be called “Indiscriminate Pages from my Diary” or “Random Entries from my Diary.”

Why all the fuss about the title?  I’ve come to think that the title seems a little misleading to me.  Firstly, if there is a complete diary somewhere, there are obviously other entries which have been left out. Secondly, the order of the entries is not even chronological and instead they skip around.  Within the first 10 pages alone, the entries skip from 1863 to 1862 then back to 1863 again. I don’t think it would be too cynical to surmise that the excerpted diary is designed to cast its writer in as positive a light as possible.  Where this all inevitably leads me is that the entries have been carefully chosen and are not quite as promiscuous as the title might suggest.

fernleaves Since we’re talking about titles, it might be an appropriate time for some other related thoughts.  One of our blog post readers commented on the similarity between the title of the diary and a series of books by a nineteenth century author Sara Willis Parton, or as she was better known by her pen name, Fanny Fern, that involve the use of the word “leaves.”  These books have such titles as Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio (1853), and Fresh Leaves (1857).  Always eager to dig a little deeper, I did a quick look in our electronic catalog, and came back with a number of titles that use the word “leaves” in a similar context that could also have potentially inspired the title given to our author’s work.

Aside from the photographs, some of the other titles among the many in our collection include:

  • Leaves from the Book of Life: or, Scripture Lessons for the Little Ones at Home
  • Gathered Leaves
  • Leaves for a Christmas Bough
  • Leaves from the Note Book of a Naturalist
  • Fresh Leaves from the Diary of a Broadway Dandy
  • Leaves from the Diary of a Dreamer: Found among his Papers.
  • Leaves of Grass
  • Leaves from an Invalid’s Journal

So many intriguing titles, and this is only a handful!  Join us next time for some more of our convict’s musings, and some prison poetry of his own composition.

In the meantime, here is the next gathering of leaves from our convict’s diary. If you want to read the beginning again, it is in the earlier post.

[book id=’14’ /]

[As an aside: if you read a few pages into this new section, I’m sure some of you will be as curious as I am about the nature of the stone monument he mentions. He gives enough detail that, if someone came across it, I think we could probably say it was his work. If someone does know of it’s existence, please let me know and we’ll see if we can get some pictures up here!]

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Andrew Bourque

Library Assistant, American Antiquarian Society

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