Formulation of Gender in Ego Documents


  Among the sources of a personal nature we rank personal or travel diaries, private correspondence, memoirs or autobiography, and private cash books. The latter source refers to the history of consumption, prices and wages; as far as cash journals kept by women are concerned, they may be the source for the strategies within the family. Research on them is still in the very early stages.

  The category of memoirs comprises commemorative narratives focused mainly on the environment and the personalities that the author knew and the events which they witnessed. As a genre, they come under non-fiction literature; they contain time data, local names, proper names and portraits of real people and their genuine statements. They are based on the subjective opinion of the narrator who tries to present himself/herself in an optimal manner, or possible to defend their own lives. Unlike the diary or autobiography, it strives for objectivity of presentation. Despite this, the author made a conscious and unconscious selection of the events being recorded – he/she creates his/her own narrative pattern of conduct that he/she presents as his/her stylized story and indirect self-portrait. This selectivity may be implied in the title of the memoirs: Vzpomínky, dojmy, ohlédnutí, Svědectví jednoho života ...When processing the text, the author draws on his/her own, at best a phenomenal memory, private diary entries, writings, correspondence, essays, interviews, travelogues, etc. Memoirs approached in a classical way tend to coherence, at least in general features, recording the whole working life of the author in the chronological sequence. Memoirs assume the time distance from the events that manifests through blending, less often through a confrontation of two time perspectives.

  It is usually famous personalities who become authors of memories, sometimes even those who belong to the insit literature[1] sphere (cf. Alois Beer's memoirs,[2] Kavalírová's grandmother etc.[3]).
  By the relation to reality, we can distinguish memoirs authentic and fictional, imitating their characters in a fiction form. By the concept, memoirs may be monographic (creator-life-work), panoramic (historical background), memoirs fictionalized and mosaic (commonly called reminiscences, different in the content marginality or fragmentality, but usually they cannot be well distinguished).
  Memoirs sometimes take shape of reconstruction of a fate characteristic for a professional group, such as teachers (Konstantin Vitak[4]). Memoirs by writers tend to be fictionalized in partial "images". 
 The writer may assume two different positions towards the facts recorded:
1. consciously subjective, according to Altenberg[5] principle "wie ich es sehe", as I see it;

2. seeking a relatively objective opinion, "as it really was". But even in this case, a subjective interpretation is distinct, given by the direct immediate participation and involvement of the author-hero's memoirs in the stories displayed.
  Determining for the form of narration is the supposed reader (e.g. Lada's Vzpomínky z dětství were intended for children,[6] Marie Strettiová wrote her memoirs for granddaughters[7], and grandmother Kavalírová for their adult children, Václav Černý for informed readers)[8] and the functions attributed to the memoirs (political, educational).[9] Closely related to that is the selection of facts determined by both the facts.
  Unlike memoirs, having three time levels (a level of the lived, written and receptive level) and for the wider strata of not always specified readers, the letter has its clear addressee. At times when travelling was long, arduous and often dangerous, correspondence belonged among very important means of communication. It is a massive source, but at the same time, it contains some hidden pitfalls. Its main disadvantage is discontinuity and fragmentation. Critical approach to the correspondence requires confronting it with another type of sources, which is however not always possible. Epistolary genre is allusive and it is not always possible to identify and decipher individual signs, allusions, people (again "correspondent network"[10]). Everydayness is diluted in correspondence, adjusted to the current situation; the correspondence is subject to fashion usage, which sometimes reduces its informative character. Letters exchanged within the family have a dual function: first to inform about what is happening outside the addressee's local and time reach, while being a remedy against loneliness, longing, creating an illusion of proximity of the writer and the addressee. Family correspondence is not given, unlike letters to friends and acquaintances, for reading in a salon.[11]

  Reflections on the form of feminity and masculinity may be found most often in personal (sometimes travel) diaries. Their goal was an intrinsic need to capture daily events, to record an idea, write oneself out of suffering and joy. I of the diarist is twofold: one writes, the other monitors and corrects.[12]  The first I chooses words, the other applies individual aspect in selecting the facts to be captured.'
  Regarding women and young girls, who over the long 19th Century embarked on writing a journal, they were aware of their social gender, which they managed to express through language: through the words of diary they related their image to an image generally acceptable, to the construct of feminity. It does not matter whether the author identifies with it, or she defines herself against it, she rebels. She has a standard inside, an ideal, a goal, towards which she heads. In writing, the writer thus creates her image, using the language she constructs reality. We know that (mostly) an unknown reader was anticipated, but the author chose this approach not only because of him: she tried herself to meet the demands that were laid on her. And those were rigid; after all, the woman remained the "appendage of the human race."[13] She was someone's daughter, wife, sister, and mother. That obliged: she lived primarily for others and her own feelings were not supposed to be relevant. A woman on her own or independent woman was something unusual.
  A thoughtful woman-writer, especially if interested in philosophy, psychology, astronomy and politics, raises questions about the meaning of human life. Not surprisingly, some of them got at the problem of equality of the sexes. Self-reflection thus could have been directed toward confrontation with a male world, toward the uncovering of "I" using awareness of "otherness". That is actually here where the diary becomes a massive source for reconstruction of gender perspective, for perception of the feminity or - rarely - masculinity. To what extent were the Austrian (or Czech) lands affected by "the crisis of masculinity, which kept on "threatening" Western European countries from the appearance of les précieuses in the early 17th Century[14], we cannot say yet. In any case, the 19th Century woman perceived the male superiority from an early age. She perceived it and accepted: the desire for knowledge, if not muted right in its infancy, was developed and strengthened with the girl usually by the father. Brother in the family occupied a more important position than she did. Being in contact with him, she quite possibly realized the confining conventions of her gender: her brother could do more in learning, entertainment and awakening erotic, he did not have to face such stringent requirements.[15]  In the time when domestic labour had no clear quantifiable value, masculinity was also associated with performance. Starting from 1890's, masculinity coincides with military conscription, which in addition to sadness (if it is a close person who is supposed to leave "for the field") gives the opportunity to challenge the values of this masculine privilege.[16] War - during the long 19th Century there were three conflicts - strengthened the militant component of the male identity. That corresponded to the dichotomy of the male and female worlds, sex complementarity, guaranteeing the alleged harmony between the man and the woman. Yet, as if "the poltroonery of the European civilization" of the late 19th and early 20th Century hit the Czech lands: the moral inadequacy of "non-noble" men in the medical discourse, and on the other hand, women's diaries assessing positively male empathy, gentleness, and even physical attractiveness rather than centuries-petrified 'virile' features.
  The gender construct of feminity sent the woman to the private sphere; she was the wife, mother and homemaker. With some simplification, we can say that the women-writers could in relation to this construct take three positions: to completely identify with him, with some modifications to accept it or refuse it. For the first position, complete identification with the contemporary feminity construct, we will probably not find any example among the women-writers. To the contrary, we will find several women who identified themselves with the contemporary model of womanhood, but wished to modify the form of women's access to improved or vocational training. In particular, Sofia Podlipská, regarded by the public as an emancipist who allowed for a female profession, but her ideal remained an educated and understanding wife (a partner of an educated and understanding husband) and mother: a housekeeper, seamstress, hostess.[17] Rieger sisters, who refused being called emancipists, ruminated in the same way. In the vision of an educated woman was revelled Ruzena Svobodova, who already in her early age was attending "emancipating" lectures in the U Náprstků House and cherished the work of a teacher.[18] Only later on, an emancipated woman turned into a deterrent example to her.[19] And the third group consisted of - in addition to women whose marriage tragically failed - active, confident women, even writers-rebels. Dissatisfaction with the woman's fate,[20] the abstraction of which was the generally prevailing belief that a woman should stay at home, sew, clean and cook, led to attitudes that should provoke a small-town environment (alcohol and smoking took the form of a protest), or to searching for the answer to questions related to the female education and emancipation in reading. We even find a complaint to the convention-forced feminine 'inadequacy'. While the feminist journalism was sometimes ahead of the model of marital cohabitation, in which a woman is economically active and shares the domestic duties with a man in a partnership, rebels did not count on a help from a man (as opposed to journalism undeniably practicably). Indeed, for separate, forceful, unbound by conventions and economically independent women, a man defending women did not command any significant respect.


(Historical sources a contemporary theoretical articles are due to respect of copyright law intended only for study purposes. For this cause are protected by secure access. If you are interested in study, please contact:

Salomon Friedberg-Mírohorský, Literární archiv Památníku národního písemnictví, Salomon z Friedbergu, Osobní fond, Paměti.

Zdeňka Šemberová, Dopis otci, 20. 6. 1864. Archiv Městského muzea Vysoké Mýto.

Deníky Františky Honlové z České Třebové. K vydání připravili a poznámkami opatřili Vladan Hanulík, Sylvie Černá, Andrea Hudáková, Lucie Jelínková a Michaela Šandová. Úvod Milena Lenderová, Pardubice 2005.


[1] Naive literature, half-literary output mostly published additionally in print. Its main features are spontaneous life experience of the author, the expressive means of expression, intuitive, and emotionally-driven mixing of stylistic devices and ignoring the boundaries of genres.
[2] Alois BEER, Lituji, že nejsem básník. Ed. Karel Michl a Rudolf Skřeček., Praha 1970.
[3] Paměti babičky Kavalírové. 8th Illustrated Edition. Published by Josef Jan Frič in cooperation with Olga Zielecká. Praha 1940.
[4] Konstantin VÍTÁK, Paměti starého učitele, vlastence, persekucí postiženého. 1., 2. Praha 1902, 1904.
[5] Peter ALTENBERG (1859 – 1919), Viennese poet, Wie ich es sehe, 1900, published in Czech in 1919 by J. Otto, for example, Extrakty života, Hradec Králové 2004.
[6] Josef LADA, Vzpomínky z dětství. Praha 1988.
[7] Vlastimil VÁLEK: K specifičnosti memoárové literatury. Brno 1984, p. 55.
[8] Václav ČERNÝ, Paměti. 1. – 3., Praha 1992 – 1994.
[9] Vlastimil VÁLEK: K specifičnosti memoárové literatury. Brno 1984, p. 55.
[10] Cécile Dauphin, Pierette Lebrun-Pézérat, Danièle Poublan, Ces bonnes lettres. Une correspondance familiale au XIXe siècle. Préface Roger Chartier. Paris 1995, p. 14..
[11] Catherine PELLISSIER, Les correspondences des élites lyonnaises au XIXe siècle. In: Correspondence jadis et naguère. Sous la direction de Pierre Albert. Paris 1997, p. 389.
[12] Beatrix DIDIER: Le journal intime. Paris 1976, pp. 116 – 117.
[13] Words by English writer and essayist Richard Steele, quoted by Nathalie Zemon DAVIS, Arlette FARGE (ed.): Historie des femmes en Occident, 3, Paris 1991, p. 27.
[14] Elizabeth BADINTEROVÁ: XY. O mužské identitě. Praha 2005, s. 21 an.
[15] Ursula A. J. BECHER: Weibliches Selbstverständnis in Selbstzeugnissen des 18. Jahrhunderts, in: Ursula A. J. BECHER, Jörn RÜSEN (ed.): Weiblichkeit in geschitlichtlicher Perspektive. Fallstudien und Reflexionen zu Grundproblemen der historische Frauenforschung. Frankfurt am Main, 1988, p. 222.
[16] Cf. Milena LENDEROVÁ, Vladan HANULÍK, Sylvie ČERNÁ, Andrea HUDÁKOVÁ, Lucie JELÍNKOVÁ, Michaela ŠANDOVÁ (ed.): Deníky Františky Honlové. Fontes Historie Pagi Pardubicensis, 2, 2005, Pardubice 2005, p. 43.
[17] Literární archiv Památníku národního písemnictví - Literary Archive of the Museum of National Literature (further on referred to as LA PNP), Sofie Podlipská, Osobní fond, rukopisy vlastní, Upomínka na roky 1853 – 1856; Deník (untitled) 1856 – 1857; Deníkové záznamy (untitled) 1858 – 1861; entries of February 28, 1857.
[18] "That night I went to the teachers association, I like educated women, women conscious women having duties and in that lovely ring of the teachers I found very much. Able to discuss any subject with a kind of enthusiasm natural only with an educated and literate woman. And I see how wrong those judgments and views are condemning teachers and trying to ordain for girls men's powers that are not able to understand children as a woman-girl can. [...] Oh, I do not understand how men may condemn women's educated and laugh about it. LA PNP, Růžena Svobodová, osobní fond, rukopisy vlastní, Deník 1881 – 1886, zápisy z 6. a 7. 9. 1886. (Private fund, personal manuscripts, Diary 1881 - 1886, records of the 6th and 7th September 1886)
[19] Sometime in September or October 1894, after a lecture on women's education by Karel Baxa, Svobodová "characterized" emancipated women as "morbid characters of humpbacked or otherwise twisted old maids, who failed to marry and would like to lose their predicate... education and upbringing of women and the emancipation are various concepts, contradictory." LA PNP, Růžena Svobodová, osobní fond, rukopisy vlastní, Deníkové zápisky 1881 – 1918, též zápis z 28. 12. 1894, týkající se socialistek Karly Máchové a Barbory Rösslerové. (LA PNP, Ruzena Svobodova, Personal fund, personal manuscripts, Diary writings 1881 - 1918, also of 28 Minutes 12th 1894, related to socialists Karla Máchová and Barbara Rösslerová.)
[20] Novak complains about "laws and conventions" preventing her from confessing love to her chosen one. LA PNP, Teréza Nováková, osobní fond, rukopisy vlastní, Thyrza´s Diary, zápis z 29. 9. 1873. (LA PNP, Tereza Novakova, Private fund, Personal manuscripts, Thyrza's Diary, entry of 29th September 1873) Honlová writes: "the woman, actually the girl, in my circumstances a slave without its own power is. We are living in the nineteenth century, this nonsense is it the time's fault of a few reactionary views? I wish there were just a few!" Deníky Františky Honlové, p. 42.