July 2014: Feedback from readers of the Diary
It is now fourteen months since the complete text of the diary of Mary Hardy came out. In addition to the published reviews there has been a constant flow of comments from purchasers of the diary.
Here the diary’s editor, Margaret Bird, gives clips from their reactions. Most are too long to give in full, and these are just extracts.
The first, just after the launch in April 2013, came from the (then) Principal Archivist of the Norfolk Record Office, Susan Maddock:
“. . . Such a stupendous achievement, so thoughtfully, elegantly and delightfully presented (the books primarily, of course, but the launch too) . . .
I remember our awesome palaeography and diplomatic tutor in Liverpool saying that ‘with the aid of a good critical apparatus the reader can travel back in time’.
You have provided readers not just with time-travelling facilities, but luxury-class time-travel, and I am confident that your work will be blessed and appreciated for generations to come . . .”
“It is a unique read”
Richard Bond, journalist and author of a history of the village where Mary Hardy wrote her Broadland diary, sent in this response:
“. . . It is a unique read, unlike anything I have come across before.
At first I thought: ‘This is dry old stuff, rather hard going.’ But as I have got into it I have become increasingly fascinated. I love the attention to detail in your notes—the extracts from the Bible, the light you shed on each birth and death, the historical context, the illustrations.
It really is a publication of the very highest standard. I am awe-struck!”
Fiction-writers turn to the diary
So far Margaret Bird has been told by a historical novelist and a short-story writer that they are finding the diary invaluable both as a source and as an inspiration in their creations. The insight Mary Hardy gives into aspects of 18th-century life otherwise unrecorded is part of her appeal. But she also has a more indefinable quality. She sparks the imagination.
Imagination lies at the heart of all historical writing. A non-fiction writer, specialising in biography and with a string of titles over the years, wrote in:
“. . . I am so impressed by your work: the careful annotations, and the wealth of illustrations . . . It’s lovely to be in touch, and I wish you very good luck with all the books—a truly amazing work. Congratulations.”
Used by researchers all round the country—and overseas
It has been a joy that Mary Hardy reaches out well beyond her East Anglian regional confines. Drawn by the interlinked websites for the Diary, the ‘World’ volumes and the publishers (listed here at the foot of the sidebar), readers have turned to the diary for compiling their family history and for other research. E-mails have arrived from across England and from the United States, Canada and Australia.
The diarist is strong on religion, and a Methodist preacher from the south of England used the Burnham Press contact form to thank Margaret Bird:
“. . . Thank you again for all your splendid enrichment of understanding and all you have given to enlighten our knowledge of our history.”
Reactions to the talks
As shown on the News pages, the editor Margaret Bird enjoys giving talks on a very wide variety of topics built around Mary Hardy and her world. At one recent talk the convener left out feedback forms for listeners to fill in and then kindly forwarded clips from them:
‘Brilliant speaker. Will go to her future lectures’.
‘Margaret Bird is an excellent speaker; fluent, and needed no notes.’
‘Very fine speaker, full of knowledge.’
‘She brought the subject to life.’
‘I thought the speaker was very knowledgeable and put it over in a very pleasant and easy way. Will look out for all the landmarks.’
A thank you from Margaret Bird
Thank you to every single person who has written, e-mailed or phoned with feedback. I am enormously heartened by your reactions. I wish I could include them all here.
I share your excitement over your discoveries. It is wonderful that a text which is without doubt dry and off-putting at first should have stimulated so much interest—and enjoyment.
Kingston upon Thames, 1 July 2014