The Diary of a Lost Girl by Margarete Boehme

8353160From The Diary of a Lost Girl was first published in Germany in 1905 under the title Tagebuch einer Verlorenen. By the end of the Twenties, it had been translated into 14 languages, published around the world, and sold more than 1,200,000 copies. It is counted among the best-selling books of its time. Was it, as was claimed, the real-life diary of a young woman forced by circumstance into a life of prostitution? A veiled feminist critique of the treatment of women? Or a sensational and clever fake, one of the first novels of its kind? Debate swirled around its authorship for years. Described by one contemporary scholar as “Perhaps the most notorious and certainly the commercially most successful autobiographical narrative of the early twentieth century,” the book was nothing less than a literary phenomenon. Widely read, it was written about by critic Walter Benjamin, by followers of Freud, and by novelist Henry Miller (who claimed it a favorite). The author of Dracula, Bram Stoker, thought it should be banned. Censored in some countries, the book was barred entry into others. Eventually, after more than 25 tumultuous years of acclaim and criticism, as well as controversy over its true authorship, the book was driven out of print in the early days of Nazi Germany.

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I read this book because in The Storyteller, this is the book that Minka takes with her when the Nazis force her to leave her house.

I noticed earlier this year that Amazon now has a wide variety of foreign-language books available for its Kindle. Happily, I found that The Diary of a Lost Girl is one of those books, and it was free, too. So I read the original German edition. You can tell by the language that it was written more than 100 years ago; it was a little hard to get used to it. The name of the Lost Girl is Thyme—which reminded me instantly of The Storyteller, where we have characters called Sage, Pepper, and Saffron.

Thyme’s descent into an “immoral lifestyle” is very much influenced by her surroundings. Her mother dies when she is still young. Her father continually gets the housekeepers pregnant. Her father’s assistant molests Thyme. She becomes pregnant, and rather than dismissing the assistant, her father sends her away to have the baby, which is sold to a childless family shortly after she is born. After staying with a preacher’s family that is pious only on Sundays and terrorizes everyone as soon as church is over, she finally runs away. From there, it is only a short step to becoming a “loose lady” in order to make some money.

By today’s standards, this book is by no means scandalous. But I can see why it caused such uproar when it was first published. In its historical context, the “diary” must have seemed quite outrageous. In addition to chronicling the life of a prostitute, it also frequently criticizes a society that blames Thyme for her rape and that offers no decent way for her to earn a living.

It certainly is no literary masterpiece, but it offers an interesting look at life in the early twentieth century. It is quite obvious why the book was forbidden in Nazi Germany and why Minka in The Storyteller had to hide it from her parents.

There is a film based on this book that was made in 1929 that I will try to find and watch. I could not find any links to other books, so I will read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, since Stoker was so adamantly against The Diary. Quite shockingly, I’ve never read Dracula….


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