Marie Bashkirtseff was born to a wealthy family in 1858 in the Ukrainian town of Havrontsi (then in Russia), but in 1870, due to her parents’ separation, she began to journey around Europe with her mother, finally settling in Paris for the rest of her short life. Although a gifted and successful painter, it was for her diaries that she achieved the recognition she sought. Months before her death to tuberculosis at the age of 25, she wrote, “If I do not die young I hope to live as a great artist; but if I die young, I intend to have my journal, which cannot fail to be interesting, published.” Her diary was indeed published three years later, and to instant success. In 1889, British Prime Minister William Gladstone declared it to be “a book without a parallel.”
The Diary Entry
Friday, January 9
On returning from a walk today I said to myself that I would not be like some girls, who are comparatively serious and reserved. I do not understand how this seriousness comes; how from childhood one passes to the state of girlhood. I asked myself, “How does this happen? Little by little, or in a single day?” Love, or a misfortune, is what develops, ripens, or alters the character.
If I were a bel esprit I should say they were synonymous terms; but I do not say so, for love is the most beautiful thing in the whole world. I compare myself to a piece of water that is frozen in its depths, and has motion only on the surface, for nothing amuses or interests me in my DEPTHS.
The first English language edition of Marie’s diary was titled, Marie Bashkirtseff: The Journal of a Young Artist, 1860-1884. It was published by Cassell & Company in 1889, edited and translated by Mary J. Serrano, and was bowdlerised. In 1997, a new, more faithful edition was published by Chronicle, translated by Phyllis Howard Kernberger. It is titled, I Am the Most Interesting Book of All: The Diary of Marie Bashkirtseff.