“Vivian Maier Street Photographer” & “The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy”

by Lauren Alwan & Sharon Browning

In this week’s LitStack Rec, we take a look back at two outstanding books we think you should read. First, Vivian Maier Street Photographer, about the discovery of a once-in-a-lifetime body of work, primarily black & white photographs. Second, we take a look back at The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy, a book for anyone who is a fan of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

Vivian Maier Street Photographer and Private Diary of Mr. Darcy

Vivian Maier Street Photographer
by Vivian Maier (Author), John Maloof (Editor), Geoff Dyer (Contributor)

For forty years, Vivian Maier worked as a nanny in Chicago and took photographs on her days off. That may not seem extraordinary, but her work is quickly proving to be our era’s preeminent artistic discovery—the kind that comes along once in a lifetime.

The body of work left by Vivian Maier (1926 – 2009), primarily black and white photographs (including color slides, documentary films and audio interviews with her subjects) was posthumously discovered in 2007 by a local historian, John Maloof. Seeking neighborhood history for a project, Maloof purchased several boxes of her undeveloped photos at a storage warehouse auction in Chicago, on the block due to unpaid storage fees. Though as the negatives were printed, he soon understood he had something remarkable. And indeed, Maier’s work is not only receiving universal critical acclaim, but has been compared to some of the twentieth century’s most revered street photographers—Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Weegee, and Garry Winogrand.

Maloof, along with the Geoff Dyer, released a pictorial collection of her photos. In an introduction, the authors observe Maier’s mystery and contradictions:

Vivian Maier represents an extreme instance of posthumous discovery; of someone who exists entirely in term of what she saw. Not only was she entirely unknown to the photographic world, hardly anyone seemed to know that she even took photographs. While this seems unfortunate, perhaps even cruel—a symptom or side effect of the fact that she never married or had children, and apparently had no close friends—it also says something about the unknowable potential of all human beings.

And indeed, no one knew of Maier’s work, save for the children she cared for who sometimes accompanied her on photographic expeditions. It seems Maier herself never chose to see her work in print form. Whether for a lack of money, or lack of interest, she never printed her negatives. She simply processed the film and left it in the can. But she continued to take pictures, favoring the grittier streets of Chicago as her subject, often with her charges in tow.

Vivian Maier Street Photographer

The lot Maloof purchased at auction contained 100,000 negatives taken over forty years. Maier worked primarily from 1957 to the late 1990s, and with no formal training, or peers, her work emerged solely out of her own vision, one largely facilitated by a singular eye and expert control of her Rolleiflex camera. Her work is lush, perfectly composed, and her point of view true to the social causes she favored. According to Maloof, the children she cared for (and who the last years of her life, cared for her, by the way), described her as

…a Socialist, a Feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved.

Maier was born in New York City and raised in Europe, and the influences she absorbed can only be speculated upon, but it’s clear that with regard to the medium of photography, her understanding of its possibilities was immediate, and from the outset, nearly complete.

A documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier, now on Prime Video, was released in 2014. Learn more at the website of the Maloof Collection, which features some not-to-be missed shots of Maier’s collection of cameras and bathroom darkroom.

—Lauren Alwan

Other Titles About Vivian Maier

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy by Maya Slater


Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice holds a very special place in our household. It’s one of my daughter’s favorite books, and as a mom, if my daughter is going to fantasize over a love story, I’m not going to argue with a tale dating from 1813 about love overcoming perceptions and misunderstandings.

Therefore, when my local newspaper favorably featured Maya Slater’s book, I was intrigued. A little research turned up quite a few adaptations of Austen’s original story, including a Bollywood version, multiple vampire editions, and yes, another Mr. Darcy’s Diary (by Amanda Grange). While I can’t speak for these other efforts, I can say that The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy is very engaging, extremely entertaining, and feels absolutely authentic.

It is very easy to read; since it is a diary, there are not chapters but entries. That means that there is not a lot of long, flowing prose, but instead short, very intense snippets that nevertheless reveal much about Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy – what is elaborated is what is important to the writer rather than a convention of fiction, and therefore what is elaborated is very telling.

This particular diary starts with the ball at Meryton where Darcy and the Bingleys first come in contact with the Bennets, and follows the same arc as Austen’s novel. However, as seen from Darcy’s point of view, rather than the focus immediately being dominated by the developing relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy, some of Austen’s less prominent story lines are embellished, such as Wickham’s “relationship” with young Georgiana, and the circumstances that lead Darcy to believe that Jane is not the modest young lady that she appears to be. 

We learn much more about Charles and Caroline Bingley, Darcy’s cousin Anne, and other characters that don’t even come into play in Pride & Prejudice, including, in a very interesting development, Darcy’s former schoolmate and friend Lord Byron. (The interaction of Darcy with his valet, Peebles, is, at turns, especially amusing and touching.)

Another interesting aspect to the use of a diary as literature is that we are given a glimpse into the daily activities of the British aristocracy of the time. I have often wondered just what these people did to fill their days in a society where so much was done for them. And Ms. Slater gives us that, as this diary was not just a journal of Darcy’s emotional musings, but also where he had gone, what he had done, with whom, and why. She has certainly done her research, and Darcy’s activities are a marvelous view of England at the turn of the last century.

Its customs, mores and sensibilities (at least at Darcy’s level of nobility) are displayed without sentimentality or unnecessary exposition. Ms. Slater is also very conversant in Austen’s language, using a distinctive vocabulary with period grammar and spellings to keep us firmly rooted in Regency England – delicious.

And lest we forget, the world at this time was indeed a man’s world. The diary displays this with a frankness that would be expected from a personal journal not meant for public consumption. And, hold on to your bonnets, you romantics out there – it turns out that Mr. Darcy is no saint. He has few qualms in visiting bordellos, tumbling parlor maids, helping to set up Charles Bingley with a less than respectable young widow (to divert him from his feelings for Jane), and even is a party to some rather lecherous entertainments at the leisure of Lord Byron.

Yet these activities are recounted rather dispassionately as would be expected of a journal, and there is no hint of any tawdry sensationalism of Austen’s novel. In fact, these private exploits make the diary feel quite authentic, in that Darcy becomes less a character in a romantic novel and more a human creature of his age.

If you have read Pride & Prejudice either voluntarily or under duress, or if you have been drawn into one of the many movies, plays or BBC productions of what surely is Jane Austen’s most accessible novel, and had any enjoyment from it, then I highly suggest that you read The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy. It’s a worthy soliloquy companion – in sense and sensibility – to one of the most beloved love stories of an age.

—Sharon Browning

Other Titles by Maya Slater (as Translator)

Other LitStack Resources

Be sure and look at our other LitStack Recs for our recommendations on books you should read, as well as these reviews by Lauren Alwan, and these reviews by Sharon Browning.

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