Friday, March 9, 2012
The Uptown Girl
Take Florence Wolfson Howitt, who has just passed away at 96, but who at 92 became famous for a diary she had kept as a teenager. Apparently nothing very special about that, except that she wrote a four-line entry every day for five years in a leather-covered book that eventually came to be found in a steamer trunk in an apartment house Dumpster that caught the attention of an apartment worker, who passed it on to a NYT news assistant who was living in the building at the time.
Ms. Howitt was definitely an Uptown Girl, whose father was a physician and whose mother owned an upscale dress shop. Depending on how you look at, she either did, or didn't advance herself socially by marrying a dentist, but did enjoy 68 years of marriage to him. No questioning that.
In the hands of someone who recognized a story, as well as writing that opened a window to perhaps Manhattan's version of Downton Abbey and Lady Mary's thoughts while approaching womanhood, the diary became a 2008 book by the NYT news assistant, Lily Koppel, 'The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal.'
The book was preceded by a 2006 story in the NYT by Ms. Koppel that gives an account of the diary's discovery and several of the entries from 1929 to 1934 that reveal a very literary, musical, arty girl who acquainted herself with male and female lovers.
We don't really know if Ms. Howitt stopped writing any more diary entries after turning nineteen. All we really know is she filled up the book that was found in the streamer trunk that was found in the Dumpster. The existence of other volumes is not disclosed.
At least not yet.