November 7, 2010

The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan

The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan
Kenneth Tynan, John Lahr, ed.


(November 7, 2010)

I can’t understand why I found these strangely beguiling diaries so compelling. Tynan was an important British theater critic in the 1950’s and 1960’s . When the diaries begin, in 1971, his career was largely over. Tynan knew everybody, loves to drop names, and was invited to swell parties, but he’s not deeply interested in gossip and, in any case, the diaries, bequeathed to his daughter, were instead hoarded and filleted by Tynan’s widow. Tynan was passionate about many things, but in his diaries he writes little about the theater and even less about books. He was a straight man surrounded by talented gays, a fact that intrigued him but about which he says little. He greatly enjoyed spanking (of all things), but in the early years he seldom mentions this passion and later, dying of emphysema and scouring the newspaper for sympathetic prostitutes, he has little to say.

Yet I read every word and relished many, and I have been looking forward to my daily visit with Tynan for weeks. This was yet another Michael Dirda suggestion – the Mitford-Waugh letters were this theme's kickoff – and rereading Dirda again I see that his reaction was oddly similar. In his diaries, Tynan is neither a lyrical nor a careful writer, and the persona he presents is not really someone you’re eager to seek out. But, once you know him, for all his melancholy and despite his desperation, you’re constantly eager to hear how the next day turns out.