Arthur Crew Inman was a reclusive and unsuccessful poet whose 17-million word diary, extending from 1919 to 1963, provides a panoramic record of people, events, and observations from more than four decades of the twentieth century.
Inman was born in 1895 into one of the most powerful and affluent families in Atlanta. His grandfather was Samuel Martin Inman, a wealthy cotton magnate and philanthropist who owned a portion of the Atlanta
After failing to win acclaim with several volumes of undistinguished poetry, Inman decided that he might find fame by writing a diary. By the end of his life he had filled some 155 handwritten volumes. Inman wrote the diary in Garrison Hall, a residential hotel in Boston, where he rented five apartments and lived for most of his adult life. To avoid light, to which he claimed unusual sensitivity, he often kept the interior of his apartment darkened, and when he did occasionally go out into the city, it was to ride around in a 1919 Cadillac, painted black.
Despite his numerous eccentricities, Inman in 1923 married Evelyn Yates, who remained with him for the rest of his life. She occupies a prominent if not always hallowed place in the diary: “She is homely as a stump fence built in the dark,” he wrote of her in the diary, “but she doesn’t giggle all the time.” Inman suffered from various ailments throughout his life. He committed suicide in 1963.
The 155 volumes of the diary remain mostly unpublished, but in 1985 Harvard professor of English and American literature Daniel Aaron published a two-volume abridged edition that includes many highlights. Aaron suggested that Inman would have called his diary “both a history of my times and the story of my self-discovery.” On the one hand it is an account of Inman’s day-to-day thoughts and activities. On the other it is a record of his recollections of his early life in Atlanta, his family, his life in Boston, contemporary events in America and the world, and his many eccentricities, opinions, and prejudices.
Virtually everyone Inman knew or encountered became the victim of his criticism. He advertised in a Boston newspaper for people to come discuss their lives with him; many of their stories and letters are preserved in his diary. A number of the women who came to talk to him he also seduced, and he wrote about this, too. His wit was fiercely unrelenting and pitiless.
Whether it is an epical literary reflection of the man and the age or the product of a demented mind, Inman’s diary remains one of the most unusual literary products of the twentieth century.