Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife by Francine Prose

Anne Frank:  The Book, The Life, The Afterlife by Francine Prose is an academic look at The Diary of a Young Girl.  Prose begins by outlining Anne Frank’s history including her death in Bergen-Belsen from typhus.  She then goes on to explore how her diary was eventually published, including the surprising drama of how her book became adapted for the stage and screen.

Prose has a great admiration for Anne Frank and she sees an unrealized talent in how Anne chose to revise her diary, a detail many readers do not realize.  For Anne Frank, inspired by a speech she heard on the radio, her diary had the potential to be published that others might read it and, for this reason, she begins revising the earlier entries, clarifying details, fleshing out scenes from her life, and creatively rewriting her past so that the diary we now read, a combination of both the original diary and revised versions.  It is in comparing the drafts Prose argues the reader can’t help but appreciate the young girl’s talent.

The process of publishing the diary and it’s evolution from page to stage to screen is full of further drama were publishers reject the manuscript and some versions of the script are rejected because they are too Jewish.  Her father’s editorial choices seem less obtrusive and the rationale to tone down some of the sexual curiosity is more indicative of social mores than a father’s over-protectiveness or denial. 

However, in Prose’s mind, it is reprehensible how Anne was eventually portrayed on stage and in the movie.  Her persona is reduced to that of a vapid teenager who is idealistic, an adaptation that is devoid of any of the insight and introspection of the revised diary.  She is not alone in feeling this way and an updated and more honest version of Anne’s story has been realized in a revival which has also been brought to the screen through Masterpiece Theater.

Prose doesn’t shy away from discussing how some people have tried to deny the diary is real and anyone who has read about Holocaust denial is already aware of just how vicious these attacks can be.  She doesn’t give a lot of space to this, however, which is probably for the best.   

Where the author falls short of the book’s full potential is in the final chapters where she discusses the use of Anne Frank’s diary in the classroom, both in high school classes she’s observed and in college level courses she, herself, has taught.  The potential to look at how the book has been used to teach history, tolerance, how it has come under attack and been challenged as a necessary educational text, are given very little attention.  Highlighting a few unfortunate resources for quizzes on the text, she glosses over the profound impact this book has upon nearly everyone who has ever read it.  After devoting so much scrutiny to how the book came to be published and adapted beyond even Anne Frank’s aspirations, it is unfortunate that Prose chose not to give the ongoing relevance of book for the individual reader.  Her own choice, to look at the diary of a young girl as more than an interesting document and give it the academic scrutiny reserved for literary classics is evidence of how deeply this book touches the reader. Unfortunately, Prose never really carries her exploration into the intimate which, given that she is discussing a diary, is both ironic and a disappointment. 

(One of the things to which Prose alludes (on page244) is an introduction, written by Noam Chomsky, to a book by a Holocaust denier. You can read more about that here.)


  1. I guess it never bothered me that the book was adapted for the screen or stage. I think it drew interest and then a lot of people bought the book who would otherwise not have. It is too bad though that she doesn't quiet go far enough into really exploring this book. At least, she does seem to think it was enough to explore and that is good. I always loved the story of Anne Frank. It gave a personal touch to a horrific event. I think that is the importance of that book. Great review!

  2. It never particularly bothered me although I confess that I'd always thought the screen Anne was insipid when compared to the writer that had such depth on the page. However, after seeing the recent BBC production of the new play, I can see why Prose is so vehement about her own distaste.

  3. I had no idea that Anne herself revised her diary. It shouldn't surprise me as it's evident she was gifted writer. It would be strange to write such personal things when in the back of your mind you're thinking of its possibility of being published in the future.

  4. Have you ever written a comment to a comment and have it disappear? I hate it when that happens.

    StephanieD, I think you would really enjoy Prose's book because it explains the reason behind the revision and highlights just how intelligent Anne's choices were during the revision process.


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