Date of Award

Spring 5-18-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)



First Advisor

Ruth McAdams


This paper places Letters alongside two other works of prose by Rilke — The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910) and Diaries of a Young Poet (1997). The first is Rilke’s only novel, in which a young man inscribes his thoughts, feelings, and activities in a series of journal entries; the second is a series of private journals which Rilke maintained between 1898 and 1900. Notebooks’ narrator resembles Rilke in several ways, but the novel’s fictiveness impedes upon readers’ instinct to treat the story as entirely autobiographical. In his actual diaries, published at the opposite end of the same century, Rilke drafts poetry, recounts his travels, marvels at art, pines after women, and records the minutia of everyday life, but he reveals little about his emotions or mental state. The posthumous publishing of Rilke’s Letters and Diaries is reactive, reflective of the poet’s lasting fame. Moreover, these books are a consequence of collective curiosity about the interior lives of larger-than-life writers. In each case — Letters, Notebooks, and Diaries — Rilke opts for a literary form that affords him the privacy, communication, or convenience most appropriate for a given subject matter or audience. In each case, writing is performative and a means of self-preservation. Yet a more scrutinizing examination of this trio of texts reveals that the real letters, fictionalized journal entries, and real journal entries each defy the parameters of their form. Under Rilke’s pen, they begin to resemble one another in unlikely and ironic ways. While his non-fiction prose eludes reader expectations, Rilke’s work of fiction skillfully generates the illusion of self-disclosure. This body of work forces readers to reconsider assumptions about the inheritances of form, the privacy of authors, and the intimacy of epistolary exchange and diary entries.