In a new three-part series for BBC Four, author Adam Nicolson takes an intimate look at the diarists and letter writers of the 17th century who produced the first great age of self-depiction.
The Century That Wrote Itself explores how, at a time of great upheaval in England, writing was both a means of escape and of fighting for what you believed. It was a time when account books became confessionals, and letters became weapons against the authorities.
In the first episode, The Written Self, Adam traces our modern sense of self back to the time when ordinary people first took up the quill. From a Quaker woman who used the written word as an instrument of revolution (imprisoned after sparking debates with her pamphlets and leaflets fighting for free speech, a free press and for the rights of women as preachers), to an ambitious shepherd who traded one of his sheep in return for lessons in reading and writing, the programme explores how rising literacy allowed people to re-write the country’s future - and their own.