On Thursday, Dec. 5, 1963, Arthur Inman, one of the most bizarre Americans in the history of the Republic, went into his toilet carrying a Colt revolver. The latest in a lifelong string of crises, real or imagined, to cause Inman to despair was rising outside his old haunt in Boston's Back Bay. "The Prudential Tower," he had told his diary, "is 28 stories into the sky, soon will be goosing God." He had fled to Brookline to escape the din of construction, taking with him the noises in his head, and now he was over the edge. "This is being horrible beyond the credible," he wrote on Dec. 5. "Twelve divisions of migraines." Then he killed himself.
For Inman's widow Evelyn, settling the man's affairs was a trying task. More than anything else, he had wanted his diary published. He had commenced it on Dec. 27, 1918. It began, "Am I now very much interested in Genghis Khan?" Inman had a soft spot for brutes, his diary would reveal--all 17 million words, all 155 volumes. It took the late Evelyn Inman (she died last June) and two other trustees of his estate until 1977 to secure a publisher. Harvard University Press accepted the diarist's tonnage, then engaged Daniel Aaron, professor of English and American literature, to make sense of it. Aaron's distillation is just out; it runs to 850,000 words, costs $39.95 and weighs 5lbs.
What an odd duck to have legs, as Madison Avenue puts it when a product moves briskly. The two-volume set, entitled The Inman Diary: A Public and Private Confession, has had steady sales and is going into a third printing, which for a book this size and cost is unusual. It has been reviewed favorably all over the block. David Herbert Donald, a Pulitzer-prizewinning historian, calls it "the most remarkable diary ever published by an American." The thing puts people in mind of Pepys, Proust, Rousseau, all manner of citadels of personal penmanship. There is movie talk.
What is not mentioned enough, however, is Professor Aaron, who spent these past seven years inside the tortured mind of the megalomaniacal bigot misogynist Peeping Tom hypochondriac called Arthur Inman. In his fulminations, Inman addresses the editor who would not come along until twelve years after his death; he bullies, wheedles, whines, pleads. Then along comes Aaron, who responds to the dead diarist--and in so doing becomes a flesh-and-blood character. Inman says at one point that "a diary expurgated and deleted is a eunuch of a diary." Aaron says at another, "Oh, for God's sake, Arthur, SHUT UP!"
Aaron, 73, a bike in his office, pipe in his mouth, tweeds on his back, speaks in perfect paragraphs: "I took it on at first for the money. Then I became stuck, absorbed, caught up in it. I got to know him and his world in a way I know of nothing else, no other society. And while I disliked him intensely--I couldn't be further away from his political, economic, nearly all his attitudes--I became fascinated by his unique opportunity to indulge himself in a way no one else could. He was a voyeur, yes, a sadist, among other things, but he had his humanities, his generosities. You have to read the whole diary through. You begin by despising him and end up sympathizing, even admiring him--while not embracing his attitudes."