Life Writing & Death: Dialogues of the Dead

Written Out of Life: The Death of Keith Vaughan and his Journal


  • Alex Belsey King's College London



Keith Vaughan, journal, diary, British art


When the British painter Keith Vaughan (1912–77) ingested a lethal cocktail of barbiturates, having made the decision to end his life after a long struggle with cancer, there was only one thing left to do: write one final entry in his journal, the lifelong literary account he had commenced in 1939 and maintained ever since. Vaughan’s journal is an extraordinary document, its 61 volumes spanning 38 years of impassioned ideas and personal development from his difficult wartime years as a conscientious objector through his post-war life as a successful but troubled artist. This paper focuses on the final volume of Vaughan’s journal, commenced in August 1975 and ending on the morning of 4 November 1977. It considers how Vaughan used journal-writing at a time of great suffering to reflect upon his life and his reasons for leaving it. By revealing the crucial role that Vaughan’s final volume played in justifying that his life had ceased to have forward momentum or meaning, this paper argues for the close relationship between the practice of journal-writing and questions of futurity, positing Vaughan as an exemplary author-subject who uses diary or journal forms to postulate a potential future and their relationship to it.

Author Biography

Alex Belsey, King's College London

Alex Belsey is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Life-writing Research at King’s College London. His research interests include life-writing and its relationship to the visual arts; diaries, journals and experimental forms of autobiography; autofiction; and cultural narratives about artists and creativity from the nineteenth century to present. Alex is the author of the monograph Image of a Man: the Journal of Keith Vaughan (2020) from Liverpool University Press. E-mail:





Life Writing & Death: Dialogues of the Dead