Written as a series of mysterious and reflective journal entries, The Seducer's Diary is the first-person narrative of Johannes, a self-identified seducer who takes not so much carnal pleasure as a peculiar delight in the tempting, attracting, possessing, and subsequent abandoning of girls—in this case, a young lady named Cordelia Wahl. In it, he describes his motivations for his peculiar methods. He especially discusses the suspension of satisfaction and his dependence on chance, in exchange for the aesthetic quality of "the interesting."
The Seducer's Diary is but a section in a massive two-volume philosophical work titled Either/Or, written in 1843, which consists of a peculiar collection of papers, essays, and letters exploring the aesthetic and ethical spheres of existence. Here, too, the idea of the seducer is a recurring theme.
Although Soren Kierkegaard wrote the text for the Seducer's Diary, as well as the rest of Either/Or, to call him the author would be something of an inaccuracy. The work was published in Copenhagen in 1844 by a pseudonymous editor "Victor Eremita" (Latin: "victorious hermit"), who in the preface explained the circumstances of its existence. Kierkegaard's invented editor relates being mysteriously drawn to an escritoire in a second hand store, and some time after purchasing it, in a violent fit of impatience, he strikes a drawer with a hatchet and unexpectedly discovers a secret compartment containing two sets of papers. Both lacking any personal identification, the papers are nonetheless easily differentiated by their appearance and content. The author of the essays and scattered papers extolling a purely aesthetic lifestyle, written in a luxuriant script, is named A. Likewise, the author of two long letters apparently addressed to A, explaining the benefits of an ethical life and written in a more business-like hand, is named B.
The Seducer's Diary, however, is written by neither A nor B. It is a work claimed to have been "found" by A (though the editor ironically believes that it was A himself who cunningly created the character). Therefore, this section is the deepest layer of pseudonymous in Either/Or, and it is evident in the somewhat hesitant attitude A takes in revealing it. One reason for Kierkegaard's authorial distance is his effort to present the aesthetic and ethical spheres of existence without any personal bias. An alternative, biographical reason is that Kierkegaard may have wrote The Seducer's Diary as a kind of penance for what he perceived as an abandonment of his ex-fianceé Regine Olsen, in 1841—just two years before writing Either/Or. Regardless of its motivation, it remains perhaps the darkest and most vividly detailed expressions of Kierkegaard's exploration of aesthetics.