Virtue and Vice in the Golden State

* This text is a sample of writing from my postgraduate thesis project. My project was a reader in which I selected five original essays from the post-war American travel magazine, Holiday, introducing and contextualizing writing from the 1940s – 1960s. In this instance, an excerpt of my introduction to an essay about loss in the Sacramento Valley entitled ‘Notes from a Native Daughter,’ written by Joan Didion in Holiday’s October 1965 issue.




Legend has it that the state of California derived its name from a sixteenth century novel, Las Sergas de Esplandián, by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, in which “California” is a mythical island paradise inhabited solely by beautiful women and abundant with gold. This earthly utopia is where Joan Didion was born and raised, in the Sacramento Valley, and the ancestral ties that bind her to the West pervade the entirety of her written work. She has come to be known as one of the most insightful explicators of American culture through her array of writing, all of which, in some way or another, involve the criticism of her home state and America as a whole. Joan Didion’s California is a contemporary representation of the biblical Garden of Eden: its pioneer settlers, present-day inhabitants, and the characters in her stories all the embodiment of Adam and Eve, reenacting and perpetuating the fall of man through amoral propensity.