There are few writers as visually distinctive as Joan Didion. We have glimpses of her as young journalist with her silk scarf and anorak delicately posed. A decade later, we see her on the front porch of her Malibu homeglancing wryly at his partner and daughter in the foreground, the Pacific Ocean cinematically fading behind them.
These images are part of the selling power of Joan Didion’s great narrative fiction – an image that evokes a time when a life in writing could naturally infuse glamour. Whole generations of writers continue to make themselves the fantasy of his imageeven if the affordances of a written life are no longer what they used to be.
The acquisition of the Didion brand is now made more possible with the auction of his possessions at the Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York. We find here the black and white photograph of Didion with his Corvette in Malibu and she peacock chair, popularized by the 1960s counterculture, and the Bay Area retailer Cost Plus. The peacock chair would become a political symbol of black liberation but for Didion, it was simply 1960s California style, the dream of the revolution reshaped into elite homeware design.
For all its cool minimalism and adamantine individualismDidion, known for hosting elaborate dinnershas been invested in the idea of the domestic. Bidders can now experience the Didion concept by purchasing one of its Limoges porcelain fish plates, an apron that says “Maybe broccoli doesn’t like you either”, or a yellowed white Le Creuset casserole dish. In an essay published in his second collection The white albumDidion wryly remarks that she “felt like the heroine of Mary McCarthy birds of americaone that locates America’s moral decline in the demise of the first course.
These items, initially priced at market value, rose exponentially over the two-week bidding period. Didion’s empty notebooks are currently worth a hundred times their retail value.
Born in 1934 into middle-class Republican Sacramento, Didion was part of California’s old elite, a position that set her apart from the liberal tones of mid-century journalism. “The New York Times brings out in me only unpleasant agrarian aggressions,she wrote in an essay, noting her preference for underground female journalism and The Wall Street Journal. His taste is in keeping with his lifestyle and his generation, which his partner, John Gregory Dunne, described as “Postwar Malibu.”
Didion began her career writing for Vogue and the National Review. Both of these drivers of American cultural elitism were a perfect fit for Didion’s brand, which she said was grounded in “moral toughness,” a quality she also located in the books of george orwellJoseph Conrad and Norman Mailer, which can also be purchased as Didion Library Greatest Hits.
Didion, who was proud of the legacy of her California autonomy, never shied away from making money. She tested the market for her goods during the Kickstarter Campaign for his 2017 documentary The center will not hold, directed by his nephew Griffin Dunne. Offers included $350 for the author to read a two-page letter, $35 for a handwritten list of her 12 favorite books, $50 for a pdf copy of her cookbook, and $2,500 for a pair of sunglasses. sun from his personal collection.
The dark identity of Didion
Having spent much of her middle decades among Hollywood actors, Didion was too good at her acting to give anything away. The closer you look at the writer, the further she, like the cunning protagonists of her novels, slips out of sight. It was something she recognized in the preface to his first collection, Advance to Bethlehem“My only advantage as a journalist is that I am so small physically, so discreet in temperament… that people tend to forget that my presence goes against their best interests”.
In a 1970s article for SquireDidion paints herself as a 20-year-old writer for Vogue in the 1950s who dreams of starting a mall and running it from her “pale blue office”.
Didion has abandoned her mall dreams to produce a more marketable commodity: her own literary persona, which chronicles the American worlds that unravel everywhere she turns. In his best, though least read, Democracypublished the year of Orwell’s dystopian vision of the future, she appears as the “Joan Didion” character who holds together a belated imperial map of a country that has turned into an explosive impasse.
Most budding young writers won’t be able to afford the Didion memorabilia they covet, but in the New York Timesthe promise before the auction – that fans can “acquire a piece of his legacy” – the writing dream, and California, is being offered again.