Saint Joan: Young Women And The Cult Of Didion

Illustration for article titled Saint Joan: Young Women And The Cult Of Didion

A couple of years ago, my then-boyfriend wrote a piece of erotica about Joan Didion, which fact should go some ways towards explaining both why the relationship lasted as long as it did, and why we were ultimately incompatible:

For someone who's so good because she understands that the personal in itself isn't worth a damn and that emotional clouding's for amateurs, Joan Didion has inspired a lot of gushing. V.L. Hartmann touches on this in a lovely essay today, acknowledging that while the incisive Didion is not "the most maternal of literary idols", for all that

I am not alone in my generation in thinking of her as a sort of mother figure. In 2006, she had a public conversation with then Paris Review editor Philip Gourevitch at Summer Stage in Central Park, and the crowd was filled with over a hundred people in their twenties and thirties, many gazing at her with adoration. She read from The Year of Magical Thinking and tears streamed down the faces of girls who clutched copies of her books.


When I've seen Didion read or talk (I wrote about one such instance here) - and it's something you do, if she's reading, and if you can, because she's a bedroom saint - it's kind of like that. The disconnect between what she's saying and writing and the palpable veneration is always kind of jarring. Ironically, for all her detachment, we all feel we know her. She has transcended her work and become a figure of tragedy and a national treasure. As a keen student of hero-worship, Didion herself must find it fascinating.

Hartmann adds that for many young women, Didion is the spectrum through which we view our mothers' generation as well as the model for female writers. Of course, there are those who would argue that in many ways Didion's voice was heightened and sharpened by the necessity of writing in a man's world, that like many women of her generation her fiction needed to be brittle to avoid sentimentality. Didion lovers might find that a strength, but she of all people would surely want the historical pointed out with due detachment. But, see? I'm falling into it too. Although the most idiosyncratic of voices and frank of literary personalities, a lot of us have made her a figurehead and projected on our own qualities and wishful qualities. The author was prompted to write her tribute when she saw Didion on the street, tiny and fragile-looking, and found reality and mythology colliding. She concludes, "I grew up with her writing, but she wrote none of it for me. It was enough to know on that cold afternoon that I was there and she was there." I'd add, at this point she hardly needs to be, because we all have the idea. (And no, I'm not talking about the erotica...which was, it should be said, for an erotica contest at a Valentine's Day party. Still.)
Joan Didion Crosses The Street [The Morning News]
Related: Joan Didion Is Kind Of A Downer About The Election



Am I weird? I love Didion's writing, but I in no way flatter myself to claim I know her. I hadn't realized she was of some particular amazingness to young women, though I'm Canadian and my literary idols tend more in the direction of Alice Munro.

I just... I find her writing sardonic and sharp, and the way she's described here, it's not recognizable to me.