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Reviews 93 One of the most entertaining stories in the collection concerns Emily Morgan, the original “Yellow Rose of Texas,” who was a golden-skinned, long-haired mulatto girl, not a slave, but an indentured servant. She was captured by Santa Ana in 1836 for his own lustful purposes and she man­ aged to send Sam Houston word of the Mexican approach and did deliber­ ately, so legend says, keep Santa Ana oblivious to impending danger that day on the field of San Jacinto. Her dalliance with the Mexican general won the day for the Texans. Perhaps the only objection one might have to the volume is the rather chauvinistic introduction by the editor, but if one knows anything at all about folklore, one knows it is a highly male-oriented subject. In Legendary Ladies of Texas, Abernethy has a good collection on a different kind of Texas woman; as he says, “the legends that grew from the seed of their deeds transcended their times and became larger than their times as we invented them with some aspect of our culture’s chief values” (p. xi). DORYS C. GROVER East Texas State University Joan Didion. By Mark Royden Winchell. (Boston: Twayne Publishers/G. K. Hall, 1980. 185 pages, $8.95.) James Dickey probably intended to compliment Joan Didion when he called her the “finest woman prose stylist writing in English today,” but the limitation by gender seems unnecessary, if one does not insist upon a large quantity of writing to support it. Mark Royden Winchell, in this first extended study of Didion’s relatively slight oeuvre, provides a judicious analysis of the prose that supports and amplifies Dickey’s qualified praise. A fifth-generation Californian, Didion “carries the heritage of the fron­ tier in her genes,” Winchell notes, and the values she prizes are those of the frontier, personified by so disparate a group as Georgia O’Keeffe, John Wayne, and in his earlier years, Howard Hughes. An “uncompromising indi­ vidualism” is their shared quality, but these avatars of self-reliance are all but vanished now, replaced by the lost souls of Play It As It Lays and HaightAshbury . The open, optimistic landscape of the pioneer West has given way to a spiritual wasteland. The intelligent and sensitive eye that observes “this contrast of past hope and present disillusionment” records its perception with pervasive and unsettling irony. “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” and the title essay of Slouching Towards Bethlehem are familiar to everyone with any interest in either prose style or the American scene of the 1960’s, but the merciless clarity of Didion’s prose is nowhere more evident than in her dissection of Bishop James Pike. 94 Western American Literature Didion, with the Westerner’s scorn for political groupies and gurus of any stripe, reviews the Episcopal activist’s life shortly after he is found dead from exposure in the California desert. “The man was a Michelin to his time and place,” she says. At the peak of his career James Albert Pike carried his peace cross . . . through every charlatanic thicket in American life, from the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions to the Aspen Insti­ tute of Humanistic Studies to Spiritual Frontiers, which was at that time the Ford Foundation of the spirit racket. James Albert Pike was everywhere at the right time. He was in Geneva for Pacem in Terris. He was in Baltimore for the trial of the Catonsville Nine, although he had to be briefed on the issue in the car from the airport. He was in the right room to reach his son, Jim Jr., an apparent suicide on Romilar, via seance. The man kept moving. Winchell notes that for Didion, Pike is an “unambiguous reflection of much that is self-indulgent and meretricious in American society.” He might have added that Didion was almost alone in this perception at the time, and that intellectual self-reliance. In any event, what is particularly valuable about the Pike essay is that Didion makes his career — his passage from spiritual leader to death in the desert of his own ego — into a “literary metaphor” of more than passing interest as we entered...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 93-95
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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