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W I L L I A M L E A R Y La Selva, California Native Daughter: Jean Stafford’s California Although Jean Stafford may properly be considered a western writer because her novel, The Mountain Lion, and nearly a score of her short stories have western settings,1her attitude toward the West has always been ambivalent. She recognized this herself and never more clearly than in the Author’sNote which serves as a sort of preface to her Pulitzer Prize-winning Collected Stones. There, after disclosing that her father had been a writer of Western stories, and that a cousin had written a reminiscence of her girl­ hood in Kansas titled A Stepdaughter of the Prairie, she spells out her ironic attitude toward this legacy. With this kind of heritage ... I might have been expected to become a regional writer, but my father’s wicked West and Cousin Margaret’s noble West existed only in memory, and I could not wait to quit my tamed-down native grounds. As soon as I could, I hotfooted it . . . across the Atlantic Ocean. Across the Atlantic, Stafford spent the academic year, 1936-7, study­ ing philology at Heidelberg, and all the generous European vacation periods touring Europe, an experience she found emancipating. Not surprisingly, when she returned to the United States, she did not return permanently to the West that, she acknowledged, had nurtured her. I have been back to the West, since then, only for short periods of time, but my roots remain in semi-fictitious Adams, Colorado. She goes on to suggest that her own ambivalent feelings about place are reflected in the people she writes about. Most of the people in these stories are away from home, too, and while they are probably homesick, they won’t go back. 196 Western American Literature Then, as if to leave no doubt in any reader’s mind concerning her ambi­ valence, she concludes her Note by recognizing her own attitude in Mark Twain and Henry James who are two of my favorite American writers and to whose disloca­ tion and sense of place I feel allied.2 As her Note makes clear, the West for Stafford is Colorado where her family moved in 1921 and where she lived and went to school successively in Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and last and longest, in Boulder, which is her “semi-fictitious town of Adams.” What Stafford does not mention in this Note isthat the first six years of herlife were spent even farther west, in Cali­ fornia, where she was born, in Covina, in 1915. The omission of any reference to her native state is significant. Appar­ ently, she did not look for her roots there. Although at the time of her birth, her sister, Marjorie, remembers that she and Jean’sbrother and other sister all thought that Jean might be an Indian because their father told them that their baby sister was a “native daughter,”3it appears that Jean Stafford never felt like a native and never declared allegiance to the state where she was born. Probably the simplest explanation for Stafford’s feeling of rootlessness respecting California is her tender age when she lived there. She was only five when her family moved from Covina to San Diego, and not yet six when they left California altogether for Colorado. True, one might assume that an immensely gifted writer who was hailed as a young Proust following the publication of her first novel, Boston Adventure, might display some­ thing like Proustian virtuosity in recalling her California days. But we have Stafford’s own testimony, offered on two widely separate occasions and in two very different forms, that in fact her recall of early childhood was neither extensive in range nor exact in most details. Her first reference to her childhood in California is found in her fiction. In a little-known story, titled “The Lippia Lawn,” published in the Kenyon Review in the spring of 1944, a few months before Boston Adven­ ture became a surprise bestseller, Stafford tells us very explicitly just what she recalls of her birthplace. Speaking in the voice of her nameless protag­ onist (who is transparently herself), she...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 195-205
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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