Tracing the Reference in Joan Didion's The White Album

Words and passages usually are quoted when they speak to a particular reader in a particular way. Joan Didion's use of quotations throughout The White Album, however, is so pervasive as to suggest their indissolubility from language and writing. Rather than highlighting the presence of fictional areas in an overall supposedly faithful report, Didion's quotations undermine "the premises" (p. 11) of any actual act of nonfiction writing even when they are explicitly reported.

I have never been sure whether the extreme gravity of From Here to Eternity is an exact reflection of the light at Schofield Barracks or whether I see the light as grave because I have read James Jones. "It had rained all morning and then suddenly cleared at noon, and the air, freshly washed today, was like dark crystal in the sharp clarity and somber focus it gave to every image." It was in this somber focus that James Jones rendered Schofield, and it was in this somber focus that I last saw Schofield, one Monday during that June. It had rained in the morning and the smell of eucalyptus was sharp in the air and I had again that familiar sense of having left the bright coast and entered a darker country. [pp. 148-49]

This passage shows how the problem of believing the author or not is eventually linked to the problem of the impossibility of establishing the originality of the writer's prose style.


1. To what purpose does Didion use in her own Schofield's description at least three elements (rain, sharpness, darkness) coming from James Jones's immediately preceding one?

2. What does this passage reveal about other possible unmarked quotations in Didion's book (i.e. descriptions whose literary source are not explicitly reported as it is in this case)?

3. How does Didion handle her own difficulty to express herself beyond literary allusion throughout The White Album?

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10 September 2007