Satiric Description in Joan Didion's "Many Mansions"

Maureen Sloger, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

In "Many Mansions," Didion describes two former residences of Californian governors which are no longer inhabited. After offering descriptions of the houses and the circumstances behind their creation -- one of which was built in the late nineteenth century, the other built much more recently in mid twentieth century -- she concludes with this paragraph:

As a matter of fact this is precisely the point about the house on the river -- the house is not Jerry Brown's style, not Mary McGrory's style, not our style (ital) -- and it is a point which presents a certain problem, since the house so clearly is the style of not only Jerry Brown's predecessor but of millions of Jerry Brown's constituents. Words are chosen carefully. Reasonable objections are framed. One hears about how the house is too far from the Capitol, too far from the Legislature. One hears about the folly of running such a lavish establishment for an unmarried governor and one hears about the governor's temperamental austerity. One hears every possible reason for not living in the house except the one that counts: it is the kind of house that has a wet bar in the living room. It is the kind of house that has a refreshment center. It is the kind of house in which one does not live, but there is no way to say this without getting into touchy and evanescent and finally inadmissible questions of taste, and ultimately of class. I have seldom seen a house so evocative of the unspeakable.

What is Didion referring to as "unspeakable"? Is there a difference between Didion's voice as author and that of the speaker? Can we discern how Didion as author feels about the theme? Finally, could this be described as satire (as we have defined it so far)?


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Last modified 6 February 2002