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Auction 12: The Zamorano 80 Collection of Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lot 46

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Item 46. Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona—“The literary document most important in its influence on the growth of the Spanish tradition in Southern California was the immensely popular Ramona” (Walker).

46. JACKSON, Helen [Maria Fiske Hunt] (1830-1885). Ramona. A Story. By Helen Jackson (H. H.).... Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1884. [2] 490 [4, ads] pp. 12mo, original slate green cloth decorated in gilt and brown, spine gilt-lettered, floral endpapers. Binding with a few stains and moderate shelf wear (spine tips frayed), four small stains and abrasions on front pastedown where a bookplate was removed, front hinge weak, thin diagonal strip (approximately 5.5 x 2 cm) of lower corner of rear endpaper torn away, overall a good to very good copy.
First edition. BAL 10456. Baird-Greenwood 1296. Bennett, American Book Collecting, pp. 157-58. Cowan I, pp. 119-20. Cowan II, p. 306n. Edwards, Enduring Desert, p. 126. Howell 50, California 547. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 46. Johnson, High Spots of American Literature, pp. 46-47. LC, California Centennial 291. Powell, California Classics, pp. 268-78; Land of Fiction: Thirty-Two Novels and Stories about Southern California from “Ramona” to “The Loved One” #1. Streeter Sale 2987. Walker, Literary History of Southern California, pp. 123-24: “The construction of a synthetic Spanish California past was neither more reprehensible nor unnatural than the manufacturing of legends about the Pilgrim Fathers or the building of a tradition of an ideal Southern chivalry. In Southern California, however, the process of creating a past was perhaps more rapidly achieved and can be more clearly traced than elsewhere. The literary document most important in its influence on the growth of the Spanish tradition in Southern California was the immensely popular Ramona.... Appearing in 1884, just before the spectacular boom, it created a nation-wide interest in Southern California, and it served as a sort of romantic guidebook during the tourist rush. There was a great deal of the ironic in the influence of Ramona: written as a fictionalized sermon to elicit help for the American Indians, it was accepted as an idealization of all things Spanish; presented as an attack on contemporary conditions in the Ramona country, it was accepted as idealization of the past.... In writing Ramona [Jackson] was motivated not by a desire to create a romantic past or to make money but to point out what she considered to be a disgraceful injustice.” Wright III:2901. Zamorano 80 #46. See Notable American Women II, pp. 259-61. ($300-600)


In summarizing the importance of Jackson’s novel, Lawrence Clark Powell wrote: “Ramona was the first novel about Southern California. Today, nearly a century after its publication, it remains the best California book of its kind—an historical romance of a vanished way of life.” Over the decades it has been praised as one of the best American historical novels, and according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “It is the greatest story of California ever written.” If ever a book gave California a sense of nostalgia, it was Ramona.
The sad plight of Southern California’s mission Indians inspired the author of A Century of Dishonor to write this novel. In the early 1880s, she spent much time wandering through the area’s backcountry observing their condition, interviewing holdovers from California’s Hidalgo culture, and touring the ruined yet picturesque missions and ranchos. It had been her hope to create a California version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She had already written extensively about the area and its native population for Century Magazine, and in 1883, with Abbott Kinney, she produced a report for the federal government on their needs. Consequently, her novel was based solidly on research and personal experience. After four months of furious toil, she completed her novel on March 8, 1884, and sent it off for serialization in the Christian Union. It was then rushed into book form for the holiday market. She gave her story the somber-sounding title of “In the Name of the Law” but changed it to Ramona.
As is well documented, Jackson’s best-seller did not have its intended purpose in improving the lot of the Indian but instead created an entire tourist industry. It did more to promote Southern California than just about any booster publication. Readers mistook her sad story of injustice as a tender love story and as a recreation of a mythical Arcadian paradise. The story of Ramona and her lover Alessandro became a fairy tale and not a message of reform. Enchanted Easterners flocked to the missions, toured old adobes, and made pilgrimages to places like “Ramona’s Wedding Place” in San Diego. The continued popularity of the Ramona Pageant in Hemet attests to the magnetism of this novel.
Not surprisingly, many editions of Ramona have been published. Noteworthy later productions include the Monterey Edition (1900) with a fine introduction by Susan Coolidge and illustrations by Henry Sandham, and the Pasadena Edition (1902) with photographic illustrations by A. C. Vroman, the noted amateur photographer.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Valerie Sherer Mathes, Helen Hunt Jackson and Her Indian Reform Legacy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), pp. 79-83; Antoinette May, The Annotated Ramona (San Carlos, California: Wide World Publishing, 1989); Lawrence Clark Powell, California Classics (Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1971), pp. 268-78; Kevin Starr, Inventing the Dream: California through the Progressive Era (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 55-63; Franklin Walker, A Literary History of Southern California (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1950), pp. 123-32.

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