Skip to content

The Persona of Joan Didion

I’m wrapping up Play It As It Lays, but I wanted to take a minute to post about the novel’s author, Joan Didion.

Every author has some form of persona–the exterior he or she presents to the world. Hemingway was the gruff, manly world traveler. Kerouac was the “I don’t give a F” degenerate. And Joan Didion?

According to Megan Reynolds, who wrote a profile of Didion for Gawker, the author has constructed a persona of delicate fragility: 

We admire Didion for her fragility, her sensitivity, her ability to persevere against the adversity of great loss. The writing—terse, detached, distant—telegraphs a carefully constructed weakness that she relishes in as a strength. This is where the problem lies. The work is inextricably linked with the author. Before personal branding was a concern that anyone thought to trouble themselves with explicitly, Didion literally wrote the book on how to do it well. In any public figure, it’s hard to separate the brand from the one pulling the strings behind the scenes. Conflating a person’s public-facing self with the private is dangerous.

To some critics, like Reynolds, Didion herself is represented in her writing:

There are constant references to her body and the space, however tiny, it takes up in a room. Her thoughts are so overwhelming that they threaten to consume her. The persona she’s created in her writing leaps off the page and latches on to her thin frame like a succubus. It’s an entity that requires constant and careful preservation, the precursor to filtered Instagram selfies and carefully curated tweets. As readers, we want to believe that Didion isn’t the person she wrote into her stories, but the more you read her, the harder it is to separate the two.


Authors were thinking about branding, even when it’s a perceived negative brand, decades ago.

Whatever you think about Didion and her persona, there’s no mistaking she’s a talented writer. Her style is detached, slightly dark. She’s very much like Hemingway in that she writes short, sparse sentences. Every word has a purpose.

Play It As It Lays is a very good novel, and I’ll review it next week. One more post about Didion on Friday about an unthinkable series of tragedies that struck her in 2003.

(Image: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons)

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. That’s interesting, but how could her cultivating her persona detract from her work? Btw, I have only read her non-fiction, about her daughter’s and husband’s deaths and her essays and articles. They were mostly great stuff, although you could say that we almost learn a little too much about Joan Didion and/or she can get a little irritating. I should try to read her fiction too; the persona could only be a problem when she’d be unable to create believable characters.
    I’m curious what other people comment about this subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    February 17, 2016
  2. She was a master of the concise. Would that we all were so tightly versed.

    Liked by 1 person

    February 17, 2016
  3. Alice #

    I admire Didion’s work. The Year of Magical Thinking…

    Liked by 1 person

    February 17, 2016
  4. Thank you, Robert


    February 18, 2016
  5. Reblogged this on .

    Liked by 1 person

    February 18, 2016
  6. “Play It As It Lays” and “The White Album” are on my re-read list, for later this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    February 19, 2016
  7. You, will next Fri?


    February 19, 2016
  8. The White Album was a big influnence…interesting reading of her persona. Love,the selfie connection : )


    February 21, 2016

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Persona of Joan Didion | oshriradhekrishnabole

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: