Wendt on DeLyser, 'Ramona Memories: Tourism and the Shaping of Southern California'

Author: 
Dydia DeLyser
Reviewer: 
Casey Wendt

Dydia DeLyser. Ramona Memories: Tourism and the Shaping of Southern California. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. x + 256 pp. $18.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8166-4572-5.

Reviewed by Casey Wendt (Department of History, California State University, Sacramento) Published on H-California (March, 2006)

Ramona for the Masses

Intended to serve as an indictment of the oppressive and degrading treatment of Native Americans in California, Helen Hunt Jackson's 1884 novel, Ramona, reached profound fame and importance, just not for its intended purpose. The novel failed to ignite concern or discussion for the Native American cause; however it did create the fictional character of Ramona--a character Dydia DeLyser credits in her book, Ramona Memories: Tourism and the Shaping of Southern California, as "the most important woman in the history of southern California," a woman who has "never lived. Nor has she yet died" (p. ix). It was Jackson's novel, the tragic love story of Ramona and Alessandro, that DeLyser argues was responsible for fundamentally altering how Californians understood their past. The fictional novel of Ramona served as a type of catalyst in the creation of a new social memory for southern California (p. 168).

Ramona Memories seeks to demonstrate not only the importance of Jackson's novel in the creation of southern California's social memory, but also the significance of landscape to the social memory of a region. DeLyser defines landscape in the obvious sense, the geographic landscape of a region, but also as the smaller elements of the landscape, the man-made elements. It is the intersection of fiction, landscape, and social memory on which DeLyser bases her argument. She contends, "thus, elements from a work of fiction became factual through the landscape and came to influence the way residents and visitors in southern California thought about their past--which is to say, they became part of southern California social memory" (p. xvi). Challenging scholars who focus on the importance of the booster to the creation of southern California's past, Ramona Memories focuses on the primary importance of the tourists.[1] It was largely the tourists who sought out in the landscape of southern California real places they could associate with those portrayed in the novel. DeLyser acknowledges the important role of boosters and the large profits made from their overtures, her argument, however, relies on the fundamental importance she places on the practices of tourists in solidifying the Ramona myth in the social memory and landscape of southern California's past.

Comprising nine chapters, an introduction and conclusion, the bulk of the book takes what DeLyser has identified as the most significant Ramona locales, and gives them each a chapter in which to discuss their factual history, their Ramona-assigned history, and the evolution of these places into tourist attractions. Chapter 3, "Rancho Camulos: Symbolic Heart of the Ramona Myth," is first in the series of chapters recounting the Ramona locales. Rancho Camulos, perhaps the most important and well known of the Ramona-associated tourist attractions, provides the strongest case study in tracking the Ramona myth. The home's actual history as the residence of a prominent California family, the del Valles, is circumvented by its tourist-assigned designation as the "real home of Ramona." Soon, DeLyser explains, Rancho Moreno, the fictional name of Ramona's home in the novel, was replaced in stage and film adaptations of Ramona by the name Rancho Camulos. The del Valles' home and their lives became overrun with Ramona-seeking tourists. The structure became permanently solidified in the landscape and memory not only of southern California, but also the nation, when the home achieved designation as a National Historic Landmark. In the six chapters that follow, DeLyser attempts to recount the significance of other Ramona-associated attractions, including Ramona's marriage place, birthplace, women posing as the "Real Ramona," stage adaptations, as well as several housing tracts, streets, schools, and even a city named for Ramona. Each chapter provides an interesting story of seeming critical importance to the purpose of the book; ultimately however, DeLyser's most important analysis comes through in her introduction and her first two chapters, "A Determined Author and Her Novel" and "Ramona's Pilgrims: Tourism and Southern California." The middle chapters are entertaining, but at times the author seems herself swept up in the romanticism of the Ramona myth.

In the first chapter, DeLyser provides an important discussion of the life of Helen Hunt Jackson, her motivations for writing Ramona, as well as the personal experiences from which she drew to create the novel. DeLyser places the life of Helen Hunt Jackson within the context of her times, providing an important discussion of her role as a female author and her struggle for acceptance in academic writing that led her to the "acceptable" genre for female authors, the regional novel. It was within this context of the regional novel that Jackson's novel gained acceptance and acclaim. DeLyser argues that it was also the novel's place within this genre that was ultimately to the detriment of the author's intended social purpose. Ramona emerged as a romanticized vision; a creation of southern California's past colored with exotic characters and tragic love stories. The novel's conclusion, one DeLyser views as happy, but in reality is more bittersweet, was one of the major factors DeLyser claims that made Jackson's Indian argument a "nonissue" (p. 27). Along with Alessandro's death, so too dies the struggle of the Indian.

Chapter 2, perhaps the author's strongest chapter, examines the emerging role of tourism as an industry within a national context. DeLyser discusses the rise of transportation, including the railroad and the automobile, and its role in the growth of tourism. Ramona Memories connects the rise of Ramona-based tourism with that of a national phenomenon. "All across America as tourists visited historic sites, whether real or fictional, tourism, and the images and the souvenirs tourists produced and collected, became integral to the creation of social memory" (p. 63). The first two chapters provide a good foundation and context for DeLyser's analysis of the rise of Ramona-based tourism and the creation of southern California's social memory. In part, the middle chapters do not do her introduction and argument justice. The author is essentially arguing that Jackson's novel was one of, if not the most important factor in shaping southern California's social memory. Given little attention by DeLyser however, is the issue of power in the creation of social memory, as well as the numerous and diverse factors that contributed to the prevalence of southern California's nostalgic past. Although, arguably of utmost importance, Jackson's novel Ramona did not single-handedly shape the way in which southern Californians understood their past.

In general, Ramona Memories is a light and easy read for anyone interested in Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona, or the creation of a unique and interesting tourist niche in southern California. DeLyser provides important analysis in her introduction and first two chapters regarding social memory and tourism; however, she loses that insight in the bulk of her discussion. Ramona Memories would serve well as a supplement to Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona, in a classroom setting as it provides a detailed account of the unintended results of Jackson's indictment of Native American mistreatment, and the divergent path it took. It is also useful in a discussion of southern California and the phenomenon of the tourism industry, but not as useful as one would have hoped as an academic analysis of social memory and tourism.

Note

[1]. See, for example, Kevin Starr, Inventing the Dream: California Through the Progressive Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).

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Citation: Casey Wendt. Review of DeLyser, Dydia, Ramona Memories: Tourism and the Shaping of Southern California. H-California, H-Net Reviews. March, 2006. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=11481

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