Originally serialized in the Christian Union on a weekly basis, the novel became immensely popular. It has had more than 300 printings, and been adapted four times as a film. A play adaptation has been performed annually outdoors since 1923. The novel’s influence on the culture and image of Southern California was considerable. Its sentimental portrayal of Mexican colonial life contributed to establishing a unique cultural identity for the region. As its publication coincided with the arrival of railroad lines in the region, countless tourists visited who wanted to see the locations of the novel.
Think of the most popular books today, the “Harry Potter” series. “Ramona” enjoyed that kind of popularity. The thing is, “popularity” wasn’t really the goal of the book. The author, Helen Hunt Jackson, had something else in mind. She had witnessed the poor treatment that the native Americans had been subjected to by the U.S. government, and she wanted to do something about it. The first time around, she wrote a non-fiction account of the governments treatment of the Indians – “A Century of Dishonor” (1881). Although this book did have some impact on government regulations concerning the Indians, and did begin to bring awareness to general public of the unethical and immortal treatment by the government, Helen was not satisfied with those results. She decided, then, to write a fictionalized account of an Indian woman named “Ramona”. Sadly, this book failed to achieve it’s goal of raising sympathy for the Native Americans. Instead, people were drawn to the book for its romantic nature, and the only real influence the book had was to draw many people to San Diego as tourists, visiting the fictionalized locations mentioned the book. Of course, tourists brought money to the local economy, and the locals catered to these tourists. So it was, when it came time to name this farming town (in 1894, ten years after the book was first written) in the foothills outside of San Diego, an influential developer insisted on the name, “Ramona.” People traveled to San Diego because of the book, well into the 1920s. It was around 1900 that my own family ancestors, on my mother’s side of the family, settled in Ramona after moving from Texas.
As I embark on a journey to write my own books, I wonder about the effect they might, or might not, have. I am very grateful for the letters I’ve received from many of the readers of my blog, telling me how the blog has either helped or inspired them. Still, it’s just a blog and despite the million plus visits the blog has enjoyed, most people in this country have never heard of it, and might never.
Helen Hunt Jackson died at the age of 55, just a few months after “Ramona” was published. I’m now 53. I feel like my time is coming. I need to get my own books written before it’s too late.