California Indoors and Out: The Golden State as a Representation of Western Myths

The excerpt from Elizabeth Burhans Farnham’s California Indoors and Out presents a glorified portrait of the state of California as a geographical chosen land that encompasses the gamut of agriculturally conducive terrain—a place where opportunity abounds for the industrious farmer. Deborah Lawrence’s assertion that “women’s western writings create conflicting versions of the myth of the American West” is certainly applicable to this text, as Farnham explicitly relates her gender to the myth that she creates in the book.

Typical myths of the American West portray the stereotype of the land in the Gold Rush era, where rogue men (and, to a lesser extent, their women) traveled in convoys to claim their treasure. Farnham’s myth chooses to romanticize the land moreso than the individual, constructing an image of California as a place where “abundant streams of water, clear and cool as the embowered springs beside which we used to dream away the early mornings in the distant land of our childhood,” flow. (Farnham 37) Here, she relates the landscape to a nostalgic memory, rather than evoking a more utopian view of a prosperous future. This could be interpreted as one of the book’s uniquely feminine characteristics—as it is an instance in which the author focuses less on the more masculine physical cultivation of the land than the emotional response it elicited in her mind.

Farnham’s writing also deviates from the typical Western myth in chapter two of the book, in which she expresses a sense of disenchantment with what she perceives as her failure to adequately perform her feminine domestic duties. Of this disappointment, she writes: “In my meditations I inverted the black walls, turned them inside out, laid an ideal floor, erected imaginary closets, etc., set apart corners for bed-rooms, and I was far advanced in my housekeeping, before I was interrupted by a call from a neighbor,” (Farnham 48). This excerpt presents itself as a dichotomous dream in the author’s mind; she seems at once mystified by the natural beauty of the Californian land on which she lives, and filled with insecurity about her domestic failures. Farnham’s western myth is one that has unavoidable undertones of gender struggle, confirming Deborah Lawrence’s notion of the conflicting world of women’s western writings.

Lawrence, Deborah. Writing the Trail. Ch./ Art:85-92 Pub. University of Iowa Press 2006

Farhham, Eliza W. California In-Doors and Out; On, How We Farm, Mine, and Live Generally in the Golden States. Ch./ Art: Excerpts p.  28-31, 91-94. Pub. Dix, Edwards & Co 1856

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One response to this post.

  1. Farnham’s writing is definitely filled with conflicting undertones, especially between what she is doing and what she believes the role of women should be in the American West. She definitely struggles between the boundaries of gender roles that she is pushing, and what society has deemed correct – which she even notes in the section about her discussion with Geordie on women’s rights.

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