CHAPTER XIX: THE DRAMATIZATION OF RAMONA


Up: Contents Previous: CHAPTER XVIII: HENRY SANDHAM, THE ARTIST OF RAMONA Next: GLOSSARY OF SPANISH WORDS


[page 256]

THE DRAMATIZATION OF RAMONA--Helen Hunt Jackson, Ina Coolbirth.

It is among the strangest anomalies of histrionic annals in the United States that the great American novel should never have been successfully dramatized. There would seem to be in the romance of Mrs. Jackson a superabundance of genuine dramatic material, a plethora of tragic as well as dramatic incidents, any amount of sentiment and pathos, with opportunities for the introduction of folklore and folk-song almost boundless, with the widest range for the costuming of characters and the introduction of stage effects. Yet fifty-three distinct failures to dramatize the story have been recorded, while Uncle Tom's Cabin holds the record for the largest aggregate box sales of any American play ever staged.

What more beautiful characters than those of Ramona and Alessandro? What more sublime character than that of Father Salvierderra? Where will be found such genuine spiritual devotion as is shown in all the members


[page 257]

of Señora Moreno's household? Where such another exhibition of true maidenly love as that of Ramona for Alessandro? Where a more chivalrous lover than Alessandro? Where such an incident of pure, patient devotion as that of Felipe for the girl his mother could not love? What play-writer could ask for greater emotional climaxes than the discovery by the Indian of the wondrous beauty of the maiden, and the joyful hint that the blood of his race ran in her veins? Or the unfortunate discovery by Señora Moreno of the two at the first love-making in the willows? What more thrilling scene than the fainting of Felipe on the wool-shed and the night flight of José to Temecula for the violin?

What prettier setting than the meeting of Father Salvierderra with Ramona in the mustard field? What more sisterly devotion and innocent conception than that displayed by Ramona in saving Margarita from disgrace and punishment for carelessness in handling the altar cloth? What more pathetic scene than the deathbed of Señora Moreno, pointing her bony finger at the hidden chamber, wherein the Ramona jewels were kept, and struggling for breath to articulate the secret she had so long kept from her son? What more terrible scene


[page 258]

than the driving of the Indians from their homes at Temecula at the point of the bayonet? What more thrilling tragedy than the slaying of Alessandro before the very eyes of his devoted Majella? What more romantic spectacle than the night journeys over the mountains to San Diego of the homeless lovers, the devotion of the one, the perfect trustfulness of the other? Where could be found another such wholesome, genuinely good soul as Aunt Ri?

The story is clean, instructive and uplifting throughout, the purpose sublime, the end sad but sweet.

And yet it never has been successfully dramatized or staged. The last unfortunate and inexplicable failure, too, occurred in the very heart of Ramonaland, where local color was in the very atmosphere, and every heart in the audience pulsated with fervid sympathy with the theme.

Passing strange, but all too true. It was at the Mason Opera House, Los Angeles. Never a larger or more enthusiastic audience. Never a more fashionable or aristocratic one. Never an audience more kind or patient or considerate; yet never one so disappointed. Ramona was ‘‘played’’ till twelve o'clock, and the people went to their homes grieving as one


[page 259]

might over the fall and breakage of a beautiful vase. The writer grieved with the rest, sorry for the dramatist, sorry for the actors and actresses, yet more filled with compassion for the audience.

Some day a real dramatist will rise up and give to the American people a correct presentation of one of the sweetest, most pathetic and soulful stories ever written.


[page 260]

HELEN HUNT JACKSON*From ‘‘Songs from the Golden Gate,’’ with permission.

What songs found voice upon those lips,
What magic dwelt within the pen,
Whose music into silence slips,
Whose spell lives not again!
For her the clamorous to-day
The dreamful yesterday became;
The brands upon dead hearths that lay
Leaped into living flame.
Clear ring the silvery Mission bells
Their calls to vesper and to mass;
O'er vineyard slopes, thro' fruited dells,
The long processions pass.
The pale Franciscan lifts in air
The cross above the kneeling throng;
Their simple world how sweet with prayer,
With chant and matin song!
There, with her dimpled, lifted hands,
Parting the mustard's golden plumes,
The dusky maid, Ramona, stands,
Amid the sea of blooms.


[page 261]

And Alessandro, type of all
His broken tribe, for evermore
An exile, hears the stranger call
Within his father's door.
The visions vanish and are not,
Still are the sounds of peace and strife,
Passed with the earnest heart and thought
Which lured them back to life.
O, sunset land! O, land of vine,
And rose, and bay! in silence here
Let fall one little leaf of thine,
With love, upon her bier.

Up: Contents Previous: CHAPTER XVIII: HENRY SANDHAM, THE ARTIST OF RAMONA Next: GLOSSARY OF SPANISH WORDS




© Arizona Board of Regents