Last night I finished reading Joan Didion’s classic essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968). I especially liked the first stories about the stranger side of American society, which she wrote for The Saturday Evening Post. She sings praises for John Wayne, who many considered old-fashioned then, and explains America’s fascination for airplane tycoon Howard Hughes. But the essay that really made a lasting impression, the one that still comes back to me a week later, is On Self-Respect:
“The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others — who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation, which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something people with courage can do without.”
It serves as a constant reminder that ‘character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.’ You can read the essay on the site of the magazine it originally appeared in: Vogue.
(Photo of Didion taken by the great Jill Krementz, copy/pasted from the Writers at Work collection.)