Diane Johnson Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Diane Johnson’s nonfiction works often complement her fictional subjects by exploring similar settings and themes. Her book The True History of the First Mrs. Meredith and Other Lesser Lives (1972) is a biography of Mary Ellen Nicolls Meredith, the daughter of novelist and poet Thomas Love Peacock and the first wife of novelist and poet George Meredith. Johnson also wrote the first published full-length biography of Dashiell Hammett, Dashiell Hammett: A Life (1983).

Terrorists and Novelists, a collection of Johnson’s book reviews and essays that appeared originally in The New York Times Book Review and The New York Review of Books, was published in 1982. Her autobiographical works include Natural Opium: Some Travelers’ Tales (1993) and Into a Paris Quartier: Reine Margot’s Chapel and Other Haunts of St. Germain (2005). Johnson has also published articles in such periodicals as the San Francisco Chronicle, The Times of London, and Bon Appétit; has contributed forewords to works such as Americans in Paris: Great Short Stories of the City of Light (2002), edited by Steven Gilbar, and photographer Philip Trager’s Changing Paris: A Tour Along the Seine (2000); and has written introductions for reprint editions of literary classics, including Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). In addition, Johnson has written scripts for both film and television. She collaborated with film director Stanley Kubrick on the 1980 screenplay adaptation of Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining, and in 1979 she adapted her 1971 short story “An Apple, an Orange” for television.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Diane Johnson’s novels have achieved both popularity and critical acclaim for their portrayals of insecure women grasping for a sense of identity amid chaotic surroundings. Her biography The True History of the First Mrs. Meredith and Other Lesser Lives was nominated for a National Book Award in 1973. Johnson received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977-1978, and in 1979 her novel Lying Low was a National Book Award nominee for fiction; also in that year, the American Academy of Arts and Letters presented Johnson with the Rosenthal Foundation Award. Johnson’s essay anthology Terrorists and Novelists was a finalist for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize, and her biography of Dashiell Hammett was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 1984. Persian Nights was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1988. From 1988 through 1992, the American Academy of Arts and Letters gave Johnson the Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Stipend. In 1992, Johnson received the Los Angeles Times Robert Kirsch Award for her overall literary accomplishments. Her book Le Divorce was a National Book Award finalist in the fiction category in 1997; the novel also received a California Book Awards Gold Medal. Le Divorce has been distributed internationally, and its film adaptation, directed by James Ivory, was released in 2003. Many of Johnson’s works have been best sellers and have been published in numerous European and Asian languages.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bell, Susan Groag. “Diane Johnson.” In Women Writers of the West Coast: Speaking of Their Lives and Careers, edited by Marilyn Yalom. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1983. Except for Bell’s introductory remarks, this chapter consists of Johnson’s remarks in a wide-ranging interview about her life, literary and social influences upon her work, and memorable experiences connected with her writing projects.

Johnson, Diane. “Diane Johnson.” Interview by Marilyn Yalom. In Women Writers of the West, by Marilyn Yalom. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1983. In a revealing conversation, Johnson speaks of the creative process and some of the main ideas of and influences on her writing.

Johnson, Diane. Interview by Larry McCaffery and Tom LeClair. In Anything Can Happen: Interviews with Contemporary American Authors, by Larry McCaffery and Tom LeClair. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983. Here Johnson reflects on her life, the writing of fiction, ideas in her novels, and the fiction of contemporary American novelists.

Ryan, Marjorie. “The Novels of Diane Johnson.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 16, no. 1 (1974): 53-63. In this critical essay, three of Johnson’s novels are assessed: Fair Game, Loving Hands at Home, and Burning.

Sage, Lorna. Women in the House of Fiction: Post-war Women Novelists. New York: Routledge, 1992. The author counts Johnson among the “movement” novelists and analyzes The Shadow Knows as a feminist text. Comparisons are drawn with Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat (1970) and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1986).