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The Real Treasure of Califia in M. D. Coverley’s Novel "Califia"
An essay on M. D. Coverley's "Califia"
M. D. Coverley’s Califia is an interactive, hypertext novel that experiments with multi-vocal storytelling. The first of two major novels by the artist, it was produced in 2000 on the Toolbook 2.0 platform and published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. for the Windows operating system on CD-ROM. It tells the story of three people whose lives, intertwined by various family connections and location, search for the fabled Treasure of Califia. A major theme driving the narrative is The American Dream, or rather the stuff such dreams the three main characters––Augusta Summerville, Kaye Beveridge, and Cal (Calvino) Lugo–think it should be made of rather than what it really ends up to be.
The treasure they seek is the a “cache of gold” that was “originally mined in the Sierras” but “brought to Los Angeles in the 1850s” and later “lost.” The story begins with Augusta recounting her father having possession over some of the treasure’s gold coins that he would move around the hills of the family property on Whitley Heights making sure she could remember their location for a rainy day. That rainy day arrives many years later in Augusta’s life when divorce and a failing real estate career leaves her desperate for money, the promise of wealth and comfort dashed. Returning to the location she last remembered the coins to have been buried, Augusta finds they are not there. Thus, begins her get-rich-quick scheme to find it, a journey entailing a lengthy and winding search for treasure with friends Kaye and Cal.
Narrative StructureCoverley builds her narrative structure temporally and spatially, linking the characters’ past, present, and future through maps, both treasure and geographical; a solar table; star charts; and other wayfinding tools, such as footsteps leading them through the plot, Cal’s KitBag containing a host of tools for finding their way, messages beckoning readers to “Follow Me” and “Come ashore,” and clickable arrows pointing to places to visit. The solar table that readers encounter in the story’s introduction, however, provides the foundation for understanding the many paths and trails the characters take through the narrative.
- South 1 The Comets in the Yard: Augusta Summerfield’s Path
- East II, Wind, Sand, and Stars: Cal Lugo’s Path
- North III, the Night of the Bear: Kay Beveridge’s Path
- West IV, The Journey Out, where the story “triverges,” and readers can “take a different direction through the terrain.”
South 1, entitled “The Comets in the Yard,” details Augusta’s “chronological” narrative. “Comets,” here, is the code word her father uses for gold, and so she recounts memories of her childhood growing up in Southern California and promise the area held for her and her family. East II, Wind, Sand, and Stars belongs to Cal, a would-be screenwriter who dabbles in “docudramas.” North III, the Night of the Bear, is Kaye’s Path told through the New Age character’s interest in “legends, family myths, geological certainties.” West IV, The Journey Out is where the story “triverges,” and readers can “take a different direction through the terrain.” Readers can click on “To set off NOW click here” and be taken to the Califia Roadhead. At each of the four junctures readers can explore the story further through “Landmarks,” or follow the characters’ paths.
While it is Augusta’s voice that dominants the story, recounting chronologically the three characters’ search for gold, Cal’s and Kaye’s provide depth and insights needed for making sense of the complicated family ties and understanding the drive for treasure that has pervaded the five generations of Summerfields and Beveridges.
Starting on the JourneyThe story opens with the line, “Once there was an Island called California where dreams came true . . . Come ashore.” This allusion to California Island is derived from Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo’s epic poem, “Las sergas de Esplandián” (“The Adventures of Esplandián,” 1500), that recounts the story of the fictional queen Califia who rules the island of California. Like Coverley’s novel, de Montalvo’s poem also involves the search of riches never realized. Clicking on “Come ashore,” readers are taken to the start of Augusta’s narrative where they learn about Augusta’s past: her family’s hidden gold and her father’s hard work to keep it safe and available to her. We follow Augusta’s footsteps through this narrative clicking on “Follow Me” several times before reaching the journey taking place in the present. In this narrative, Augusta has already banded together with Kaye and Cal, and readers are invited to join in as “fellow searchers” to help them find the gold.
Readers arrive at the “Roadhead of Califia” where they learn that the story is narrated by all three characters. Augusta provides the “chronological narrative” of all “foray to the South, East, North, and the continuing journey West.” Cal contributes with advice about “navigation,” “data,” “diagrams” and “Docudramas.” Kaye relays “her family myths and historical legends, star lore and insights from the spirits.” Readers are promised that they will discover “the real location of the Treasure of Califia.” Introduced are the tools the early explorers used for navigating the region: Solar Tables, Celestrial Navigation, and Dead Reckoning.” It is at that point the story takes shapes into “four Journeys” laid out along the solar table in four directions, mentioned previously
On the Quest for TreasureAs mentioned, South 1 takes readers through Augusta’s Trail where readers get the “backstory” that Cal asks Augusta to write as if her life were a “screenplay.” The trail also leads to the story, “Comets in the Yard,” about her childhood memory of her father Jack and his work to keep the gold safely hidden in the hills at a location Augusta later forgets, and to “A Visit to Paradise,” an episode in the present where Augusta, Kaye, and Cal go to “Paradise Home Convalarium” where Violet Summerfield, Augusta’s mother, has gone to live out her years while struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease. From exploring this path readers learn that the home was once owned by a woman named La Reina, a former madam and “companion of Christian Beveridge,” until her death in 1939. Thus, the link between Augusta and Kaye is established through this geographical site associated with easy money and loss.
Paradise Home is also where the three characters pull together details from “manuscripts, photos, and files” from Augusta’s family past that may provide clues to the location of the treasure. The narrative also includes Augusta’s story about visiting her mother in the home. On one visit she learns that a resident had been collecting all of the toilet tissue in the ward thinking they are “rolls of greenbacks,” the obsession of money etched deeply in his psyche. With her mother Augusta finds two men, one with a loose tie to the film industry as a piano player “between movie features” and the other, a “non-stop yarn-spinner who swore he’s made millions on furs in Alaska” who attempts to sell Augusta “the chaise lounge” he had been sitting in. Augusta’s mother cannot remember that her husband Jack had just died, but at the mention of the word “lawyer,” she mumbles to her daughter about the ”very treasure,” a garbled attempt at reminding Augusta about the family’s buried gold. Readers are left with the knowledge that this resource would be all that is left to pay for Augusta’s and mother’s continued care.
The story continues with Augusta returning home and going through a journal left to the family by Jack’s forebear Pretinella. It seems that the Summerfields come from a long line of treasure-seekers looking for the Califia cache. This theme of get-rich-quick is carried through in the present when Augusta comes across the message from a man who had offered her father “thousands of dollars” for the family’s “worthless” land that would be used for “WindPower exploration.” Augusta sets off with Kaye and Cal to Mojave to talk to him about his offer.
Readers arrive at a screen containing the four paths again along with The Journey Map showing the trip to Mojave. It is here that readers learn that Kaye arrives at Augusta’s home looking like a “fortune-teller” four days after Jack’s death and inquiring about the family gold and Augusta’s neighbor Cal. Augusta has already become familiar with Cal, who has been watching Augusta while she digs on the hills. With little prospects of finding the treasure herself––as she puts it, “time is money, information is wealth”––Augusta agrees to Kaye’s suggestion to bring her neighbor Cal over to plot their treasure hunting and drive to Mojave together to negotiate the land deal.
Soon Kaye has moved in with Augusta, and Cal is over every day going through the family papers collected from the lawyer and kept in the Summerfield home, trying to piece together the land deal and the Treasure of Califia. With Kaye’s knowledge of the stars, they plot out the shape of the Big Dipper on a hill of the property. Sure enough, they find a “Blue Blanket . . . wrapped around the most delicious pile of gold coins”––not the vast fortune they had hoped for but enough for Augusta to pay Kaye and Cal back for their help with Violet’s upkeep at Paradise Home and for a bit of Augusta’s own support. Bundled with the coins, however, is a copy of the Baja Mission Gold Mine Map that promises even more riches. It is the gold that has bedeviled generations of families and now taunts them. Time passes, and Augusta and her friends continue to collect information that may lead them to the gold. A letter addressed to Violet arrives from Augusta’s Aunt Rosalind, her father’s “long-estranged sister,” expressing condolences over Jack’s death and asking for his obituary.
Paths ConvergeThe story converges with Rosalind’s letters that describe her success as a young archer, early women pilot, and assistant to the actress Bette Davis. Working with Davis was a “crewman” Tibby Lugo whose grandmother, La Reina Lugo, knew Rosalind’s mother. The letter also outlines and verifies information Augusta had already guessed at: Her father had been stymied in finding treasure and making money off his land by a syndicate greedy to gain and maintain control. The fire in L.A.’s Chinatown and a plane shot down on the property were both part of the group’s effort to cheat the Summerfields and others. Juxtaposed against this greed and rancor is Rosalind’s relationship with Davis, which was a lasting one resulting in Davis giving Rosalind “fine” jewelry as gifts. Rosalind used this treasure for investing in movie productions, which she admits is a form of “gambling” and not that different than the pursuit of the Treasure of Califia that she had rejected. The letter reveals to Violet that Rosalind sent the jewelry to Augusta’s mother.
The three drive to San Simeon to visit Rosalind at her home. The woman now “shrunken and frail” recognizes both Kaye and Cal, calling the man by his full name––Calvino Lugo. Readers learn that Cal didn’t realize until that point that he was “descended from the Lugos.” But it dawns upon Augusta that it was Rosalind who had paid for Cal’s tuition for art school. Cal also learns that his father was Tibby Lugo, a pilot and the mechanic who had worked on Amelia Earhart’s planes, and that his mother Quintana had died in the L. A. Chinatown fire. He had been sent to live with La Reina and, then, his uncle who was a ranch hand at Tejon. Tibby had asked Rosalind for help with getting Cal, a boy with “astonishing red hair,” adopted into a good family where he would not be “hindered by his background, not be brought up with his relatives at the Tejon, but have an education, an opportunity.” Though taken in by foster parents, Cal had to be returned to the State. Not even the successful Rosalind could save him from the system because she was single at the time. The revelation of Cal’s heritage also results in Cal and Kaye realizing that they could be “kissing cousins” who descended from the same “great, great-grandfather” and that Cal is related to the real estate dealer from the Milton clan that had cheated Augusta’s father out of his fortune and Kramer Milton, the “alleged rapist and murderer.” Kaye, who has developed a romantic interest in Cal, also guesses a far less happy truth: that Cal’s mother was Nellie, a relative of hers, which would actually make him a cousin.
The three return to visit Rosalind the next day for tea. On that day she recounts on Cal’s tape recorder about his father John whose investments and holdings were evidence of “the western version of the American Dream––the poor boy striding into a wilderness and carving out an empire.” She goes on to remind the three that a lot of people “followed that dream in Los Angeles” and the “region was wide open for fortune-hunting.” But it was a false dream eaten up by groups of men taking over industries and leaving others, like her family, with “nothing to show for it but an old Baja Mission Gold Mine Map, a blanket corner with a drawing of the big dipper, and a dream.” Her father’s obsession to find the gold drove him to failure not success. The visit with Rosalind nets the three much information about the families and their many woes in their pursuit of the American Dream. Augusta’s father had been shot in the eye in one of the many violent attempts of the powerful to retain control over land and money. The jewelry that Rosalind had sent Violet and Jack had been squandered on Jack’s pursuit for treasure rather than saved for his daughter. Rosalind wisely tells them that “[t]he gold bars and the nuggets are in the gold mine, I have no doubt. But happiness, in my experience, is not.” She tells Cal that the pearls Davis had given her––the only jewelry Rosalind kept of the trove––was waiting for him in a “storage locker at the San Pedro Harbor with [his] birth information.” She then reveals that what Kaye had already thought: that Cal’s mother was Nellie Clare Beveridge.
Treasure, RevealedWhat Augusta discovers from her journey is the comfort she did not possess at its start: two good friends, some money to pay for her mother’s care for a few more months, and most importantly knowledge. When she is called to Paradise Home where her mother is struggling for her last breath, Augusta rejects the directive that would keep her off life support. After Violet dies en route to the hospital, her funeral––pre-paid by Augusta’s father––was large and populated by people with whom Violet had done charity work. Hers had been a rich life different from her husband’s unhappy cravings. Afterward, Augusta makes the decision to sell her condo, and Kaye discards of her own home to move in with Augusta. Cal now recognized as Kaye’s family and part of Augusta’s life completes the cache of gold she finds. As Augusta moves through her family’s home where grandparents, parents, and siblings lived and she will continue to inhabit with her new family beside her, images of old Hollywood Boulevard come to her, and she imagines the music “floating up” through the “windows.” Things are, at that moment in all of their lives, “all right.” The treasure she found was not the Califia gold her father had sought so hard to find but the riches found in her family stories, the friends she had made in Kaye and Cal, and comfort of living in the present with acceptance of its past, and willingness to front its future.
Coverley’s Novel as TreasureThe novel has generated interest from scholars and critics over its 20-year history. The ELMCIP database shows that it has been used as a teaching resource and as the basis of many critical writings. Readers wanting to gain a deeper understanding of its contributions to the field can turn to any of the references found there. Recommended however are Raine Koskimaa’s “Digital Literature: From Text to Hypertext and Beyond” (2000), his dissertation on the subject of hypertextuality and literature and the one of the first scholarly works to address the novel. Marie-Laure Ryan’s Avatars of Story (2006) charts the novel’s shift away from the “forking path” structure so popular with earlier hypertext novels (150-152), choosing instead to “triverge” in the storyline. Astrid Ensslin’s Canonizing Hypertext: Explorations and Constructions (2007) does an excellent job outlining the “feminist approach to the history of California,” citing Carolyn Guertin’s own scholarship on this topic (97). Jaishree Odin’s Hypertext and the Female Imaginary (2010) looks at the work through the lens of the “assemblage quality of new media writing,” connecting its legend to the myth of the Spider Woman found in the lore of indigenous American lore (105-107). More recently the novel is referenced in Scott Rettberg’s Electronic Literature (2019) and noted for “its rich use of images” and “diverse array of different types of textual artifacts” running “across a significant span of time” (83). Jennifer Dellnar’s presentation at ELO 2019, entitled “Revisiting Califia: “Here the Path [T]riverges” offers a “re-reading” of the work’s “hidden critical apparatus.” She mentions that Coverley’s novel was not included in the Pathfinder’s project that Stuart Moulthrop and I published in 2017, perhaps because it did not “mark a moment in the critical history of electronic literature.” It is important to note that the reason the novel was not included in that publication was due to the need to focus on a finite number of born-digital works that had been published on fragile 5.25 and 3.5-inch floppy disks that, in some cases, had been lost to the public. Also left out of that same publication were Michael Joyce’s ground-breaking afternoon, a story and Moulthrop’s own important Victory Garden, both of which are included in this book, along with Coverley’s Califia. As I mention in the introduction of this volume, the goal of Rebooting Electronic Literature is to document all of the treasures in my personal collection, starting first with the 48 published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. Done correctly, this effort will take some years to complete.