Stegner uses picnic to contradict the expectation of the good times the word usually denotes.

According to her grandson Lyman Ward, who is writing her life story, Susan Burling’s marriage to Oliver Ward was no picnic. She gave up a promising career as an illustrator in New York when she married Oliver, a mining engineer, and followed him west to New Almaden, a barely civilized mining town in California. As with many women, Susan willingly subsumed her life into her husband’s, but not without deep feelings of regret. “Poor Grandmother.” Lyman surmises, “She might have lived an idyll in her honeymoon cottage in the picnic West if her heart had not bled eastward.” 

*The angle of repose denotes the steepest angle of the slope of an inclined plane, such as a pile of dirt, before it begins to slump and loses stability. Stegner uses the term as a metaphor for Susan Ward’s ability to keep herself intact and stable in the face of adversity. The novel is partly based on Mary Hallock Foote’s memoirs and letters  (unpublished) and literary fiction. New Almaden is 12 miles south of San Jose. Beginning in 1845, New Almaden Mine was among the chief sources of mercury.

 

New Almaden is 12 mile south of San Jose. Mined mercury beginning in 1845.

See  Wallace Stegner. Angle of Repose. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1971; Mary Hallock Foote. A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West the Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote. Edited by Rodman W. Paul. San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library, 1972.