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Lot 71: Steinbeck, John. A comprehensive archive of fourteen typed and autograph letters signed.
July 11, 2014
Calabasas, CA, USALive Auction
71. Steinbeck, John. A comprehensive archive of fourteen typed and autograph letters signed in which John Steinbeck reflectively documents important life events such as his son leaving for Vietnam and his thoughts upon winning the Nobel Prize in literature.
Written in his pensive prose, this archive provides highly important insight into the most significant moments in John Steinbeck’s personal and professional life.
Author of The Grapes of Wrath, which is celebrating its 75th year, John Steinbeck’s archive of letters is an intimate portrait of his life. In his first letter, Steinbeck discusses his novel, Tortilla Flat, which paved his way to becoming a famous writer. In a typed letter signed to Moore, most likely Harry Thronton Moore who wrote a critical analysis of John Steinbeck novels in 1939, he states: Your forwarded letter arrived some days ago. I find I want to answer it and yet am at a loss how to do so. I am very happy at your reaction to my work, a reaction which is very, very rare. Indeed the week before, a committee of citizens asked that my books be removed from the shelves of the local library. There was a reaction anyway. He continues to discuss how his background is littered throughout his stories. He calls upon a professor from Stanford University that has been kind enough to help me at various times. Perhaps he would this time. I am working now on the last chapters of another book which should be all done by the end of February. At the end of the letter, Steinbeck is unsure of the book will be published, but hopes it will in London. The “last chapters” he mentions is from Tortilla Flat.
Steinbeck’s novels, such as The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, center on social issues of the time including employment and economics. Through his letters, one can see that Steinbeck was very passionate about the state of America during the Great Depression and beyond. In a postcard to Mahlon Blaine postmarked 11 March 1938, he states: I’ve been over in the valley for some time. …10,000 people starving, really starving. It will take some time to recuperate financially. I’m a pushover for a guy who hasn’t eaten for four days and I’m a pushover for hungry kids. At the time of this important letter, Steinbeck was writing The Grapes of Wrath, a novel about Dust Bowl migrants and their exploitation by a ruthless system of agricultural economics. During this time, Steinbeck made trips to the Valley for Life magazine to report on the desperate situation in the flooded area around Visalia. While the article did not make publication due to its liberal language, photographs of the issue were published a year later as well as a short article on the novel.
In 1951, Steinbeck spent the year working on his epic novel, East of Eden, a work that demonstrates his technical prowess in the method of syncretic allegory. He mentions its progress in an autograph letter signed, John, to friends, Joyce and Jules Buck: We have a house on the beach and I am to get some exercise. Haven’t heard from Gary so I judge things go well with him—or not. But I think I would hear if not. My book moves along. It is going to be awfully long but I still find it interesting. I guess a long one has to be interesting. It is on schedule any way and should be done by November. The novel took over his life as he immersed himself in its prose. It is believed that the novel affected Steinbeck deeply and seemed to be a vessel for him to put himself together after some difficult times in life. “With the successful completion of the novel, he became a whole man again. It was what might be called a ‘healing’ [Jackson J. Benson, John Steinbeck, Writer]. An important letter, written in his hand, to his son, John Steinbeck IV, speaks in metaphor that offers protection to his war-bound son. Days before shipping for Vietnam, the letter dates 8 May 1966 and Steinbeck writes: The ugly looking monkey enclosed can be your mascot. There is no question that she is eternal—at least in human history. Ishtar, she was and Ashtoreth and Astarte. She was always the moon and she made people crazy. This particular example is from a Caananite city named Hazor. She was one of their baals, which seems to mean a god or goddess. She was Ishtar and the Jews were always having trouble with her. She made them do what the bible calls ‘commit abominations.’ In the digging of her temple, they found a stone mould for the pouring of votive figures and this lady is modern bronze but she was not one for fruitfulness. Her nose is atrocious. Maybe they one did some sharpening. Any way she’s yours. Her head dress is of course, the new moon She’ll bring you luck but whether good or bad luck is the question. To make her friendly to you I am enclosing a little abomination money. Ill call you when I have anything to report. Two weeks after this letter was written, Steinbeck and his son had lunch with President Lyndon Johnson. Steinbeck wrote a letter to Johnson expressing how proud his son was to wear uniform and stand for his country. However, Steinbeck Junior was quickly disheartened while in Vietnam and vigorously opposed the war, joining the peace movement and becoming an alternative media underground journalist. Continuing on a political vein, Steinbeck expresses his fear about the direction of where the country is going. In a letter written to a Dear Bill on 19 September 1958, he writes: The Maine elections seem to prove what the California elections indicated—that the Democrats are going to be swept back into office. This trend (and how I hate that word) has nothing to do with virtue on the part of the Democrats…I guess the reason I care about this is that I love my country and I know it cannot possibly survive without virtue, honesty, intelligence and dignity. It hasn’t a chance. The recipient is most likely Bill Dekker, his sister’s husband, with whom Steinbeck became great friends. On a more personal note, in an autograph letter signed to his contemporary, Ed Sheehan, on 1 August 1963, he remarks on his feeling of receiving the Nobel Prize for literature: You say you felt when you had got the prize. That’s exactly what I felt when Ernest Hemingway got it. It was completely unreal when I got it—a kind of fantasy. In a second autograph letter signed to Lawrence Langner, principal founder of the Theatre Guild, his modesty regarding his prize win can be seen: Your lovely wire made the whole thing better. I think one of the very nicest things we have found out is that our friends care. I don’t know whether I deserve the prize or not. That’s for the cut-glass critics to growl and grumble about. But I do know I am glad to get it. And wouldn’t I be a fool if I weren’t. Steinbeck received two Nobel Prizes: One for The Grapes of Wrath and a second prize, thirty-two years later, in Literature.
This important archive is a complete narrative of Steinbeck’s extraordinary life as a fiction writer and reporter. He mentions views on politics and criticisms of his works. He also continues personal correspondences, one of which touches on his trip around the world after marrying his second wife, Elaine.
$12,000 - $18,000