Read The Long Valley Online

Authors: John Steinbeck

The Long Valley

BOOK: The Long Valley
11.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Table of Contents
Born in Salinas, California, in 1902, John Steinbeck grew up in a fertile agricultural valley about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast—and both valley and coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree. During the next five years he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City and then as caretaker for a Lake Tahoe estate, all the time working on his first novel,
Cup of Gold
(1929). After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California fictions,
The Pastures of Heaven
(1932) and
To a God Unknown
(1933), and worked on short stories later collected in
The Long Valley
(1938). Popular success and financial security came only with
Tortilla Flat
(1935), stories about Monterey’s paisanos. A ceaseless experimenter throughout his career, Steinbeck changed courses regularly. Three powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class:
In Dubious Battle
Of Mice and Men
(1937), and the book considered by many his finest,
The Grapes of Wrath
(1939). Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker with
The Forgotten Village
(1941) and a serious student of marine biology with
Sea of Cortez
(1941). He devoted his services to the war, writing
Bombs Away
(1942) and the controversial play-novelette
The Moon Is Down
Cannery Row
The Wayward Bus
The Pearl
A Russian Journal
(1948), another experimental drama,
Burning Bright
(1950), and
The Log from the
Sea of Cortez (1951) preceded publication of the monumental
East of Eden
(1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family’s history. The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. Later books include
Sweet Thursday
The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication
Once There Was
The Winter of Our Discontent
Travels with Charley in Search of America
America and Americans
(1966), and the posthumously published
Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters
Viva Zapata!
The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights
(1976), and
Working Days: The Journals of
The Grapes of Wrath (1989). He died in 1968, having won a Nobel Prize in 1962.
John H. Timmerman, Professor of English at Calvin College and former editor of the scholarly journal
Christianity and Literature,
has published extensively, in both books and articles, on twentieth-century literature.
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario,
Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland
(a division of Pengum Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124,
Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park,
New Delhi - 110 017, India
Pengum Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand
(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Pengum Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published m the United States of America by The Viking Press 1938
Published in a Viking Compass edition 1956
Published in Penguin Books 1986
This edition with an introduction and notes by John H. Timmerman
published in Penguin Books 1995
Copyright John Steinbeck, 1938
Copyright renewed John Stembeck, 1966
Introduction and notes copyright © John H. Timmerman, 1995
All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Stembeck, John, 1902-1968.
The long valley / John Steinbeck ;
with an introduction by John H. Timmerman.
p. cm.—(Penguin twentieth-century classics)
eISBN : 978-1-440-67406-8
1. Salinas River Valley (Calif)—Social life and customs—
Fiction. I. Title. II. Series.
PS3537.T3234L6 1995
813’.52—dc20 95-6766
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any
other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.
Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage
electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Nearly lost among the reviews and critical studies that erupted following publication of John Steinbeck’s
The Grapes of Wrath
is an early master’s thesis written by Merle Danford, a graduate student at Ohio University in 1938. The thesis is notable now, perhaps, only because it was the first written on Steinbeck’s work and because it elicited direct commentary from Steinbeck himself in response to a list of questions Danford sent him. Edited by Robert DeMott and published as “Voltaire Didn’t Like Anything: A 1939 Interview with John Steinbeck,” the questions, along with Steinbeck’s terse answers, provide an interesting psychological map to the author’s literary attitude at the time.
Danford’s request arrived when Steinbeck was deep into the long, hard pull of writing
The Grapes of Wrath.
It is surprising that Steinbeck took the time to respond to it at all during those days when he regretted every interruption. “It scares me to be late,” he confessed in his writing journal, since published as
Working Days: The Journals of
The Grapes of Wrath. Exasperated by the interruptions to his writing—negotiations for the purchase of a new house, the sudden illness of his wife, Carol, an unrelenting stream of visitors and letters—Steinbeck announced in one diary entry: “So many things are going on I’m nearly crazy.” Given the incredible writing pace he set for himself, the endless demands upon his time and attention, and, perhaps especially, his general low regard for critical inquiries about his work, one begins to understand the acerbic tone that punctuates his responses to Danford’s questionnaire.
From the perspective of the graduate student, Steinbeck’s major works at the time were
Tortilla Flat, In Dubious Battle, Of Mice and Men,
and the just recently released
The Long Valley.
Almost dutifully at first, Steinbeck responded to the questions, then his patience wore thin until, by the time questions arose about the critical reception to
The Long Valley,
there was virtually no patience left, and Steinbeck concluded with a note of apology:
Dear Miss Danford:
I haven’t wanted to be flippant. The curious hocus-pocus of criticism I can’t take seriously. It consists in squirreling up some odd phrases and then waiting for a book to come running by.
And as to the question as to what I mean by—or what my philosophy is—I haven’t the least idea. And if I told you one, it wouldn’t be true. I don’t like people to be hurt or hungry or unnecessarily sad. It’s just about as simple as that. Sorry I can’t go into an erudite discussion. I could if I hadn’t promised to be straight with you. I hope this wasn’t just a mess to you.
John Steinbeck
When one confronts such a comment, the act of assessing the literary history and critical reception of an author’s work seems slightly irreverent.
Yet this important and essential point, at least, surfaced in the cryptic responses Steinbeck gave as he dutifully fulfilled his obligation to Ms. Danford: He told the stories that he wanted to, the stories that he had heard or lived, stories of genuinely human characters in all their raw need or desperate yearning. And he told them without concern for critical approval or censure. At one point in Danford’s questionnaire Steinbeck protested: “Look! This is too complicated. I just write stories.” This attitude toward writing indeed flavors the stories of
The Long Valley,
but to capture that telling wholly, one must also capture the story behind the stories, for they arise out of particular contexts that shape the force and voice of each narrative.
One of the early misperceptions of
The Long Valley
was that the volume of stories represents a unified whole in the way that, for example, Steinbeck’s earlier
The Pastures of Heaven
(1932) presents individual short episodes that link together into a narrative and thematic whole. In fact, the stories of
The Long Valley
were crafted at different periods, most of them were published independently, and their collection in a volume was at the encouragement of Steinbeck’s friend and editor Pascal Covici. Covici had earlier published three special limited-edition printings of individual stories: a 370-copy edition of
Nothing so Monstrous
in mid-1936; a 199-copy Christmas edition of
Saint Katy the Virgin
in late 1936; and a 699-copy edition of
The Red Pony
in 1937. With his firm, Covici-Friede Publishers, deep in debt in 1938 and Steinbeck’s works beginning to attract a wider audience, Covici wanted to bring out a new collection of stories. About this time Covici moved to Viking Press, taking the collection with him.
The Long Valley
was published in September 1938 by Viking and reached the bestseller lists, justifying Covici’s judgment.
The real story behind the stories, however, takes place some years earlier. It begins in one sense with the birth of John Ernst Steinbeck on February 27, 1902, in the small California town of Salinas. His parents were respectable members of the community. Indeed, their sprawling house on Central Avenue and their evident prosperity bespoke the genteel advances of this town as it moved into the twentieth century. Underneath the patina of gentility, however, remained the more notorious elements of what was essentially a rough-and-tumble California frontier town, fortunately tucked amid some of the world’s most fertile land. John Steinbeck grew up well aware of that side of Salinas and that shadowed side of human nature. He worked with migrants on the huge Spreckels Ranch; he investigated the surrounding region; he traipsed across the rolling, sunny hills and into the dark forests; he grew restless. All the while, his imagination recorded stories. By the time he enrolled in Stanford University in 1919, his head was stuffed full of them. All he really wanted to study was writing.
BOOK: The Long Valley
11.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

A Little Wild by Kate St. James
Obsidian Ridge by Lebow, Jess
Corruption of Blood by Robert Tanenbaum
To Tempt A Rogue by Adrienne Basso
Taking Aim at the Sheriff by Delores Fossen
Bound by Bliss by Lavinia Kent
Among Flowers by Jamaica Kincaid
The Girl Behind the Mask by Stella Knightley