| John Steinbeck’s reputation as a great American writer is unparalleled. Before his death in 1968, he earned many distinguished literary awards, including the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize for literature. After his third novel was published, almost all of his books achieved best-seller status. The Grapes of Wrath alone has sold more than fourteen million copies (DeMott 190). Although many critics have felt his writing to be too sentimental and have been put off by the popular interest in his novels, there is certainly no lack of scholarly writing concerning his immense body of work. Even before his death, there was a need to organize this criticism in a bibliography.
My annotated bibliography seeks to update three previous Steinbeck bibliographies. The first, Tetsumaro Hayashi’s John Steinbeck: A Concise Bibliography (1930-1965), was published in 1967, a year before Steinbeck’s death. It includes an impressive list of primary materials, including major works, essays, newspaper reports, poetry, letters, recordings, and speeches. The second is Hayashi’s A New Steinbeck Bibliography 1929-1971, which he wrote to provide an up-to-date and more functional guide to Steinbeck studies than his first was. In 1998, Michael J. Meyer provided the second supplement to Hayashi’s original bibliography, aptly titled The Hayashi Steinbeck Bibliography, 1982-1996. Meyer’s volume is replete with almost 4000 entries and, unlike Hayashi’s bibliographies, includes translations and foreign editions, foreign language articles and book reviews, and foreign language books.
My bibliography includes books and articles that offer Steinbeck biographical information, literary criticism, and information on biography and criticism written in English from 1996-1999. I have excluded book reviews, newspaper articles, articles from popular magazines, and works that mention Steinbeck in passing. Even though Meyer’s bibliography is very comprehensive, my research turned up many articles from 1996 that he has not listed. I decided to include 1996 in my bibliography so there would be no gaps in the documentation of Steinbeck criticism for that year. To compile my bibliography, I used the following reference works: America: History and Life (ABC-CLIO), Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (ABELL), Dissertations Abstracts International (DAI), Education Index, Humanities Index, EbscoHost, Expanded Academic Index (Infotrac), MLA International Bibliography, Periodicals Contents Index, The Steinbeck Newsletter, WorldCat, and Year’s Work in English Studies (YWES).
I have arranged the main part of my bibliography in seven sections: biographical works, East of Eden criticism, The Grapes of Wrath criticism, Of Mice and Men criticism, other fiction criticism, non-fiction criticism, and general criticism. Entries are arranged in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. Following the annotated bibliography are four appendices for teaching/study aids, other media, theses and dissertations, and works about California as Steinbeck country.
There have been two major Steinbeck biographies published in recent years: Jackson J. Benson’s The True Adventures of John Steinbeck: Writer in 1984 and Jay Parini’s John Steinbeck: A Biography in 1995. Respected Steinbeck scholar Warren French has said of the two books, “if you really want to get to know John Steinbeck, if you begin with the Parini book, you will eventually have to read Benson: but if you begin with Benson you can skip Parini” (23). There is no need for another comprehensive biography, so the biographical books and essays on Steinbeck that appear in my time frame are either general biographies or highly specialized ones. Catherine Reef offers a very respectful and detailed account of Steinbeck’s life that is suitable for young adults and Roy Simmonds and Rhonda Sonnenberg have decided to focus exclusively on Steinbeck’s life during World War II. Of biographical interest to researchers is the publication of the catalog of Princeton’s Preston Beyer’s Steinbeck Collection and Robert B. Harmon’s annotated guide to biographical sources.
There were six articles written about East of Eden from 1996-Present. This is an extremely small amount of criticism for a book that Steinbeck considered his masterpiece. It does not seem that critics will ever give this novel the consideration Steinbeck felt it deserves. However, it is a positive sign that enough people felt it was significant enough to honor with an entire festival. The 12th Annual Brown-Forman Classics in Context Festival in 1996 featured a production of the novel as a play and lectures and discussion by leading Steinbeck scholars.
The Grapes of Wrath has always received more critical attention than any of his other works, so it was not surprising that almost a third of my bibliographic entries are for works about Grapes. It seems everyone except Steinbeck considers Grapes to be his masterpiece. Yet, in the past four years there have been no radically new ways to approach this novel. Most notable to its criticism is Peter Lisca’s second edition of The Grapes of Wrath: Text and Criticism. It includes many previously published essays that did not appear in his first edition. Kris Lackey’s consideration of the book as an American road novel in Roadframes: The American Highway Narrative was also interesting.
Compared to entries for Of Mice and Men in previous bibliographies, the three that are in mine represent a decline in criticism for this play-novelette. Perhaps critical interest sparked by the 1992 Gary Sinise film produced sufficient analysis of this work. This would explain why Lawrence Baines’ article that compares the novel to the film uses the 1939 version instead of the more recent one.
The section devoted to other fiction criticism includes criticism of specific works of fiction (all novels except a short piece on Steinbeck’s most famous short story, “The Chrysanthemums) that were only written about once in the past four years. Included are two pieces that treat works that I believe deserve more attention. The Steinbeck Yearbook will be published next year and will feature themed articles on The Winter of Our Discontent. Hopefully this volume will spark more interest in this marvelous novel that has been all but ignored by critics. The other piece, Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin’s “Social Satire in John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row” examines the satire in these two novels that have also been underestimated by critics.
There are six entries in the section on nonfiction criticism. Three of the six pieces address Steinbeck’s World War II reporting. There has been an obvious increase in this type of criticism since the 1980’s. Hayashi’s bibliographies include book reviews of Once There Was a War, the compilation of 66 of Steinbeck’s WWII articles, but it has no entries for criticism of these works. Meyer’s bibliography has approximately twenty-five entries (in English and foreign languages) on Steinbeck and WWII. In addition to the three pieces in the nonfiction section of my bibliography, there are three others that deal directly with Steinbeck’s involvement in WWII and several others that also treat this aspect in his life.
In 1943 Steinbeck spent four months in the European Theater of the war as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. The 86 dispatches that he made during this time and the following months have received very little attention until recently. This new interest was probably sparked by the 1996 publication of Roy Simmond’s John Steinbeck: The War Years, 1939-1945 and the almost simultaneous publication of Warren French’s John Steinbeck’s Nonfiction Revisited. All 86 dispatches can now be found under one cover in Robert B. Harmon’s 1997 John Steinbeck: World War II Correspondent: An Annotated Reference Guide.
Some of the most interesting works in Steinbeck studies in the past four years are included in the general criticism section. Joseph McElrath, Jesse S. Crisler, and Susan Shillinglaw’s compilation of the contemporary reviews of all of his major works will serve as an invaluable resource to Steinbeck scholars. Steinbeck’s works lend themselves well to critics in non-literary fields, so it is particularly exciting to read Steinbeck and the Environment: Interdisciplinary Approaches, James N. Gilbert’s “The Influence of John Steinbeck on American Social and Criminal Justice,” and Carren Irr’s “Queer Borders: Figures from the 1930’s for U.S.-Canadian Relations.”
I have also provided four appendices: teaching/study aids, other media, theses and dissertations, and Steinbeck Country. These checklists are not as inclusive as the main portion of my bibliography and, because of time restraints, are not annotated, but I feel they will also be a useful resource. A tremendous number of aids for teaching Steinbeck’s novels exist, but there is no published bibliography for them. My list only includes those published from 1996-Present, but they really deserve to be documented more extensively.
There have been many exciting developments in other media that treat Steinbeck’s works in this time period, including CD-ROMs of The Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl, The Red Pony, and Of Mice and Men. They include the full text of the novel, the full text of Jackson J. Benson’s definitive biography, The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer, and many pictures, newsreels, and video and sound clips. Since Websites were missing from Meyer’s book, I have also added the names and URLs for some scholarly Steinbeck Websites to this list.
The great number of theses and dissertations listed in Meyer’s and my bibliography (about 75 written from 1982-Present) attests to Steinbeck’s acceptance in the academic community. Critics have not always taken his work seriously. As James Gray puts it, there was a tendency for early critics to view “him as a kind of naïve natural genius who, having limited resources of technique and an even more severely limited vocabulary, blundered occasionally into displays of impressive, if brutal, power” (1202). However, all of the articles and books of criticism produced from 1996-Present have been completely respectful to Steinbeck’s works. Some may find fault with aspects of his writing, but none challenge his established reputation as a great writer.
Finally, I have included an appendix that lists articles written about California as Steinbeck Country. Meyer, too, included these works in his bibliography. Most of Steinbeck’s novels and short stories take place in Monterey County, and a full understanding of the man and his works would not be complete without an understanding of the land that he writes about. Many of these articles describe and provide pictures of Steinbeck Country, proving that Steinbeck possessed an incredible power of description.