November 5, 2020 – 07:48 am

The Dramatic Landscape of Steinbeck's Short Stories, and: The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, and: New Essays on "The Grapes of Wrath", and: Inside Cannery Row: Sketches from the Steinbeck Era (review)

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Curiously enough, in view of the critical tides of our times, the literary reputation of John Steinbeck seems to be undergoing a positive reassessment within academic circles. Of course, Steinbeck's popularity has never waned with the general reader, both here and abroad; most nonacademic students of his work probably would rank him with the "Big Three" of modern American fiction—Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner. Although the academic stock of this triumverate is marked by mixed losses and gains, after all they are "D.W.M.s" (Dead White Males), the Steinbeck market looks decidedly bullish. The reasons for this upturn are somewhat difficult to discern, as Steinbeck's work seems as little amenable to the new "political correctness" or the new critical arcana as it was to the old New Republic liberalism or the old New Criticism. Steinbeck's attitude toward the "Other, " especially as manifested in nonmale and nonwhite characters, makes the sensitive reader as nervous as any of the masters in the old canon.

Perhaps the main reason for Steinbeck's re-establishment is simply an instance of the Emersonian law of compensation; his fiction was so critically underrated for so long that the pendulum had to swing back toward him once again. Steinbeck at his best really is a fine writer, an American master accessible to both learned and general readers, an interesting place to occupy in the continuing battle of the canons. More immediate reasons for his rising stock probably include the omniverous appetite of academic criticism; if Steinbeck does not lend himself to deconstruction, he does yield to biographical, psychological, social, and textual study. Jackson Benson's monumental biography, The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer, marked a turning point in Steinbeck studies in 1984. In short order the fiftieth anniversaries of Steinbeck's major fictions of the 1930s have produced a surge of interest, capped by at least a dozen books of all sorts in recognition of his single masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). Interestingly enough, the four books reviewed here concern themselves with Steinbeck's most important and accessible work—the stories, short novels, and popular successes—for the most part from biographical, social, and textual perspectives. It is a pleasure to report that all four are themselves accessible, readable, and valuable in terms of critical insight.

Source: muse.jhu.edu

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