First published handwritten manuscript of The Grapes of Wrath | Books


The handwritten manuscript of John Steinbeck’s masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath appears for the first time with the swear words cut out of the published novel and the urgency with which the author wrote.

Written in less than 100 days between May and October 1938, The Grapes of Wrath was Steinbeck’s attempt to record the migrant transitions he reported as a journalist for the San Francisco News. The author, who had already published Of Mice and Men at the age of 36, felt enormous pressure and responsibility to get his story right and wrote in his diary at the time: “This has to be a good book. It just has to be. I have no choice. It has to be by far the best I’ve ever tried – slowly but surely, piling up detail after detail until a picture and an experience emerge. “

Independent press SP books will publish the manuscript version of the novel on October 7th. Filled with the tiny handwriting of Steinbeck, it begins with the words NEW START in capital letters. Steinbeck had already tried to write about the migrant experience at L’Affaire Lettuceberg but had destroyed his previous attempt.

The author also notes “Big Writing” at the beginning, presumably to remind himself to keep his handwriting legible for his typist and proofreader, his first wife Carol Steinbeck. Even so, his font keeps shrinking as he races to his end, missing commas, capital letters, periods, and quotation marks. At the end of chapter eight he notes “Chapter 8 ends, too, a long son of a bitch,” writes “halfway” when he reaches page 98, and scrawls END just below his last line. “She looked up and over the barn and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously,” Steinbeck wrote on October 26, 1938 at the end of the novel.

“From start to finish, Steinbeck’s manuscript demonstrates the determination with which he approached the task with relentless determination and discipline,” said SP Books, who have published facsimiles of the original manuscripts of novels, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and JM Barries Peter Pan and Wendy .

There are hardly any strikings or paraphrases in the manuscript, although the original shows how the Viking Press publisher cut out Steinbeck’s dozen uses of the word “fuck” to make the novel less controversial. It also struck out two sentences accusing tenants of socialism and Bolshevism and attacking sacred property rights.

The manuscript itself, the only one from The Grapes of Wrath, is kept in the archives of the University of Virginia. Steinbeck researcher Susan Shillinglaw said: “Seeing an author’s handwriting means approaching the source of inspiration,” she described as a “powerful moment”.

“The writing begins with a large hand and becomes smaller and smaller as the text progresses, so that you can feel Steinbeck’s urgency. He wanted to capture the story as it happened, and he actually succeeded. The manuscript points to the sheer weight of the task he undertook – recording the plight of migrants in California in the late 1930s – and the urgency of his storytelling, “said the scholar.

Shillinglaw noted that the facsimile reproduced the feeble “slut” at the end of the manuscript, a word she referred to as “an archival mystery.” “Did his wife Carol playfully write that word in red and then delete it? Has anyone in the University of Virginia archives defaced the manuscript? ”She said. “I suspect the latter, but we’ll never know for sure. But this facsimile does not go around the topic, but contains the faint traces on the last page. “

The manuscript also reveals, Shillinglaw added, how much Carol was involved in the project. “Steinbeck wrote books in his head before he sat down on paper, and he knew the shape of the book (for example the final scene) at the beginning. But seeing how much work his wife Carol had before her is daunting, ”she said. “She typed the manuscript, the daily pages every evening, and she not only had to decipher his writing, but also mark paragraph breaks, clarify the spelling when the Joads spoke – the dialect is not always easy to transcribe … Of course, the entire script is from Steinbeck” . But Carol brought the book to life, as the dedication indicates. “

Once a reader gets used to Steinbeck’s handwriting, it is “fairly easy” to decipher the manuscript, Shillinglaw said, especially at the beginning. “When Steinbeck extends his prose to the very edge and to the top of the page, his font becomes smaller. But that in itself is a miracle: The concentration and focus becomes clear on these pages. It’s amazing to see, ”she said.

The estate of John Steinbeck said they “always work to promote the author’s works”. “Whenever possible, the estate endeavors to introduce new editions of legitimate works that can provide additional insight into the works and creative process of John Steinbeck,” said a statement on the republication.

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