xvideos - porn videos

John Steinbeck: To A God Unknown

Long ago I’d expressed an interest in reading the works of John Steinbeck in chronological order, starting with Cup Of Gold, his account of Sir Henry Morgan’s piratic life, and then immediately lost track of that aim. I’ve returned to it now, albeit with a slight ‘administrative’ error, in that I’ve come next to To A God Unknown (1933), rather than The Pastures Of Heaven, published the prior year.

Year of publication aside, To A God Unknown took Steinbeck the greatest number of years of any of his works to write, so if the year of publication doesn’t precede The Pastures Of Heaven, the idea certainly does. In fact, as Robert DeMott makes clear in his lengthy introduction, the novel has its origins in an unfinished play by one of his classmates, and over the years saw many drafts and titles as Steinbeck toiled to get it under wraps. It may not be the best of the books he wrote, but it was the one that, through the toil of writing it, made him as a writer.

The novel begins on the Wayne Farm in Vermont, where Joseph Wayne expresses to his father an interest in following the westering crowds and claiming himself some land. (“If I wait, the good land might all be taken.”) where it’s preferred that he stay home a while and find a wife.

“If you could wait a year,” the old man said at last, “a year or two is nothing when you’re thirty-five. If you could wait a year, not more than two surely, then I wouldn’t mind. You’re not the oldest, Joseph, but I’ve always thought of you as the one to have the blessing. Thomas and Burton are good men, good sons, but I’ve always intended the blessing for you, so you could take my place. I don’t know why. There’s something more strong in you than in your brothers, Joseph; more sure and inward.”

In a Joseph, with brothers, singled out by his father there’s an nod to the Joseph of Genesis (no coat of many colours, though), enhanced by the skill of interpreting symbols and later incidents pertaining to the land he settles. On reaching this new pasture, verdant and teeming with life, Steinbeck foreshadows Joseph’s path and gives a first real taste of his intuitive ability:

The past, his home and all the events of his childhood were being lost, and he knew he owed them the duty of memory. This land might possess all of him if he were not careful. To combat the land a little, he thought of his father, of the calm and peace, the strength and eternal rightness of his father, and then in his thought the difference ended and he knew there was no quarrel, for his father and this new land were one. Joseph was frightened then. “He’s dead,” he whispered to himself. “My father must be dead.”

With his father indeed dead, the remainder of his brothers uproot their families to join him and together they farm this new promised land, raising cattle, breeding pigs. Joseph takes a young wife, an educated schoolteacher, and it’s all happy families for a time. Tensions rise, however, as one of the brothers, Burton, confronts Joseph on his pagan beliefs, namely his attitude toward a large tree that looms over the farmhouse:

“My father is in that tree. My father is that tree! It is silly, but I want to believe it.”

Through Joseph Wayne, almost shamanlike in his understanding of the land, we follow an exploration of man’s relationship to nature, for better and for worse. In he good days the livestock breeds, the crops grow, and the rains come; in the bad days, the opposite, and the land dries. When, knowing the harshness of the land, sticks are upped and people move to pastures new, all that remains is Wayne, stubborn to the last, which leads to a wonderfully ambiguous conclusion that leaves open a number of possible readings.

At times the abundance of description can, though evocative, be laid on thick, and the dialogue comes across as wooden, but there are still moments when Wayne reflects on the world around him that raise the book above mere catalogue of events and add a further depth to what could otherwise be a flat character:

High up on tremendous peak, towering over the ranges and the valleys, the brain of the world was set, and the eyes that looked down on the earth’s body. The brain could not understand the life on its body. It lay inert, knowing vaguely that it could shake off the life, the towns, the little houses of the fields with earthquake fury. But the brain was drowsed and the mountains lay still, and the fields were peaceful on their rounded cliff that went down to the abyss. And thus it stood a million years, unchanging and quiet, and the world-brain in its peak lay close to sleep. The world-brain sorrowed a little, for it knew that some time it would have to move, and then the life would be shaken and destroyed and the long work of tillage would be gone, and the houses in the valley would crumble. The brain was sorry, but it could change nothing.

While To A God Unknown is a minor Steinbeck, it’s important in light of the works that would come later. In its California setting, the hardship of a devastated land, and Biblical allusions we are given a dress rehearsal of major Steinbeck novels. Apparently less than six hundred copies of the novel sold on its initial release. Dress rehearsals were never meant for the public anyway.

February 4, 2009

13 responses to John Steinbeck: To A God Unknown

  1. Stewart said:

    …over the years saw many drafts and titles as Steinbeck toiled to get it under wraps.

    I think I know how he felt. Just writing about the book was a task in itself.

  2. Trevor said:

    I’m anxious to see how Steinbeck continues for you, Stewart. Seven or eight years ago I went through his works (most, anyway, though one I missed was this one), and I found he just got better and better, with a few minor exceptions. Winter of Our Discontent was my favorite, so you have that one to look forward to at the end of your Steinbeck trip.

  3. Stewart said:

    I’d actually read To A God Unknown before and I have a vague memory of enjoying it more than I did this time. There was little I could remember of it, but that it was the book that got me into a bit of a Steinbeck binge a few years back. Of his works I’ve read Cup Of Gold, To A God Unknown, The Red Pony, Of Mice And Men, The Pearl, Burning Bright, and The Moon Is Down. With the exception of Of Mice And Men there’s nothing major amongst them, but I do have a complete Steinbeck set at home, waiting to be ploughed through, including Down To A Sunless Sea, the debut collection of his son, Thomas Steinbeck.

    The Pastures Of Heaven will be next up, when I need some Steinbeck. I only hope my pledge to get through all his work doesn’t come off the rails like my attempt to read all of Philip Roth in order, which stalled during his first novel proper, the brick that was Letting Go – it just seemed to go on and on.

  4. Trevor said:

    Your struggle with Letting Go definitely made me rethink making sure I’ve read all of Roth’s works. It’ll probably be left to the very end, and then who wants to finish an author by reading a weak book? I’ve got a few authors I’m working on in order: Yates, Sebald, and Auster. Oh, and Marilynne Robinson’s fiction, but that was easy.

  5. Stewart said:

    I wouldn’t say Letting Go was weak, but it was exhausting. When I read, I can sometimes polish off a two hundred pager in a day. Add a hundred pages and it’s going to take a few days. Add another hundred pages, a week maybe. By the time there’s six hundred pages, the time taken to read follows an exponential rate and we’re talking weeks to read it. It’s partly why I don’t read all that many chunksters.

    Letting Go would tell the story for so many pages, then it would come at the story from a different angle, usually the other side of a telephone call, or whatever. I really should just skip on to When She Was Good.

    When it comes to reading authors for the first time, I try and make a point of starting at the start. It’s not so much reflected here, since translations tend to come from various points in an ouevre and there’s little choice but to read what’s available. Jim Crace is one I’m going to be reading in order, although I’ve yet to move on to his second book, The Gift Of Stones. Saul Bellow and Cormac McCarthy are others I intend to read in order, even if I’d read The Road prior to starting this blog.

  6. I salute you for this project, Stewart, and wish you well. Mainly because I intend to experience Steinbeck vicariously through your reviews — I’ve certainly read some of his work, but don’t feel the urge to revisit. Then again, maybe a review or two will cause me to change that opinion. Which is why I salute the project.

  7. Tom C said:

    I am glad you’ve been reminding us about John Steinbeck. I read most of his books(but not this one) some years ago, and realise that like so many writers of this period he’s fading into contemporary obscurity. Maybe nobody has quite such a feel for the land and the peoples’ relationship with it as he did

  8. John Self said:

    Reading the books of an author in order is a laudable aim and one which appeals to my own sense of order – but I think it must be fraught with risks. Very few authors turn out their best books at the start of their careers, especially those who have written enough books to make them a worthy subject for such a project! There’s a danger then that one could become jaded before getting properly off the starting blocks. Also, although it’s a strictly accurate reflection of the writer’s progress, it probably doesn’t reflect how readers of the time discovered the writers – not that that should have much bearing on such a project one way or another; just an observation, is all.

  9. F said:

    Stewart:

    I’ve toyed with reading an entire author in order, in fact have done so with Hemingway and Pynchon, but I agree with John Self that it probably isn’t a good way of approaching an author for the first time. As a review it is instructive, but clearly his best work is not anything published early on.

    One question, as I don’t have a copy of “To a God Unknown” near to hand: is it in this book he describes someone who lives on the coast of California and is the last person to see the sun sink into the sea at night? That’s my recollection, but I could be misremembering. F

  10. Stewart said:

    Hi, F. I think I’m coming round to that line of thinking too. I don’t mind it so much with Steinbeck as I’ve read a number of his works already, so I’m heading back to the start and just rolling forward with them. My attempt to read Philip Roth chronologically, however, fell at the second book, Letting Go, and an attempt to read John Updike on order stalled about five pages into his first novel, The Poorhouse Fair.

    One question, as I don’t have a copy of “To a God Unknown” near to hand: is it in this book he describes someone who lives on the coast of California and is the last person to see the sun sink into the sea at night? That’s my recollection, but I could be misremembering.

    Yes, that does occur in To A God Unknown. I think John Wayne was doing a bit of wandering at the time and happened upon the man.

  11. F said:

    Stewart:

    Thanks for the confirmation of that image. I’ve read (and frequently re-read) much of Steinbeck’s writing regarding the Salinas Valley, in part because during my college years I knew several families between about San Ardo and San Lucas (i.e., north of Paso Robles) and had occasion to spend time there. I was at an impressionable age, but even if my head and heart had been stone I would have come away filled with the wonder of a hot July evening in those hills, watching doves fly into the stock watering tanks alongside other, bigger animals, or tracing the course of the Salinas River wandering back and forth up the valley. That was 50 years ago, so the memory is not always accurate.

    For some reason the image of that man living on the high reaches of the coast range has stuck with me almost as vividly as Steinbeck and Doc racing the train (one time too many, as it turns out) to the crossing. And just this week I had occasion to invoke the image of that man watching the sunset, almost a daily duty, when writing a friend. Funny I should have happened on your post the same week I wrote of this image to my friend.

    I guess I need to go get a copy of To A God Unknown and read it again, just to see if the image is as strong on the written page as it is in my brain. F

  12. Stewart said:

    I guess I need to go get a copy of To A God Unknown and read it again, just to see if the image is as strong on the written page as it is in my brain.

    It’s probably the idea of the image that has caught your imagination rather than the scene itself. I’ve dug it out:

    “Then come to see the sunset place. You’ll like that, too.” He half ran around his house in his eagerness. A little platform was built on the cliff’s edge, with a wooden railing in front and a bench a few feet back. In front of the bench was a large stone slab, resting on four blocks of wood, and the smooth surface of the stone was scoured and clean. The two men stood at the railing and looked off at the sea, blue and calm, and so far below that the rollers sliding in seemed no larger than ripples, and the pounding of the surf on the beach sounded like soft beating on a wet drum-head. The old man pointed to the horizon, where a rim of black fog hung. “It’ll be a good one,” he cried. “It’ll be a red one in the fog. This is a good night for the pig.”

    The sun was growing larger as it slipped down the sky. “You sit here every day?” Joseph asked. “You never miss?”

    “I never miss except when the clouds cover. I am the last man to see it. Look at the map and you’ll see how that is. It is gone to everyone but me.” He cried, “I’m talking while I should be getting ready. Sit on the bench there and wait.”

    He goes on to kill a pig as the sun goes down, so that he becomes the sun in that moment. As Thomas Wayne notes, the man is mad, but John, broody and reflective as he is, thinks the man has found something that makes his life.

  13. F said:

    Thanks for the quote, Stewart. I’ve ordered the book, but from the quote I’m thinking it’s not quite as magical as I had remembered. Sad how the real doesn’t live up to the memory, especially for aged brains. Or maybe it’s not sad — maybe that’s the way it should be; our recollections being better than the real thing. F

Leave a Reply

13 responses to John Steinbeck: To A God Unknown

  1. Stewart said:

    …over the years saw many drafts and titles as Steinbeck toiled to get it under wraps.

    I think I know how he felt. Just writing about the book was a task in itself.

  2. Trevor said:

    I’m anxious to see how Steinbeck continues for you, Stewart. Seven or eight years ago I went through his works (most, anyway, though one I missed was this one), and I found he just got better and better, with a few minor exceptions. Winter of Our Discontent was my favorite, so you have that one to look forward to at the end of your Steinbeck trip.

  3. Stewart said:

    I’d actually read To A God Unknown before and I have a vague memory of enjoying it more than I did this time. There was little I could remember of it, but that it was the book that got me into a bit of a Steinbeck binge a few years back. Of his works I’ve read Cup Of Gold, To A God Unknown, The Red Pony, Of Mice And Men, The Pearl, Burning Bright, and The Moon Is Down. With the exception of Of Mice And Men there’s nothing major amongst them, but I do have a complete Steinbeck set at home, waiting to be ploughed through, including Down To A Sunless Sea, the debut collection of his son, Thomas Steinbeck.

    The Pastures Of Heaven will be next up, when I need some Steinbeck. I only hope my pledge to get through all his work doesn’t come off the rails like my attempt to read all of Philip Roth in order, which stalled during his first novel proper, the brick that was Letting Go – it just seemed to go on and on.

  4. Trevor said:

    Your struggle with Letting Go definitely made me rethink making sure I’ve read all of Roth’s works. It’ll probably be left to the very end, and then who wants to finish an author by reading a weak book? I’ve got a few authors I’m working on in order: Yates, Sebald, and Auster. Oh, and Marilynne Robinson’s fiction, but that was easy.

  5. Stewart said:

    I wouldn’t say Letting Go was weak, but it was exhausting. When I read, I can sometimes polish off a two hundred pager in a day. Add a hundred pages and it’s going to take a few days. Add another hundred pages, a week maybe. By the time there’s six hundred pages, the time taken to read follows an exponential rate and we’re talking weeks to read it. It’s partly why I don’t read all that many chunksters.

    Letting Go would tell the story for so many pages, then it would come at the story from a different angle, usually the other side of a telephone call, or whatever. I really should just skip on to When She Was Good.

    When it comes to reading authors for the first time, I try and make a point of starting at the start. It’s not so much reflected here, since translations tend to come from various points in an ouevre and there’s little choice but to read what’s available. Jim Crace is one I’m going to be reading in order, although I’ve yet to move on to his second book, The Gift Of Stones. Saul Bellow and Cormac McCarthy are others I intend to read in order, even if I’d read The Road prior to starting this blog.

  6. I salute you for this project, Stewart, and wish you well. Mainly because I intend to experience Steinbeck vicariously through your reviews — I’ve certainly read some of his work, but don’t feel the urge to revisit. Then again, maybe a review or two will cause me to change that opinion. Which is why I salute the project.

  7. Tom C said:

    I am glad you’ve been reminding us about John Steinbeck. I read most of his books(but not this one) some years ago, and realise that like so many writers of this period he’s fading into contemporary obscurity. Maybe nobody has quite such a feel for the land and the peoples’ relationship with it as he did

  8. John Self said:

    Reading the books of an author in order is a laudable aim and one which appeals to my own sense of order – but I think it must be fraught with risks. Very few authors turn out their best books at the start of their careers, especially those who have written enough books to make them a worthy subject for such a project! There’s a danger then that one could become jaded before getting properly off the starting blocks. Also, although it’s a strictly accurate reflection of the writer’s progress, it probably doesn’t reflect how readers of the time discovered the writers – not that that should have much bearing on such a project one way or another; just an observation, is all.

  9. F said:

    Stewart:

    I’ve toyed with reading an entire author in order, in fact have done so with Hemingway and Pynchon, but I agree with John Self that it probably isn’t a good way of approaching an author for the first time. As a review it is instructive, but clearly his best work is not anything published early on.

    One question, as I don’t have a copy of “To a God Unknown” near to hand: is it in this book he describes someone who lives on the coast of California and is the last person to see the sun sink into the sea at night? That’s my recollection, but I could be misremembering. F

  10. Stewart said:

    Hi, F. I think I’m coming round to that line of thinking too. I don’t mind it so much with Steinbeck as I’ve read a number of his works already, so I’m heading back to the start and just rolling forward with them. My attempt to read Philip Roth chronologically, however, fell at the second book, Letting Go, and an attempt to read John Updike on order stalled about five pages into his first novel, The Poorhouse Fair.

    One question, as I don’t have a copy of “To a God Unknown” near to hand: is it in this book he describes someone who lives on the coast of California and is the last person to see the sun sink into the sea at night? That’s my recollection, but I could be misremembering.

    Yes, that does occur in To A God Unknown. I think John Wayne was doing a bit of wandering at the time and happened upon the man.

  11. F said:

    Stewart:

    Thanks for the confirmation of that image. I’ve read (and frequently re-read) much of Steinbeck’s writing regarding the Salinas Valley, in part because during my college years I knew several families between about San Ardo and San Lucas (i.e., north of Paso Robles) and had occasion to spend time there. I was at an impressionable age, but even if my head and heart had been stone I would have come away filled with the wonder of a hot July evening in those hills, watching doves fly into the stock watering tanks alongside other, bigger animals, or tracing the course of the Salinas River wandering back and forth up the valley. That was 50 years ago, so the memory is not always accurate.

    For some reason the image of that man living on the high reaches of the coast range has stuck with me almost as vividly as Steinbeck and Doc racing the train (one time too many, as it turns out) to the crossing. And just this week I had occasion to invoke the image of that man watching the sunset, almost a daily duty, when writing a friend. Funny I should have happened on your post the same week I wrote of this image to my friend.

    I guess I need to go get a copy of To A God Unknown and read it again, just to see if the image is as strong on the written page as it is in my brain. F

  12. Stewart said:

    I guess I need to go get a copy of To A God Unknown and read it again, just to see if the image is as strong on the written page as it is in my brain.

    It’s probably the idea of the image that has caught your imagination rather than the scene itself. I’ve dug it out:

    “Then come to see the sunset place. You’ll like that, too.” He half ran around his house in his eagerness. A little platform was built on the cliff’s edge, with a wooden railing in front and a bench a few feet back. In front of the bench was a large stone slab, resting on four blocks of wood, and the smooth surface of the stone was scoured and clean. The two men stood at the railing and looked off at the sea, blue and calm, and so far below that the rollers sliding in seemed no larger than ripples, and the pounding of the surf on the beach sounded like soft beating on a wet drum-head. The old man pointed to the horizon, where a rim of black fog hung. “It’ll be a good one,” he cried. “It’ll be a red one in the fog. This is a good night for the pig.”

    The sun was growing larger as it slipped down the sky. “You sit here every day?” Joseph asked. “You never miss?”

    “I never miss except when the clouds cover. I am the last man to see it. Look at the map and you’ll see how that is. It is gone to everyone but me.” He cried, “I’m talking while I should be getting ready. Sit on the bench there and wait.”

    He goes on to kill a pig as the sun goes down, so that he becomes the sun in that moment. As Thomas Wayne notes, the man is mad, but John, broody and reflective as he is, thinks the man has found something that makes his life.

  13. F said:

    Thanks for the quote, Stewart. I’ve ordered the book, but from the quote I’m thinking it’s not quite as magical as I had remembered. Sad how the real doesn’t live up to the memory, especially for aged brains. Or maybe it’s not sad — maybe that’s the way it should be; our recollections being better than the real thing. F

Leave a Reply

Jojobet sekabet verabet