John Steinbeck travel book was ‘loaded with creative fictions’

His research calls into question an evening Steinbeck claimed to have spent at
a campsite near Alice, a tiny town in North Dakota, with a Shakespearean
actor who spoke at length about Sir John Gielgud.

In fact, Steinbeck spent that night in the town of Beach, 326 miles away, in a
motel with an agreeably hot bath, Steigerwald has discovered, thanks to a
dated letter the author wrote to Elaine.

Many other discrepancies emerge from a thorough examination of the trip, which
supposedly took in Maine, Chicago, Seattle, California, Texas and New
Orleans between September and December 1960.

“Steinbeck’s non-meeting with the actor is not an honest slip-up or a
one-off case of poetic licence,” Steigerwald writes in Reason magazine. “Travels
With Charley is loaded with such creative fictions.” It was discovered,
for instance, that a farm near Lancaster, New Hampshire, where Steinbeck
claimed to have stayed, never even existed.

In California he spent two weeks at his own cottage in Pacific Grove,
Steigerwald claims, while in Texas he stayed at a “cattle ranch for
millionaires”.

“Virtually nothing he wrote in Charley about where he slept and whom he
met on his dash across America can be trusted,” Steigerwald said.

The findings appear to settle a debate that has been quietly rumbling in
literary circles over recent years about one of the last works of the
author, who died in 1968.

Bill Barich, a Steinbeck biographer, said late last year: “I’m fairly
certain that Steinbeck made up most of the book. The dialogue is so wooden.”
Even Steinbeck’s two sons have had their doubts. John junior has said: “Thom
and I are convinced that he never talked to any of those people … He just
sat in his camper and wrote all that —-“.

Apr 10th, 2011 | Posted in Travel
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