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Renaissance Man of Cannery Row

The Life and Letters of Edward F. Ricketts

Edward F. Ricketts, edited by Katharine A. Rodger

Publication Year: 2002

This portrait of one of John Steinbeck's closest friends illuminates the life and work of a figure central to the development of scientific and literary thought in the 20th century.

Marine biologist Edward F. Ricketts is perhaps best known as the inspiration for John Steinbeck's most empathic literary characters Doc in Cannery Row, Slim in Of Mice and Men, Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath, and Lee in East of Eden. The correspondence of this accomplished scientist, writer, and philosopher reveals the influential exchange of ideas he shared with such prominent thinkers and artists as Henry Miller, Joseph Campbell, Ellwood Graham, and James Fitzgerald, in addition to Steinbeck, all of whom were drawn to Ricketts's Monterey Bay laboratory, a haven of intellectual discourse and Bohemian culture in the 1930s and 1940s.

The 125 previously unpublished letters of this collection, housed at the Stanford University Library, document the broad range of Ricketts's interests and accomplishments during the last 12 and most productive years of his life. His handbook on Pacific marine life, Between Pacific Tides, is still in print, now in its fifth edition. The biologist's devotion to ecological conservation and his evolving philosophy of science as a cross-disciplinary, holistic pursuit led to the publication of The Sea of Cortez. Many of Ricketts's letters discuss his studies of the Pacific littoral and his theories of “phalanx” and transcendence. Epistles to family members, often tender and humorous, add dimension and depth to Steinbeck's mythologized depictions of Ricketts. Katharine A. Rodger has enriched the correspondence with an introductory biographical essay and a list of works cited.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Series: Alabama Fire Ant


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p. v

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p. vii

I would first and foremost like to thank Susan Shillinglaw for her support during the past two years. She has been an outstanding mentor, thesis advisor, and friend to me, and her dedication to this project has been tireless. Professors Robert Cullen, Donald Keesey, and Scott Rice, also at San Jos

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Editor’s Note

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pp. ix-x

Most of the 136 selected letters in this volume have been transcribed from carbon copies in the Edward F. Ricketts collection—which includes approximately 300 letters—housed in Special Collections at Stanford University. The letters reveal the scope of Ricketts’s interests and the many diverse people he corresponded with ...

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pp. xi-xiv

Edward Flanders Robb Ricketts is perhaps most widely known as the model for Doc in John Steinbeck’s novella Cannery Row (1945): a marine biologist who drinks beer milkshakes, loves women, hates getting his head wet, pays bums to collect frogs, and ends parties with a reading of the anonymous eleventh-century Sanskrit poem ...

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Biographical Essay

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pp. xv-liv

Edward Flanders Robb Ricketts was born on May 14, 1897, in Chicago, Illinois, to Abbott Ricketts and Alice Beverly Flanders Ricketts. His father was a native of Owensville, Kentucky, and his mother, of Haverhill, Massachusetts. Frances Strong, Ricketts’s younger sister, kept a journal about their family, revealing that ...

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pp. 1-35

On November 25, 1936, a power surge in the Del Mar Cannery caused a fire on Cannery Row that destroyed Pacific Biological Laboratories, including all of Ricketts’s personal and professional records and correspondence. Ricketts escaped, saving only his car, the clothes he was wearing, and a portrait of him ...

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pp. 36-84

I feel very grateful for the embryo you sent me. If I can get Ritchie integrated to do it, I want to have him make a drawing of the whole thing intact, chorion and all; and then another one of the embryo dissected out in the membranes. Little enough work seems to have been done, except of the most qualitative sort, ...


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pp. 85-99

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pp. 100-175

A while back you offered to do any typing that might help out on the new book. If you have time now and want to do it—but look Toni now, don’t be foolish and undertake anything that’s going to be a burden—I should like to get a clean copy of the latest draft of Non-Tel[eological]-thinking for Jon. He wants to use ...

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pp. 176-218

We had your Christmas letter of Oct. 26th, and were most appreciative. I am glad that it came thru, and hope this reply goes thru equally promptly. I feared that there would be no communication with Sweden whatsoever. Dr. Schmitt, even before Pearl Harbor, tried to get in touch with some anthozoa specialist there in Sweden, ...

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pp. 219-274

A revision of “Between Pacific Tides” is in the offing. While I cannot be sure that a resume of plankton work on this coast would be publishable there, or even suitable, still I have become interested personally in liaison work of this sort. It might be fun to attempt to diatom production figures—up there and ...

Works Cited

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pp. 275-278


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pp. 279-283

E-ISBN-13: 9780817380953
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817350871

Illustrations: 20
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: Alabama Fire Ant
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OCLC Number: 187297125
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Renaissance Man of Cannery Row

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Subject Headings

  • Ricketts, Edward Flanders, 1897-1948.
  • Marine biologists -- West (U.S.) -- Biography.
  • Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968 -- Friends and associates.
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