- The Composition, Publication, and Reception of John Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus, with Biographical Background
- Synopsis of Chapter Five, “The advance sales of the Bus are stupendous: October 1946–April 1947”
The Fall 2012 issue of Steinbeck Review continued our serial posthumous publication of Roy Simmonds’s The Composition, Publication, and Reception of John Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus, with Biographical Background with “Chapter Five: ‘The advance sales of the Bus are stupendous’: October 1946–April 1947.” This chapter chronicled Steinbeck’s completion of The Wayward Bus and his hastily relinquishing it to an impatient Pascal Covici and Viking Press, with his misgivings duly noted in a letter to Webster Street:
It was a very difficult book to do as will be apparent when you see it. It will take a very fine kicking around critically but it is just what I wanted to do. The reason why it will be attacked is that it isn’t dramatic and it doesn’t get any place. It does really but not an obvious place. Anyway it is off and done with.(JS/WS 15 October 1946)
This chapter recorded as well details of Steinbeck and Gwyn’s Scandinavian trip, during which Steinbeck unexpectedly found himself in the limelight in Copenhagen, where he was “regaled with accounts of how, on pain of death had they been discovered, the members of underground presses had circulated his books under the noses of the Nazis during the occupation.” Steinbeck had had no idea how much his writings had meant to these people during this bleak and dangerous time.
This chapter also included accounts of the continuing problems with the filming of The Pearl, his trial separation from Gwyn, negative reviews of The Wayward Bus, its inclusion in Book of the Month Club, and its success in the marketplace. [End Page 1]
Barbara A. Heavilin is author or editor of several books and articles on Steinbeck as well as The Quaker Presence in America and is a professor emeritus of Taylor University. She currently teaches literature at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and serves as Editor in Chief of Steinbeck Review. Her latest book, The Presence of God in Modern Literature: Viktor Frankl’s “Tragic Optimism,” is to be published by Cambridge Scholars Press in 2013.
- Chapter Six, “It was a paste-up job and I should never have let it go out the way it did”
I. The Critics’ View
In his biography of Steinbeck, Jackson J. Benson describes scholarly opinion and reviews of The Wayward Bus over the past forty years or so as generally “contradictory” (True Adventures, 583). In his Looking for Steinbeck’s Ghost, however, Benson rates the book as “not memorable” and its characters as “among the least lifelike and convincing” that Steinbeck had ever conceived (183). Peter Lisca, in his seminal full-length study The Wide World of John Steinbeck (1958), sees the book as “more concerned with action on the level of character than on the physical level of events,” with the character undergoing “some dark night of the soul in which he achieves a measure of self-knowledge” (233). Howard Levant disagrees with the first of Lisca’s findings, maintaining that “character is mainly an element in a design to which it contributes, that it does not exist richly in itself” (221), while Louis Owens, contrary to Lisca’s second finding, contends that no character
is substantially changed by what has taken place…. The novel ends on a note of triumph precisely because nothing has changed. Steinbeck’s message is that this is the way things are, and in spite of this the world will endure and flower and grow.(221)
Whereas F. W Watt calls the novel, within its limited scope, “a tour de force” (91), Warren French dismisses it as “not warranting much critical attention,” dubbing it “a mechanical parable.” French points out what he sees as the two principal shortcomings of the book: first, that the reader is told too much and not shown enough, and second, that “the three most striking passages are virtuoso...