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3 6 2 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e F a l l 2 0 0 5 Renaissance Man of Cannery Row: The Life and Letters of Edward F. Ricketts. By Edward F. Ricketts. Edited by Katherine A. Rodger. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002. 344 pages, $45.00/ $24.95. Reviewed by Michael J. Meyer DePaul University, Chicago A n increasing interest in the work of John Steinbeck, who was never the darling of the highbrow eastern establishment during his lifetime, has recently resulted in the publication of several books that explore his relationship with Edward Flanders Ricketts. Ricketts, whose Pacific Biological Laboratories in Monterey was often the center for philosophical musing and lengthy discussion by a bohemian group of liberals during the 1930s, was perhaps Steinbeck’s closest personal friend. These new works are significant for several reasons. First, they suggest a growing interest in a man whose creative ideas and broad intellectual interests had a great impact not only on Steinbeck but also on other important figures of the time, such as mythologist Joseph Campbell, novelist Henry Miller, artists Ellwood Graham and James Fitzgerald, and composer John Cage. Second, these volumes allow the reader a much more well-rounded picture of Ricketts, a portrait that fleshes out the images provided by Richard Astro in John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts: The Shaping of a Novelist (1973). Because it allows Ricketts’s own voice to surface, the most significant contribution among the recent studies has been the publication of Renaissance Man: The Life and Letters of Edward F. Ricketts, a collection of Ricketts’s letters compiled and edited by Katherine Rodger. Rodger wisely uses her editorial voice sparingly in the collection of 136 letters pulled from over 300 written during a time period ranging from 1936 to his untimely death in 1948. The letters are now housed in a special collection at Stanford University. Of special interest in the wide variety of letters presented here are the discoveries a reader can make about his emotional life as well as his intellectual pursuits. In addition, Rodger’s selection exposes his unique sense of humor, his penchant for drinking, and, most important, his frustration and despair when he met continuing resistance from academic presses as he attempted to publish three philosophical treatises that occupied his life. To Ricketts, these essays represented the insights that he had developed over years of studying a variety of subjects. They reflected not only his work at the University of Chicago under ecologist W. C. Allee but also his reading of Carl Jung, the influence of scientist William Emerson Ritter, and his extended conversations with Campbell, Steinbeck, and others in the intellectual group that gathered for frequent discussions and debates. Keeping true to the title of the volume, Rodger lets Ricketts’s letters reveal his multifaceted interests that range from Oriental philosophy to music, art lit­ B o o k R e v ie w s 3 6 3 erature, psychology, and philosophy. Surely, these references will aid Steinbeck scholars who want to understand how the myriad of Ricketts’s interests impacted the writer and were reflected in his prose. The letters are convincing proof that, as a scientist, an amateur philosopher, and a consummate consumer of the arts, he was an individual whose influence on others is just beginning to be known and whose life is deserving of far more attention by scholars. Readers can be thankful that Rodger has undertaken this task and that she intends to publish Ricketts’s major essays as well. If this volume has any flaws, it is the brevity ofRodger’s critical commentary (sometimes assuming too much about her readers’ background knowledge). Yet, another disappointment, though minor, is the fact that the index is missing such significant names as John Elof Boodin while including such entries as shark liver oil and plankton. On the whole, however, this is a volume well worth the reader’s time. Adventures with a Texas Humanist. By James Ward Lee. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2004. 284 pages, $24-95. Reviewed by Robert Murray Davis...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 362-363
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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