The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired 77 letters from John Steinbeck to Henry S. White, recording a regular correspondence between two business associates and close friends.
Dating from October 1948 to August 1949, the almost daily correspondence documents a difficult period in Steinbeck’s life. Early in 1948, Steinbeck’s closest friend, Ed Ricketts, died from injuries he received in a car accident. Shortly thereafter, Steinbeck’s second wife, Gwyn, announced she was divorcing him.
Steinbeck fell into a creative slump and involved himself in the film industry in an attempt to invigorate his career. He formed a production company called World Video with White, Robert Capa and Phil Reisman.
“The letters offer insight into Steinbeck’s everyday life and his emotional state during this period,” said Thomas F. Staley, director of the Harry Ransom Center. “They not only reveal Steinbeck’s day-to-day activities and concerns related to the production company but also provide knowledge about his personal life, family concerns and emotional difficulties, financial troubles and his travels.”
In one letter, after expressing concerns about the finances of their company, Steinbeck writes, “Right now my nerves are pretty bad. The discipline of the film held me down and now that it is done the lid is a little bit off. I think I must get back to work or violent play very quickly.
“There is no really valid reason for going to New York except the pleasure of seeing you and Betty and a few others. I still have a feeling of revulsion about the city which of course has to do with G[wyn]. That will take some time to get over. The cold blooded planning of that thing becomes more apparent all the time…. I’m kind of used up Henry and will be for a little while until I get ironed out inside. The scars are deeper than I thought.”
Nearly all of Steinbeck’s letters are handwritten on ruled, yellow paper and are in good condition. Steinbeck’s handwriting is neat but small and sometimes difficult to read. Steinbeck notes in one of the letters, “I’m sorry you have trouble with my handwriting. I just don’t like the typewriter.”
The acquisition also includes 50 typed carbon copies of White’s responses to Steinbeck from the same period and a transcription of the full correspondence.
The correspondence will be added to the Ransom Center’s existing Steinbeck collection, which includes the manuscript for “East of Eden” and a concurrent daily journal, a similar journal for “The Grapes of Wrath,” notebooks containing versions of “Tortilla Flat” and “The Pearl” and more than 360 letters from Steinbeck to editor and friend Pascal Covici.
A finding aid of the Ransom Center’s Steinbeck collection is available online.