The East of Eden journal of John Steinbeck
January 29, 1951 [Monday]
Dear Pat: How did the time pass and how did it grow so late. Have we learned anything from the passage of time? Are we more mature, wiser, more perceptive, kinder? We have known each other now for centuries and still I remember the first time and the last time.
We come now to the book. It has been planned a long time. I planned it when I didn't know what it was about. I developed a language for it that I will never use. This seems such a waste of the few years a man has to write in. And still I do not think I could have written it before now. Of course it would have been a book - but not this book. I remember when you gave me this thick - black - expensive book to write in. See how well I have kept it for this book. Only six pages are out of it. A puppy gnawed the corners of the front cover. And it is clean and fresh and open. I hope I can fill it as you would like it filled.
The last few years have been painful. I don't know whether they have hurt permanently or not. Certainly they have changed me. I would have been stone if they had not. I hope they have not taken too much away from me. Now I am married to Elaine and in two days I am moving into the pretty little house on 72nd St. and there I will have a room to work in and I will have love all around me. Maybe I can finally write this book. All the experiment is over now. I either write the book or I do not. There can be no excuses. The form will not be startling, the writing will be spare and lean, the concepts hard, the philosophy old and yet new born. In a sense it will be two books - the story of my county and the story of me. And I shall keep these two separate. It may be that they should not be printed together. But that we will have to see after the book is all over and finished and with it a great part of me.
I am choosing to write this book to my sons. They are little boys now and they will never know what they came from through me, unless I tell them. It is not written for them to read now but when they are grown and the pains and joys have tousled them a little. And if the book is addressed to them, it is for a good reason. I want them to know how it was, I want to tell them directly, and perhaps by speaking directly to them I shall speak directly to other people. One can go off into fanciness if one writes to a huge nebulous group but I think it will be necessary to speak very straight and clearly and simply if I address my book to two little boys who will be men before they read my book. They have no background in the world of literature, they don't know the great stories of the world as we do. And so I will tell them one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest story of all - the story of good and evil, of strength and weakness, of love and hate, of beauty and ugliness. I shall try to demonstrate to them how these doubles are inseparable - how neither can exist without the other and how out of their groupings creativeness is born. I shall tell them this story against the background of the county I grew up in and along the river I know and do not love very much. For I have discovered that there are other rivers. And this my boys will not know for a long time nor can they be told. A great many never come to know that there are other rivers. Perhaps that knowledge is saved for maturity and very few people ever mature. It is enough if they flower and reseed. That is all that nature requires of them. But sometimes in a man or a woman awareness takes place - not very often and always inexplainable. There are no words for it because there is no one ever to tell. This is a secret not kept a secret, but locked in wordlessness. The craft or art of writing is the clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness. In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. And sometimes if he is very fortunate and if the time is right, a very little of what he is trying to do trickles through - not ever much. And if he is a writer wise enough to know it can't be done, then he is not a writer at all. A good writer always works at the impossible. There is another kind who pulls in his horizons, drops his mind as one lowers rifle sights. And giving up the impossible he gives up writing. Whether fortunate or unfortunate, this has not happened to me. The same blind effort, the straining and puffing go on in me. And always I hope that a little trickles through. This urge dies hard.
This book will be the most difficult of all I have ever attempted. Whether I am good enough or gifted enough remains to be seen. I do have a good background. I have love and I have had pain. I still have anger but I can find no bitterness in myself. There may be some bitterness but if there is I don't know where it can be. I do not seem to have the kind of selfness any more that nourishes it.
And so I will start my book addressed to my boys. I think perhaps it is the only book I have ever written. I think there is only one book to a man. It is true that a man may change or be so warped that he becomes another man and has another book but I do not think that is so with me.
From ``Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters,'' by John Steinbeck. Copyright 1969 by the executors of the estate of John Steinbeck. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Viking Penguin Inc.