University of Nevada Press


← Back to New & Forthcoming

ISBN: 978-0-87417-930-9
Binding: [Hardcover]
Pages: 352
Publication date: October 2013
Add to cart

Bookmark and Share
Carol and John Steinbeck
Portrait of a Marriage
Carol Henning Steinbeck, writer John Steinbeck’s first wife, was his creative anchor, the inspiration for his great work of the 1930s, culminating in The Grapes of Wrath. Upon Carol and John’s meeting at Lake Tahoe in 1928, their attachment was immediate, their personalities meshing in creative synergy. Carol was unconventional, artistic, and compelling. In the formative years of Steinbeck’s career, living in San Francisco, Pacific Grove, and Los Gatos, their modernist circle included Ed Ricketts, Joseph Campbell, and Lincoln Steffens. In many ways Carol’s story is all too familiar: a creative and intelligent woman subsumes her own life and work into those of her husband. Together, they brought forth one of the enduring novels of the twentieth century
"Impressive . . . Shillinglaw writes with eloquence and grace. . . . Carol Steinbeck . . . has been blessed with a terrific biographer." Publishers Weekly

"In this lively, absorbing biography, Shillinglaw describes John’s and Carol’s families, the impact of friends and travel, and the creative process that culminated in John’s writing. Carol left few written records or letters, thus her life is portrayed here from previously unavailable scrapbooks, photographs, and poetry. . . . Recommended for Steinbeck enthusiasts as well as readers interested in 20th-century American novelists." Library Journal, Nov. 13, 2013

"Indispensable . . . fascinating . . . Shillinglaw's terrific book did make me think that Carol, to some extent, should have shared the credit for her ex-husband's Nobel Prize. The work he did with her as a 'we' was clearly his greatest." Tom Barden, The Steinbeck Review

"Nobody knows more or writes better about the life of Steinbeck than Susan Shillinglaw . . . Her superb scholarship and elegant style are equally evident in Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage, the biography of Steinbeck’s marriage to Carol Henning, a Jazz Age rebel with a Great Depression conscience. As Shillinglaw observes, John and Carol were no Scott and Zelda. But their dramatic story book reads like a novel—unfortunately, one with a similarly unhappy ending." William Ray, Steinbeck Now

"In Shillinglaw, Steinbeck, who died in 1968, has an ardent reader, dedicated to the urgency and everlasting timeliness of the author's work. More than the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and countless other decorations, this would have mattered to him." -- Susan Salter Reynolds, Newsday

"A fascinating story that needs to be made known widely. . . . Not just the story of Carol and her relationship to John, but a new and revealing look at Steinbeck himself. So much is new here, and the manuscript pushes so deep into the lives of the Steinbecks, that it might well become the primary biography of that period." Jackson Benson, author of John Steinbeck, Writer: A Biography

"Shillinglaw's primary research makes this book impressive, and her writing is wonderfully clear and effective. A book that will appeal both to sophisticated scholars and the general public. I loved this book!" Melody Graulich, editor of Western American Literature

"The Grapes of Wrath grabs the reader with a singular energy that makes it easy to miss the dedication: 'To CAROL who willed this book.' The Carol in caps is Carol Steinbeck, who not only picked the title, but also rode herd on the manuscript, the research and the hard years of creation in a rare kind of artistic synergy. For more than a decade, Carol and John Steinbeck were soul mates and collaborators, also birthing The Red Pony, In Dubious Battle and Of Mice and Men. . . . In Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage, Susan Shillinglaw fleshes out the book’s dedication and gives Carol Henning Steinbeck her full due. This strong-willed, opinionated, forceful, sharp-witted woman was more than just a supportive wife, more than a repressed Zelda Fitzgerald: 'Her story is, in effect, his. His greatest triumph, hers,' Shillinglaw argues." Michael S. Gant,

"As biographer Susan Shillinglaw reminds us in her insightful, important, and necessary new work, there was a time when the man who wrote The Grapes of Wrath was a mere struggling writer; an acknowledged talent, yes, but always on the edge of failure with an uncertain future. Thus we have Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage. And in this new book, Shillinglaw makes a powerful case for the idea that Steinbeck’s first wife had everything to do with his ability to persevere, to create a body of work that drew notice to his burgeoning talent, and to carry on despite all the pressures (fiscal, psychological, and otherwise) that plague serious writers attempting to emerge. . . . This wonderful new biography offers plenty of echoes of Steinbeck, but its real value is in restoring to memory the voice, style, and persona of Carol Henning Steinbeck." M. J. Moore in Neworld Review, vol. 7 no. 48

"A combination of biography, history, psychology and literary observation, this reads, too, like a novel. Be assured that you will want to read again the Steinbeck that you remember as well as his work that you missed. You will wish you had known Carol Henning, but reading this, you will possibly consider her now a friend." Phil Bowhay, Monterey County Herald