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Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Thursday, July 31, 2014

East of Eden Readalong: Suddenly he knew joy and sorrow.....

East of Eden Readalong: The Estella Project

The Estella Society is hosting a readalong for John Steinbeck's East of Eden.... and it is all part of The Estella Project.  (There are prizes!)....

This post should have gone up on Monday, but this is summer and summer is about no rules!

I first read East of Eden a few years ago, and it immediately went on my list of favorite books of all time.And since I'm an incorrigible rereader, I was pretty excited about this readalong. The first section for the readalong was Part One-the first eleven chapters. This is the pleasure of rereading: I already know these characters and the situation, even though I don't remember every detail of the novel. But the second time around I can really appreciate Steinbeck's brilliance.

I love Steinbeck's prose. His rhythms are reminiscent of the King James Bible, and that's where he got his basic plot: from the book of Genesis. The story is an ancient one: sibling rivalry so deep it evokes a murderous rage. In East of Eden, Adam is the Abel character, and Charles is the jealous Cain. Just as God seemed to prefer Abel's gift over Cain's, Cyrus, father of Adam and Charles, prefers Adam's gift of a puppy to Charles's gift of a pocketknife.

Steinbeck wrote East of Eden longhand in a big black notebook his friend and editor Pascal Covici gave him. He wrote the text of the novel on the right-hand pages; on the left-hand he wrote a series of letters to Covici--that was his warm-up every morning before he worked on his novel. The letters were evetually published, and they are available in a slim volume: Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. I plan to read the letters as I read the novel. Already I've gotten some insight into Steinbeck's process. He conceived of the novel as a "letter" to his two young sons, then ages four and six. Interesting, huh? After all, the novel is about Biblical-sized sibling rivalry between two brothers.... Here's a quote from the first letter to Covici:
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. (4)

So Steinbeck created Cathy. She is monstrous, evil, cold, seemingly without a speck of love or goodness in her. When Adam falls for her, the reader is like: Oh no! Don't go into the barn! But you know, in horror movies, the characters always go into the barn, and Adam falls completely in love with Cathy:
Suddenly he knew joy and sorrow felted into one fabric. Courage and fear were one thing too. He found that he had started to hum a droning little tune. He turned, walked through the kitchen, and stood in the doorway, looking at Cathy. She smiled weakly at him, and he thought, What a child! What a helpless child! and a surge of love filled him.
 "Will you marry me?" he asked. (120)
Uh oh!

See you on Monday for the next update. 

7 comments:

Andi said...

I'm absolutely loving this, and I had no idea about the way he wrote this book. I want to read the letters now!

Laurie C said...

Very interesting! The author's writing method explains the mysterious narrator voice, maybe? I thought I had read East of Eden once before, but it would have been over 30 years ago and I have forgotten it!

bibliophiliac said...

@Andi-I'm just loving it too! My plan is to slowly read the letters as I read the novel.....

bibliophiliac said...

@Laurie C-I love the idea of the novel as a sort of letter to Steinbeck's sons. Of course, he edited out a lot of what was in his first draft, but it give the reader some insight into Steinbeck's intentions.

thebookstop said...

I'm in the readalong and loving the book so far. The writing is so powerful but also very direct and readable. I really enjoyed hearing about the letters and how the book was written. I feel like the narrator is writing to his children, so I guess that makes sense.

bibliophiliac said...

@thebookstop-this book really has be in its grip! I'm glad this read-along is happening so I can see what other people are thinking as they read this book.

Care said...

Oh fascinating stuff about how he wrote EoE! I could possibly maybe be interested in that. Hmmmmm