If you write a book, you have to have something to say. Long after we are gone, John Steinbeck will be studied and his works read. His genius as a writer is undisputed, but what of the man?
I do not know of anyone who has discovered the real key to him, but from this story we may find it.
He was a man of complexities, and of a unique nature. At times of anger at himself, he knew he was hurting other people, yet he was helpless to control his anger because of his selfishness.
He was, of course, a literary giant. He was also a man of many lives. I know; I lived with him and shared his agonies, his struggles, his hatreds and jealousies of people and things. I shared his happiness and his joys.
John Steinbeck was not a hero. He was only a tremendously complex man who could be very beautiful one moment and then change into something very unbeautiful.
A tremendous love existed between us. No words can ever express the feelings of this love. Sometimes, love made us better than we were; it does that with everyone. My love for John was such that I had no hesitation in giving up everything I had for him, which I did. That was a mistake. Although our relationship brought us happiness, it also brought unhappiness. At one point, I became the Indian woman…walking three paces behind the master.
When John flirted with other women he hurt me terribly, but I forgave him as I believed he did not know what pain he was causing. By the end of our marriage, I had lost all of my identity. Then it was too late. He made me a subservient thing, and I was helpless to change it. This story is a fragment of John’s life, but one that I wish to tell. I don’t believe that anyone knew him, not his family, but if anyone knew him even a fraction, it was me. I lived part of his life with him and I knew of his masochism, his kleptomania, his drinking and his womanising. John was known to be both gruff and dissident by nature, and he was anti-social. He was, in fact, a middle aged ‘hippy’. He knew the social graces, yes, although he did not care to practice them.
I made him friendlier, pleasanter to other people, and during our relationship, he began to embrace life instead of being a dedicated machine to his work. I believe he had never enjoyed himself in a relationship before the one we shared. I idolised him, and made him laugh. ‘I have very strong morals, but I changed my morals to fit the situation,’ he once told me, before we were married. John’s ‘truths’ were part of his wonderful personality. If he lied about something and I confronted him with it he would simply answer, ‘Gwyn, for the moment that is the truth.’ John wanted terribly to be loved, but he didn’t know how to love. His love was a love of suspicion that was a part of his overall complexity. He had the unhappy life of suffering revenge and jealousy. He tried hard to fight it, but he could not change. There have been and will continue to be books about John, but I hope that in some way this contribution will be a helpful one for the overall analysis. I loved John with a passion. I will until I die. I never stopped loving him or respecting him for his lasting contribution to American and world literature.
John struggled for what he received, and the rewards he received. He could not stand criticism although he received plenty of it. He earned his success by sweat and struggle. I was blessed, being able to share some of his most productive years.
But there was much more. There were my love and complete submission in him. To me, he was everything, my whole life. I did not request to change him when I finally did recognise his faults. People in love believe in each other for what they are, and we did in the years we shared.
Gwyn Steinbeck, Palm Springs, California.
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