The Forgotten Wife – Gwendoline Conger Steinbeck
Steinbeck abandoned his first wife and muse, Carol, for the glamorous redheaded singer shortly after the publication of his book The Grapes of Wrath. Gwyn, in turn, left then divorced him for his inconsiderate, boorish and uncaring behavior. Most scholars accept that Steinbeck based Cathy Trask (Ames), the inherently wicked character in East of Eden on Gwyn. Steinbeck alludes to this, writing to his publisher Pat Covici, quite clearly on Page 39 of Journal of a Novel – The East of Eden Letters. ‘She is a tremendously powerful force in the book. And her name is Catherine or Cathy-Does that give you any clue to her?’ Gwendoline or Gwyn divorced him and he never forgave her.
The book, My Life with John Steinbeck arises from an inherited script discovered recently in Wales. The manuscript derived from a series of interviews carried out in Palm Springs by show business correspondent and newspaper editor Douglas Brown in 1972, three years before Gwyn died in 1975.
Two biographies – in 1984, (Jackson Benson) and 1994 (Jay Parini) told one side of her tale. In this book, in her own words, she sets the record straight from her perspective, outlining the sacrifices she made and indignities that she suffered. She paid a high price for her involvement with the restless, driven genius that was John Steinbeck. Theirs was a marriage that could not succeed, despite her great love for Steinbeck, the man and writer.
My Life with John Steinbeck describes his working habits, his insatiable wish to learn about everything and write about it, and the forbearance of Gwyn dealing with his capricious moods and egocentric behavior. The Preface, by American biographer Jay Parini, casts a light on the relationship between a husband and a wife which would be wholly unacceptable in these more modern and enlightened times.