The critics' reaction was not a shock to Steinbeck. More than a year before East of Eden was published, Steinbeck wrote to his editor Pascal Covici in Journal of a Novel: "You know as well as I do that this book is going to catch the same kind of hell that all the others did and for the same reasons. It will not be what anyone expects and so the expecters will not like it."
But the book did make its way into the public's heart. East of Eden was published for the first time by The Viking Press in September 1952. By November, East of Eden was number one on the fiction best-seller list and it has never been out of print. In 1955, Elia Kazan directed and produced the movie version of East of Eden starring James Dean as "Cal." The film has now reached the status of a classic. In addition to adaptations for the stage, East of Eden has been translated into many foreign languages.
The Book They Loved to Hate
Despite the book's public popularity, literary critics remained extremely divided. In John Steinbeck: A Biography, author Jay Parini notes that in the New York Times Book Review Mark Schorer called East of Eden "probably the best of John Steinbeck's novels." Yet Time magazine dismissed the book as "a huge grab bag in which pointlessness and preposterous melodrama pop up frequently as good storytelling and plausible conduct."
Get a Glimpse of Steinbeck's Thoughts on Criticism and More Critic's Reviews
In response to an especially vicious review by Anthony West in The New Yorker, Steinbeck was moved to write: "I should like to meet him to find out why he hated and feared this book so much."
Steinbeck set out to write a book "so simple in its difficulty that a child can understand it." East of Eden became as much a family biography for Steinbeck's own children as it was an experiment in storytelling. As Jackson J. Benson writes in his definitive biography The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer: "[East of Eden] is a book that seems to grip the reader in a special way...Several of those aspects that had aroused the most criticism became, in an odd twist, the very that many readers found the most engaging: the intrusions of the first-person perspective, directly or indirectly, which told the author's family history; the character of Cathy (which, no matter how unbelievable, is unforgettable); and the blarney-philosophy of the Chinese houseboy, Lee, which has become the particular target of academic criticism."
Published on June 18, 2003