Lot 42
  • 42

Steinbeck, John

10,000 - 15,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • ink and paper
In Dubious Battle. New York: Covici-Friede, 1936

8vo. Publisher's orange cloth, topstained orange, stamped in red and black; spine and lower panel dampstained. Original dust-jacket, a bright example with chipped creases at head and tail of spine, a few minute closed tears along bottom of upper panel.  In a cloth slipcase.


Goldstone and Payne A5b

Catalogue Note

A presentation copy of the first  edition, to carlton “dook” sheffield, one of Steinbeck’s closest friends from his earliest days at Stanford and throughout his career: "For Dook / with affection / John Steinbeck." Sheffield’s bookplate is on the front pastedown.

Carlton “Dook” Sheffield was an early and sure friend to Steinbeck, beginning in the classes they shared at Stanford University. Throughout their lives, Sheffield would serve alternately as roommate, sounding board, marriage counselor, correspondent, friend, and even, at moments, conscience. As students, both had literary aspirations. Steinbeck, according to Dook, “seemed to have read everything, and he thought about what he read and came into the English Club bursting with ideas.” He added that Steinbeck “could be shy in public, but when he got on to a subject that mattered to him, the shyness vanished” (quoted in Parini p. 33). During semesters off they corresponded, and they spent the summer of 1924 together as sugar factory workers at Manteca in the San Joaquin Valley near Modesto. “‘That was the summer we sweat off every bit of adolescent fat that we’d ever managed to acquire,’ Sheffield later said” (ibid. 40). After abandoning the sugar factory for the speakeasies of San Francisco, they camped out at Sheffield’s family home in Long Beach and set to the task of writing pulp fiction to finance their grander schemes. The writing that fall didn’t pan out, and both eventually finished their degrees. Sheffield stayed on at Stanford until he had a Master’s, with which to become gainfully employed. Steinbeck gladly wrestled daily with his muse in the hope of achieving something more.

In January 14, 1930, after Steinbeck and his fiancée Carol had overstayed their welcome in the Sheffield home, Dook and his second wife Maryon “kidnapped” their guests to the Glendale, CA courthouse where they were compulsorily wed. The Sheffields helped them out the door to a $15 a month “shack,” which they helped refurbish: Dook and Steinbeck fixed pipes and replaced electrical work, while Maryon and Carol furnished and decorated. The neighborhood was magnetized for old friends, and with Dook’s money Carol and Maryon started a doomed plastics business together with several hangers-on. When creative hurdles, financial strain, and personal indiscretions took their toll in the mid-thirties, the Steinbecks returned to the Sheffields for solace.

Steinbeck’s success in the late 1930s—with Tortilla Flat and Of Mice and Men—injected tension into his relationship with Dook, who was unemployed and, it seemed, without a Ph.D., unemployable. Steinbeck, wanting to return countless favors, offended Dook by offering to pay for his degree. By the summer of 1938 they were back on speaking terms, but the fire that had animated their earlier friendship never fully returned. In January of 1940, Dook articulated his despair as only the most intimate friend could: “The old easy relation isn’t there. I find that I’m afraid of you—or what you’ve become” (quoted Parini p. 237). Steinbeck replied just as honestly: “You say you are afraid of me. I’m afraid of myself. I mean the creature that has been built up.” Steinbeck would receive the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath later that year.