A Letter About Love from John Steinbeck to His Son

John SteinbeckJohn Steinbeck is one of my favourite authors – East of Eden one of my favourite books ever. It’s set in Salem which came in useful yesterday evening when, following a post on Facebook of Brits trying to name US States and my acknowledgement that I would be rubbish at said task, a friend of mine helpfully pointed me at a game which would teach me the States and their locations. After a couple of hours and managing to name them all in less than five minutes I moved onto learning all of the States’ capitals. I cracked that one too, eventually, and had to find my own ways of remembering each – the capital of Oregon, for example, is Salem and it was that literary link that helped me recall that particular capital having never been there or even that close (although Nevada’s reasonably nearby, I know now, and I have been there on several occasions to the hell they call Las Vegas. Not a fan. Send me to Montana any day).

At Write Club tonight Mike brought along a new and wonderful idea – a quiz based on short excerpts from his favourite reads. A brilliant and fun idea that we all thoroughly enjoyed so much that it’s on the agenda for the Christmas party in a couple of weeks and each of us will bring five (only five!) from some of our favourites. One of Mike’s was:

“He could not explain to his friends the coolness that had come into his relationship with Mrs Morales, since he was the owner of only one house; nor could he, in courtesy to Mrs Morales, describe his own pleasure at that coolness.”

From John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, a novel I have not read but is available for, a frankly outrageous, £6.99 on Kindle.

A little earlier in the day I had seen on Facebook a letter from John Steinbeck to his son, advising him in the small matter of love. It’s a letter I have read, even posted before on a previous blog, and here it is again as it truly is a thing of beauty:

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.



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