John Steinbeck: Life, Work, and Criticism


41 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-919966-45-4






Reviewed by Charles R. Steele

Charles R. Steele was Associate Professor of English at the University of Calgary.


One of several titles in York Press’s rather pretentiously designated “Authoritative Studies in World Literature,” John Ditsky’s John Steinbeck struggles valiantly to satisfy the rather problematic structural formula established by the series’ designer. Ditsky manages to minimize the repetitiousness and awkwardness invited by the brief monograph’s division into sections on biography, survey of major works, and survey of critical approaches. The material of these sections Ditsky has managed to render useful for undergraduate students of literature, though the necessarily limited critical commentary cannot be of much aid to the “young scholars” toward whom the series is also expressly targeted. The latter will find helpful, however, Ditsky’s bibliographical sections, especially his annotated bibliography of book-length studies of Steinbeck’s works.

Ditsky, as Chairman of the Editorial Board of the John Steinbeck Society and as a critic who has published extensively on twentieth century literature, is particularly well suited to this subject. And Steinbeck is a problematic subject, as Ditsky acknowledges; his reputation as a popular writer and his concomitant facade of non-intellectualism have prompted low regard for his work among academic critics. Ditsky demonstrates throughout this brief volume, but particularly in his discussion of critical responses, how inadequate and misleading is such an estimation. He presents Steinbeck as a man of substantial, intensive reading, whose use of literary allusions, while not insistent, is nonetheless pervasive; and as a man of scientific interests and of philosophical tenets which served as a cohering centre, though not as a prescriptive pattern, throughout his oeuvre. And finally, Ditsky cogently presents Steinbeck as a writer whose work merits the serious and positive critical attention that it is progressively commanding.


Ditsky, John, “John Steinbeck: Life, Work, and Criticism,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024,