Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

John Steinbeck's Unfinished Quixote: "Don Keehan, the Marshal of Manchon"

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

John Steinbeck's Unfinished Quixote: "Don Keehan, the Marshal of Manchon"

Article excerpt

John Steinbeck began writing a Don Quixote novel--tentatively titled "Don Keehan, The Marshal of Manchon"--in the summer of 1957. (1) He wrote 114 pages before setting it aside in late December f that same year: "the day after Christmas [...] he wrote Pat Covici to say that he was abandoning Don Keehan altogether" (Parini 410). (2) Steinbeck had already completed twenty-five novels, including The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men and Cannery Row. He was fifty-five years old and had won a Pulitzer at thirty-seven. He went on to publish The Winter of Our Discontent in 1961 and then Travels With Charley in 1962. He was awarded the Nobel Prize later that year. Steinbeck died in 1968, having published nothing else. As his son, Thomas Steinbeck notes,

I think he got to a point where he felt he couldn't contribute anymore. And it was too heartbreaking to try. I mean, after awhile you get tired of being under attack. You've got to remember this was a man who had been under attack since he was a young man. [...] He was under attack most of his life. When he wrote The Grapes of Wrath people thought he'd betrayed his own class. (Part 1)

Thomas went on to say that his father was "a mythologist": "He could take the broad myth and reduce it down to something you could understand and were living right next door to" (Part 2). The novel John Steinbeck didn't finish in 1957 was the story of an American man who watched one too many Westerns on television, then put on a cowboy hat and set out to correct the injustices he saw all around him.

In June 2010, CBS News reported that John Steinbeck's archive was to be put up for auction, and that, in addition to the other letters and manuscripts from the Nobel Prize winner's New York City apartment, the auction would include a number of "never-published works" ("John Steinbeck Archive"). According to the CBS story, these unpublished works would include the Don Quixote novel Steinbeck had left unfinished at his death: "The writer [Steinbeck] had Ingrid Bergman in mind for Vikings, a film script adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen play that he began in 1954 but later abandoned. Another project that was later abandoned was a 1957 reworking of Don Quixote, which Steinbeck titled "Don Keehan, The Marshal of Manchon." Bloomsbury's catalog says he had high hopes for it and even considered director Elia Kazan for a movie version with [Henry] Fonda in the lead" ("John Steinbeck Archive").

I bought "Don Keehan, The Marshal of Manchon."

The manuscript sat a long while in a New York bank while Bloomsbury Auction Company wrestled with the details of how to insure and transport it. They already had my money, so I told them to just put it into a UPS envelope but they wouldn't hear of it. When it finally arrived I saw a sheaf of typewritten pages on onionskin, double-spaced, with a number of small edits and additions made in blue ink.

Reading through the unfinished manuscript, I found that I agree with Thomas Steinbeck: John Steinbeck was a mythologist. He reconciled the archetypal characters of mythology to the people and events of modern life. My suspicion is that all Quixotists are mythologists. We are attracted to Don Quixote when we see in him a reflection of ourselves. In her analysis of Miguel de Unamuno's writings about Don Quixote, Sarah Driggers notes: "If you rely solely upon reason, your actions will be based upon what you believe to be possible. You're not likely to attempt that which you believe to be impossible" (Driggers n. p.). She goes on to say, "Quixotism is the passionate pursuit of an ideal which may not be attainable. It is the belief that an individual can alter reality and redefine what is possible." George Bernard Shaw brings Driggers's observation to a pragmatic conclusion: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends upon the unreasonable man" (n. …

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