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Authors: John Steinbeck,Gary Scharnhorst

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The Wayward Bus

Table of Contents
 
 
 
THE WAYWARD BUS
JOHN STEINBECK was born in Salinas, California, in 1902. He grew up in a fertile agricultural valley about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast—and both valley and coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree. During the next five years he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City and then as a caretaker for a Lake Tahoe estate, all the time working on his first novel,
Cup of Gold
(1929). After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California fictions,
The Pastures of Heaven
(1932) and
To a God Unknown
(1933), and worked on short stories later collected in
The Long Valley
(1938). Popular success and financial security came only with
Tortilla Flat
(1935), stories about Monterey's paisanos. Three powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class:
In Dubious Battle
(1936),
Of Mice and Men
(1937), and the book considered by many his finest,
The Grapes of Wrath
(1939). Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a serious student of marine biology with
Sea of Cortez
. He devoted his services to the war, writing
Bombs Away
(1942) and the controversial play-novelette
The Moon Is Down
(1942).
Cannery Row
(1945),
The Wayward Bus
(1947),
The Pearl
(1947),
A Russian Journal
(1948), another experimental drama,
Burning Bright
(1950), and
The Log from the
Sea of Cortez (1951) preceded publication of the monumental
East of Eden
(1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family's history. The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. He died in 1968, having won a Nobel Prize in 1962.
 
 
GARY SCHARNHORST is editor of
American Literary Realism
and editor in alternating years of the research annual
American Literary Scholarship
. He has held four Fulbright fellowships to Germany and at present is professor of English at the University of New Mexico. He has published books on Mark Twain, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, W. D. Howells, Bret Harte, Horatio Alger, Jr., Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.
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First published in the United States of America by The Viking Press 1947
Published in Penguin Books 1979
This edition with an introduction and notes by Gary Scharnhorst published 2006
Copyright John Steinbeck, 1947
Copyright renewed Elaine Steinbeck,
John Steinbeck IV and Thom Steinbeck, 1975
Introduction copyright © Gary Scharnhorst, 2006
All rights reserved
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
Steinbeck, John 1902-1968
The wayward bus / John Steinbeck ; edited with an introduction by Gary Scharnhorst.
p. cm
Includes bibliographical references.
eISBN : 978-1-101-17719-8

http://us.penguingroup.com

INTRODUCTION
The Wayward Bus
, for no good reason, is the most underrated of the major novels of John Steinbeck (1902-1968), the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962. Published in February 1947, “the Bus,” as Steinbeck referred to it in his letters, was his first long and much-anticipated novel after
The Grapes of Wrath
eight years earlier and his last big novel before
East of Eden
five years later. With ten major characters, however, the novel's unconventional ensemble cast or its unorthodox moral code or its overtly allegorical form may have limited its popularity. But make no mistake: “The Bus” is a major novel by a major American author and it deserves to attract a new generation of readers.
Steinbeck struck on the premise for the story in Mexico in the spring of 1945 while completing
The Pearl
. Originally he thought he would develop the idea in a tale of picaresque adventure “something like the Don Quixote of Mexico” or in a short novel the length of
The Red Pony
(1937). Gradually, however, the story of these pilgrims and their journey swelled into an ambitious novel of more than a hundred thousand words. As he wrote his friend and editor Pascal Covici from Cuernavaca on July 12, 1945, “The more I think of it the better I like it and the better I like it the longer its plan and the wider its scope until it seems to contain the whole world. From the funny little story it is growing to the most ambitious thing I have ever attempted. Not that it still won't be funny but funny as Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy and Don Quixote are funny. And it isn't going to take a little time to write but a long time and I don't care, for my bus is something large in my mind. It is a cosmic bus holding sparks and back firing into the Milky Way and turning the corner of Betelgeuse without a hand signal. And Juan Chicoy the driver is all the gods the father you ever saw driving a six cylinder broken down, battered world through time and space. If I can do it well The Wayward Bus will be a pleasant thing.” What a whaling ship and a man of war were for Herman Melville and Jack London, what a stagecoach was for John Ford, a bus was for John Steinbeck. His wayward bus “Sweetheart” is the lineal ancestor of Ken Kesey's psychedelic bus “Further,” another conveyance that would backfire into the Milky Way a generation later.
As for the title: The first synopsis of the story, Steinbeck remembered, “was written in Spanish” and “was called El Camión Vacilador. The word vacilador, or the verb vacilar, is not translatable unfortunately, and it's a word we really need in English because to be ‘vacilando' means that you're aiming at some place, but you don't care much whether you get there. We don't have such a word in English. Wayward has an overtone of illic itness or illegality, based of course on medieval lore where wayward men were vagabonds. But vacilador is not a vagabond at all. Wayward was the nearest English word that I could find.”
Steinbeck wrote much of the novel at his kitchen table in New York “amid jampots and pieces of cold toast and stale coffee,” and he destroyed “about 20,000 words” in January 1946 because he was dissatisfied with them. In May 1946 he reported that “For two months I've been fighting the Bus and only now have I got a start which seems good. I've thrown away thousands of words. But I think it is good now. And at least it is moving.” He finished a draft in October 1946. In all, he spent nearly two years crafting the novel. Despite assertions that his writing was uneven, Steinbeck's work on the story was not haphazard. “I haven't any idea as to whether it is any good or not,” he admitted to friends. “But the people in it are alive, so much so that sometimes they take a tack I didn't suspect they were going to.” “I hope you will like it,” Steinbeck wrote his boyhood friend Jack Wagner, “although ‘like' is not the word to use. You nor anyone can't
like
it. But at least I think it is effective. It is interesting to me—. . . This book depends on mood, on detail and on all the little factors of writing for its effectiveness. It has practically no story.” He elsewhere allowed that “It is what I wanted to say and I think it is in there for anyone who really wants to find it and there's a top story for those who don't.” As Steinbeck predicted, “It will be called simple character study and that is only the littlest part of what it is.”
Published to great fanfare,
The Wayward Bus
was an immediate bestseller. It enjoyed a first printing of 750,000 copies and was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. Two weeks before its formal release on February 15, Steinbeck reported that “The advance sale of the Bus are stupendous. Something near to a million copies. . . . This is completely fantastic. The people who are going to attack it are buying it like mad.” Steinbeck's observation was prescient. The novel received contradictory or mixed notices at best. “The reviews of the Bus out today,” the author again wrote Wagner. “I should never read reviews, good or bad. They just confuse me because they cancel each other out and end up by meaning nothing. I should let them alone. The book is getting good notices mostly here [New York], although a couple of my congenital enemies are sniping. That is good for a book. The more arguments the better.” On the one hand, for example, the novel was hailed by Harrison Smith in the
Saturday Review of Literature
: “It stands by itself, the work of a writer as distinctively American as Mark Twain, who has developed in power and dramatic talent for almost twenty years.” It was also saluted by Carlos Baker, professor of English at Princeton University, in the
New York Times
: “This modern version of a medieval palimpsest will provide, for the thoughtful, one more handle to Steinbeck's parable of Everyman.” Yet Frank O'Malley scorned the novel in
Commonweal
, a Catholic weekly. O'Malley's hyperbolic review was particularly savage: “Steinbeck's dreary, prurient pilgrimage has no real human or universal significance. It is nothing more than an unusually dismal bus ride—more dismal, depraved and meaningless than any man anywhere has ever taken.” Harry Hansen in
Survey Graphic
was even more caustic: “Another load of sleazy characters who deserved oblivion rather than the accolade of a book club.” A year later, Steinbeck wrote Covici that he hoped “some time some people will know what the
Bus
was about. Even with the lead, they didn't discover.”

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