Jul 1
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East of Eden is one of my favorite books. The title fits the story so perfectly, it’s hard to believe that Steinbeck batted around other options before settling on it. Steinbeck wrote the first draft during a year of uninterrupted writing—between Jan. 29 and Nov. 1, 1951. Each morning, on the left side of his 10¾ x 14 inch notebook, he wrote a letter to his editor and good friend, Pascal Covici. These letters got his “mental arm in shape to pitch a good game.” When his mind was warmed up, he shifted to the right side of the notebook and continued on with the manuscript. He wrote both the letters and the novel in black pencil.

Steinbeck’s letters to Covici are reprinted in his book Journal of a Novel and describe everyday matters—how he slept the night before, how many pencils he has left in his pencil tray, observations about weather, his energy level, his family, etc.—as well as his thoughts about the novel’s plot, process, and title.

The original title for the book was The Salinas Valley. In his letter to Covici dated May 10, 1951, he suggested calling it simply My Valley—to make the title more accessible to the reader. We know from Steinbeck’s letter a few days later on May 15 that Covici didn’t take to this new title:

“You don’t like the title MY VALLEY. I have never been a title man. I don’t give a dam [sic] what it is called. I would call it Valley to the Sea which is a quotation from absolutely nothing but has two great words and a direction. What do you think of that? And I am not going to think about it anymore.”

A week later, the title discussion is back on his mind:

“I thought about the book a great deal yesterday—what it is about what its title should be. It is not local. It is not primarily about the Salinas Valley nor local people. Therefore it should have a general title. Now—its framework roots from that powerful, profound and perplexing story in Genesis of Cain and Abel…With that in mind I went back to Genesis. I do not want a direct quotation but if I can find a symbol there which is understood on sight and which strikes deep…So I suggest a title for my book Cain Sign. It is not a direct quote, it is short, harsh, memorable and nearly everyone in the world knows what it means. And it is a pretty good-looking title too. What do you think of it?”

By June 11, Steinbeck had struck on a new title for his book, the one we’re used to seeing on the front cover of his famous novel:

“And I think I have a title at last, a beautiful title, EAST OF EDEN. And read the 16th verse to find it [Genesis 4:16]. And the Salinas Valley is surely East of Eden.”

Viking Press first published East of Eden in September 1952. By November the book was number one on the fiction bestseller list. It has never been out of print since.


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