The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath [First edition], 1939
Gifted in 2015
Rare Books Collection Shelfmark: Steinbeck.17

John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California in 1902 and experienced many of the ups and downs of American life in the era of the Great Depression. The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939, drew public attention to the plight of the farmers from the American prairie states, dispossessed by the results of the Dust Bowl and world financial crisis, seeking work in California, but finding only poverty and exploitation. It was hugely controversial when first published, but sold widely, became an American classic, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and contributed to Steinbeck being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

Our copy, a first edition with the dustwrapper, in beautiful condition, is part of a collection of about 150 first, early and significant editions of Steinbeck, donated by Robert P. Gray.

An alumnus of the University, and honorary OBE, Robert P Gray donated the collection to the University of Edinburgh USA Development Trust in 2015. Bob is a leading figure in the California agriculture sector. He served for 15 years on the San Francisco regional Selection Committee of the Marshall Scholarship programme, under which the UK funds up to 40 US graduates each year to study at a UK university of their choice. Bob was a Marshall Scholar himself for his MA in English Language and Literature at the University.

The underlying purpose of his gift was the cross-pollination of cultures, however that comes about. He has expressed the hope that someone may write a thesis on Steinbeck or some of his themes (labour, economic migration, aspects of the human condition) and draw parallels with Britain at the time, or with events in the 21st century.

The gift of the collection was accompanied by a detailed scholarly catalogue which has proved very helpful to the library staff who created the online descriptions, and Bob maintains an interest in it, continuing to send additions.

Story by Elizabeth Quarmby Lawrence, Rare Books Librarian