Steinbeck’s by the Sea

Summer home of John Steinbeck (1902-1968) and his wife Elaine Anderson Steinbeck (1914-2003). The modest house is in Sag Harbor, NY, in the town of East Hampton. The large tree closest to the house, on the other side of the building, is about two feet in front of the front door. Photo by Eric Francis.

While I’m out on the eastern tip of Long Island, I had a chance to visit John Steinbeck’s summer home and I reckon favorite place to live, at least on the East Coast. It’s a modest home on about an acre of land in Sag Harbor, a few miles outside of East Hampton. He lived there, and on the upper east side of Manhattan, in the last years of his life. This was the house he left from on his 10,000 mile journey that became the book Travels with Charley.

Steinbeck spent many years in Monterey, CA, right on the coast. His best friend was a marine biologist who would take him out on sampling expeditions to give him a break from writing, and several of his novels and nonfiction books have water themes.

When he moved to the East Coast it’s not surprising he ended up out here. His house is tucked away on a little peninsula surrounded by some coves and near Sag Harbor Bay, on the south fork near the end of Long Island. The place is a bit isolated from any activity but is near the neighbors. It has big windows to let in the Sun from a few different directions. It’s the perfect place if you have a lot of water in your chart (Sun Pisces, Moon Scorpio for water) and Leo rising (for sunshine).

While I was visiting, one of the guys working on the house (which is still in the family) said he’d heard of Steinbeck but didn’t understand why people were so excited about him. Steinbeck won both the Pulitzer and the Nobel prizes (Pulitzer for The Grapes of Wrath and Nobel for his lifetime achievements).

He’s not quite an obscure author, but because his books are not about killing people, or corporate intrigue, they don’t get as much airplay as we need them to have. I explained that Steinbeck’s themes are meaningful right now because they involve fairness, what happens to people who don’t have the advantages of wealth and what happens when society reverts to greed as its guiding philosophy (yes, we have been out to this edge before).

Here is Steinbeck's chart to get that discussion going. Lois Rodden gave the data a C rating, which means potential conflict. However, while I have not confirmed the chart by using transits and progressions, it does fit him well -- particularly Jupiter in the 7th house like that.

In essence, Steinbeck’s work is all about compassion for people; it’s about how we can and must take care of one another. He is the very antithesis of Ayn Rand, who preached a false doctrine of selfishness that’s influencing our whole society — but she couldn’t even take care of herself. (She depended on public assistance at the end of her life — the very thing that her ideas are used to destroy.)

You never forget Steinbeck’s characters: has Lennie Small, from Of Mice and Men, ever left your mind or your feelings? I could list nearly every character in The Grapes of Wrath without referring to notes. The reason we remember these people is because the writer cared about them, and therefore so do we. They were real to him — they are real to us.

Remember that Steinbeck started as a journalist, and his writing is realistic rather than fanciful. A journalist’s job is to tell you what the human race sees, hears, thinks and feels — not to make up stories. There are no special effects, no superhuman powers, no divine intervention. There are just guys like Jim Casey, the former preacher who decided that religion was full of shit but loved how the young women would get themselves so filled up with the Holy Spirit, one would fuck him wildly behind the church after the service was over.

One of the guys working on the house asked me what my interest in Steinbeck was. I told him that I might not be a writer had I not read his work. Steinbeck’s was the first writing voice that ever spoke to me, and I have to say we have the same taste in real estate.

I’ll come back to his chart around the time of his birthday next month.

20 Responses to Steinbeck’s by the Sea

  1. Liz says:

    I love Steinbeck too, and I’ll never forget Lennie either. Of Mice and Men was one of my first ‘adult’ books, as a child. And how I’d love to live in a place like Steinbeck’s (Cancer sun, Scorpio moon and rising – and Leo somewehre, but don’t remember where). Thanks Eric – your piece and photo warm the soul.

  2. Len Wallick says:

    Thank you for this tribute to “The Natural” of American letters. Like the baseball-player character in the motion picture “The Natural”, Mr. Steinbeck championed what we now call the 99 Percent. With his natal Uranus in a wide opposition to Pluto, he would have understood the times we now live in as well as he knew his own.

  3. Len, I would not call that a loose opposition. Four degrees is at the heart of the matter. Add seven years on either side of that and we are in loose territory, as Rick Tarnas has well documented. The aspect is amplified by Mars right there in the mix, as well as Nessus. I think he really understood how much of violence, greed and regressive thinking is simply about intentional cruelty.

  4. Len Wallick says:

    Thank you, Eric. You have a point. i admit to favoring tighter orbs, especially in separation. As you point out, Mr. Tarnas does make an excellent case for the outer planets being allowed a wider orb to be considered in temporal as well as spatial perspective.

  5. I think that orbs are about purpose. There is no right size screwdriver — only the right size one for a particular job. So you’ll see for some things I start by ignoring everything less than 1 or 2 degrees, and for others — other metrics count.

  6. Rob44 says:

    It has always seemed strange to me…The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second. ~ Cannery Row

  7. Alex Brocklehurst says:

    Really enjoyed this excursion into mid-20th Century literature and the prominence of Steinbeck in your formation. I think you and me both on his real estate proclivities!

  8. aword says:

    Interesting discussion; ‘turn of the century’ — never before this thought to compare my grandparent’s era/experience so closely to my own.

    Thank you for beauty shared in your photo and gentle words, Eric – and as always mostly for your thinking – here is a fine one worth my repeat, “I think he really understood how much of violence, greed and regressive thinking is simply about intentional cruelty.”

  9. Len Wallick says:

    Eric: Yes, thank you, the outer planets of history deserve their wider latitude in our consideration. Mr. Steinbeck not only astutely observed and eloquently recorded that history, he was a part of it. In his 1962 Nobel Prize acceptance speech he noted first his role by saying “I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man, has no dedication nor any membership in literature.” (an ideal reflecting his natal Neptune late in an air sign, on the doorstep of water, just as it is now). He then continued to encapsulate the great transition that took place during his lifetime “Having taken Godlike power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and wisdom we once prayed some deity might have.” So yes, from the hope offered by the nascent Communist ideology in the first part of his life to the realization that it is humanity itself which is “…our greatest hazard and our only hope.” That’s a big sweep of history for one lifetime.

    Of course, he was not perfect, he did not resist the Vietnam war, if anything, he endorsed it (i remember being disappointed by that). Perhaps it was a blind spot, perhaps he was trying to compensate for something, with Nessus conjunct his natal Mars squaring the aforementioned Pluto-Uranus opposition it could have been either.

    Rob44: Thank you, the passage you quoted helps me realize how it was that Mr. Steinbeck was consistently photographed with a look of bemusement.

  10. M E Mckie says:

    I’ve always been so moved by Mr. Steinbeck and his nuanced pen. Thank you so much, Eric. Feels like time for me to pick up Grapes of Wrath again.

    Funny/curious that Mr. Steinbeck and I have Mercury @ 21 Aquarius. Would that I could pen such characters w/ such love and admiration.

  11. There are a few theories on his acceptance of Vietnam. One is he was friends with LBJ, and that kind of friendship can have compelling sway over one’s ethics. He also had a son in the war — he had to believe in it.

    It is curious, and I believe that war is the great temptation of all men. As Rimbaud said, “I dream of a war of right and might — of unlooked for logic — as simple as a musical phrase.” That’s of course the war men want, never the one they get, but it takes some time to sort out that the first kind doesn’t exist. Unfortunately way too long. Steinbeck once said that every generation had to go through war to see what it was like. But that was long before Vietnam.

  12. Ursula says:

    I too am a big Steinbeck fan. Interesting to find out that his Mercury conjuncts my natal Chiron as I found his writing a healing balm for my lonely, hurting soul back in my early twenties. I did my English major on the book East of Eden as I was so inspired by his humanity and idealism and that’s why I love the company of people born under Pisces as their high sensibilities and love for the higher aspirations of human existence grab hold of my imagination.

    Now I like his idea of befriending a marine biologist who took him out on the water — must find me one of them sorts!! That would have fed his watery soul. Yep, scratch this Virgo and you’ll find a mermaid who wants to scuba dive again, swim with the dolphins or plain just float around in a swimming pool. 😉

    Yeah, in total agreement with the choice of residence. That would be a great place to unwind which i hope you did lots of these past few days, Eric……but i know you didn’t because you are still writing away like crazy, aren’t you?!!

  13. GB says:

    Thank you Eric for the acknowledgement of my favorite writer. I have read all of Steinbeck’s work and have spent many hours in the wonderful Steinbeck Center in Salinas. Thanks for the picture of his Home. I concur with the taste in real estate.

    Ma Joad: Rich fellas come up an’ they die, an’ their kids ain’t no good an’ they die out. But we keep a’comin’. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, ’cause we’re the people. Grapes of Wrath

  14. Suzette says:

    When you have time (as if ever!) could you do a few more authors, like Scott
    Fitzgerald and Zelda, or some painters Dali, Chagall. And now we are at it,
    how about some composers Bernstein, and Placido Domingo while he is still alive.
    Looking forward to the interpretation of Steinbeck`s horoscope.
    I have met quite a few movers and shakers with the combination of Leo-Aries,
    on either M.C. or Asc. So what made him live a rather hidden life, not exactly
    in the lamplight? The predominance of planets in the Western hemisphere maybe?
    Anyway, thanks for diving into this area.

  15. Naturegirl1111 says:

    so you like the east end…i live there now…couldn’t handle upstate

  16. Correct, I love it here — as much as any place on earth. One thing I notice about upstate is, I hang out on this land — hundreds of acres that I have access to via two old friends. But with one exception, my friend Beth, the only people interested in going into the woods and hanging out are my friends from out of town. Among other implications, this tells me that most of the people around me are not interested in hanging out in the forest by a stream — that is a picture of the human environment.

    The natural forces are just as amazing here (it’s a pretty special forest and this ain’t no ordinary coastline). But everyone here seems to understand where they are are and why they are here. There’s an acknowledged connection through the land and ocean. It is amazing — I’ve hardly every felt such energy and strength coming out of the sea in such a friendly way.

  17. Visiting Steinbeck’s house I had a revelation about McMansions. The reason you can live in a smallish, cozy place is if you’re connected to the land. If you’re not connected to the land, you might need a fortress.

  18. Len Wallick says:

    Yes, thank you for that observation. i believe it was Voltaire who expressed preference for a small house with a large garden. If we look at Mr Steinbeck’s natal chart, the position of the Moon opposing Ceres along the nodal axis would seem to indicate that his native and deeply rooted inclination of was in agreement with your revelation. Perhaps, somehow, he was speaking that truth to you, through you, knowing that you could be trusted to express it eloquently and convincingly.

  19. Hmmm

    Yes well, that Moon-Ceres on the nodes — with Scorpio involved — looks like the battle royale between mother and lover; mother and whore archetypes. I love how Steinbecks’ only comments about sex are how natural it is. I would not want to reach across that particular opposition, however. And with the nodes involved it has been going on for a long time.

  20. PattiT says:

    My family back in California live in the heart of Steinbeck country and I always get a shiver when I drive through it. It’s beautiful countryside anyway, but given an extra dimension through Steinbeck’s imagination and prose. It’s always East of Eden for me. A lovely little piece Eric, thanks.

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