Award-winning American author John Steinbeck had the opportunity to visit Scandinavia on three separate occasions in his life in 1937, 1946, and 1962. Although Steinbeck’s multiple journeys to Scandinavia revitalized and inspired the writer, Steinbeck was also completely exhausted by the unwanted public attention showered on him in Europe, and eventually the limelight had a lasting effect on his career.
In 1937 Steinbeck decided to travel across Europe with his first wife, Carol, in an effort to escape the chaos surrounding the success of his recently published novella, Of Mice and Men. Bound for the Swedish port of Göteborg on the SS Drotningholm, Steinbeck wrote to his friend and publisher, Pascal Covici, “I need to get away from being John Steinbeck for a while” (Parini 188). During the trip, the writer was able to draw creative inspiration from the European castles and scenery he saw in Scandinavia. Steinbeck’s 1936 trip to Scandinavia seemed to reinvigorate the writer during a period of time when he was struggling to accept his role as a public figure, and although Steinbeck and his first wife divorced later in life, the exciting European vacation temporarily distracted him from some of the problems present within his marriage and personal life.
In 1946, Steinbeck traveled to Scandinavia for the second time. Steinbeck had received critical acclaim in Europe for his novel The Moon Is Down. Because German forces occupied both Denmark and Norway during World War II, many people from these countries viewed The Moon is Down as representative of the hardships and suffering their nations had endured during World War II. However, American literary critics believed that Steinbeck’s humanistic portrayal of the Nazis would diminish the hope and spirit of those living in occupied Europe. Despite American critics' worries, Steinbeck received a hero’s welcome upon his arrival in Copenhagen in 1946. Although Steinbeck was pleased and humbled by the hospitality he received in Europe, he was also taken aback at finding himself in the spotlight, claiming, “I didn’t know anyone treated writers like this” (Simmonds 12). In Norway, Steinbeck visited the King's Royal Palace in the capital of Oslo and received the Haakon VII Cross for his wartime efforts. Steinbeck was also able to meet former Resistance leaders, who thanked him for the crucial role his novel played in boosting morale during the horrors of World War II. The time he spent in Norway was extremely meaningful because it was the first time he was able to observe the direct impact of his writing (Simmonds 117).
In 1962 the Swedish Academy awarded John Steinbeck the Nobel Prize in Literature. Because American literary critics had scorned Steinbeck’s writing for years, the writer had not expected to receive such a prestigious award and did not wholly believe he deserved it. Although Steinbeck tried to shrug off American literary critics' hostility, he was very obviously pained by his own nation's fierce opposition toward his success. Moreover, Steinbeck worried about the consequences of receiving the award. He viewed the Nobel Prize as a sort of creative death sentence, calling the award a “curse that turns the artist into some kind of living monument” (Benson 921). On December 10, 1962, Steinbeck delivered his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Stockholm. Steinbeck recognized how important it was to continue writing, but the outpouring of scorn from American critics even after winning the prize, along with mounting public pressure to live up to his prestigious title as a Nobel laureate, undoubtedly contributed to Steinbeck’s emotional inability to continue writing. Sadly, due to this internal battle, the consequences of receiving the Nobel Prize were exactly what Steinbeck had feared (Parini 533-538).
Benson, Jackson J. John Steinbeck, Writer. Penguin, 1990.
Parini, Jay. John Steinbeck. Henry Holt, 1995.
Simmonds, Roy. “The Composition, Publication, and Reception of John Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus, with Biographical Background: Chapter Five “The Advance Sales of The Bus are Stupendous”: October 1946-April 1947. The Steinbeck Review, vol. 9, no. 2, 2012, pp. 10-24.