Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Happy birthday to the memory of John Steinbeck and the dogs that he loved.

Born Feb 27, 1902, John Steinbeck was an American writer widely known for the novels The Grapes of Wrath (1939), East of Eden (1952), and of course, Travels with Charley: In Search of America, a cross-country travelogue documenting a 1960 road trip Steinbeck took with his ten year old French Poodle, Charley.

Charley was Steinbeck's most famous dog, but not his only one.  The author had a particular fondness for badly behaved Airedales whose delinquencies he often wrote of in letters to friends. To Steinbeck a dog was a dog:  "I distrust people who believe that dogs are better than we are.  Dogs are not better.  They are just different from us.  Surely then can do some things better, but I have yet to see a dog balance a checkbook, or make an omelette or compose a sonnet."

The author with Charley (aka Charles le Chien).
Of his English Setter, Toby, he wrote “…I once had a dog who saw things that were not there, or if they were, neither I nor my family or friends could see them.  He was a large and dreamy English setter named Toby, the White Flower of the Mountain... Lying in front of an open fire, he would awaken, look at the front door and with his eyes and nose follow something across the room, sometimes watching it exit through another door and sometimes move to a chair.  Toby thumped his tail in greeting to some of these things he saw, while he greeted others with a low growl of dislike.” (The Thinking Dog’s Man by Ted Patrick, 1964)

Describing his standard Poodle, Charley, he wrote,“He was born in Bercy on the outskirts of Paris and trained in France, and while he knows a little Poodle-English, he responds quickly only to commands in French. Otherwise he has to translate, and that slows him down.”

“[Charley] is a unique dog. He does not live by tooth or fang. He respects the right of cats to be cats although he doesn’t admire them. He turns his steps rather than disturb an earnest caterpillar. His greatest fear is that someone will point out a rabbit and suggest that he chase it. This is a dog of peace and tranquility.”
Charley, who died in 1961, seven years before Steinbeck,
is buried at the Steinbeck Estate, Pacific Grove, California.

Happy birthday Mr. Steinbeck.


  1. Thanks for highlighting this book. I've always wanted to read Steinbeck but haven't gotten to it, now I have no excuse. Also thanks for sending out The Dog in Pictures, received it early in the New Year :o)

  2. An interesting post, lovely to read Steinbeck's words about his dogs!!!