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Steinbeck Award Tickles Members of English Dept.

Why Not Chaucer?'


Harvard English professors have expressed surprise and some disappointment at the selection of John Steinbeck for the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature. The choice "isn't beneath contempt," as one member of the English Department put it, but nearly everyone contacted thought there could have been a better choice.

"I think it should have gone years ago to Robert Frost," commented J. Douglas Bush, Gurney Professor of English Literature.

"I hold Mr. Steinbeck's own opinion," said William Alfred, associate professor of English. "It was an 'amazing choice.' It isn't that I disrespect Steinbeck, but I don't think he's done anything since the '30's, when a passion of his happened to coincide with a passion of the world."

Monroe Engel '42, lecturer in English, felt that "there are obviously more deserving people around who've been passed over too long." Engel agreed with Bush and Alfred that Frost would have been a more logical choice.

Kenneth S. Lynn '45, associate professor of English, offered some explanation for Steinbeck's selection, noting that respect for the novelist has always been greater in Europe than in America.

"He seems to me a minor writer with a fairly good comic talent and strong protest in a few books." Lynn mentioned two novels from the '30's. In Dubious Battle and Steinbeck's most famous work, Grapes of Wrath. The Nobel Prize, however, was ostensibly awarded for The Winter of Our Discontent, published last year and panned by critics.

Alfred couldn't explain the award. The Swedish Academy, he added, has been very inconsistent in making the award, passing up Leo Tolstoy, but once selecting Pearl Buck.

B. Jere Whiting, professor of English and an authority on early English literature, avoided comment, "but if they had made the award posthumously to Chaucer, I might have had an opinion for you."

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