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Joe Elegant = Joseph Campbell??
on January 14, 2010
In his early career when Steinbeck was married to Carol Henning, Joseph Campbell had a very public, and for John, a very painful, flirtation with her. As the rumor goes, Steinbeck got revenge by lampooning Campbell with the charactger in SWEET THURSDAY, Joe Elegant.
"Joe Elegant was a pale young man with bangs. He smoked foreign cigarettes in a long ebony holder and he cooked for the Bear Flag. ...He sneered most of the time, and except at mealtime kept to himslef in his little lean-to behind the Bear Flag from which the rattle of his typewriter could be heard late at night."
p. 133 "After lunch Joe Elegant read Fauna his latest chapter. He explained the myth and the symbol. 'You see,' he said, 'the grandmother stands for guilt.'
'Aint she dead and buried?'
'That's a kind of a messy guilt.'
'It's the reality below the reality,' said Joe Elegant.
'Balls!' said Fauna." (Fauna's the madam of a cheap bordello.)
I don't regard this as one of Steinbeck's better books, but Ch. 23, "One Night of Love," stands out for how it conveys a deep understanding and compassion for humanity and the transformational power of love. Steinbeck rarely comes right out and talks about love, but he does here and in a way that proves he's given it a lot of thought. Here, Doc and Suzy (a woman engaging in prostitution out of desperation) are dining in a restaurant in Monterrey (they've not yet had sex):
"The shock of a necktie was leaving Doc. He looked across the table and smiled at Suzy and he wondered, What is beauty in a girl that it can come and go? This Suzy did not faintly resembble the tough hustler who had screamed at hm the night before. He raised the coctail glass. 'You're pretty,' he said. 'I'm glad you came with me. Here's to both of us.'
Suzy swallowed a gulp, held back her tears, and waited for the spasm to pass."
Suzy's a prostitute. Doc knows she is, yet he treats her as a lady, and she behaves like one. Suzy turns heads when she walks in the restaurant. The maitre d' defers. Doc wore slacks, tie and jacket. This isn't a paid transaction, either, it's a bonifide date, arranged by Fauna, Suzy's boss and a trusted friend of Doc's. The entire book is worth this one restaurant scene in this one chapter.