Mimesis and Metaphor: Reflections of Hogarth and Fielding in Steinbeck’s 'East of Eden'

Dr. Barbara A. Heavilin
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In letters to his publisher on facing pages of the ledger in which he wrote ‘East of Eden,’ John Steinbeck provides a kind of map of his artistic precursors: “I am not going to put artificial structures on this book. The real structures are enough, I mean the discipline imposed by realities and certain universal writers” (JN 118). It is evident from letters and records of Steinbeck’s reading that Henry Fielding was primary among these eighteenth-century sources. As early as 1930, Steinbeck writes, “I have re-read . . . Fielding” (SSL 25). He maintains that ‘East of Eden’ derives “its leisure . . . from eighteenth-century novels (JN 174). Steinbeck’s affinity for Fielding goes further to include similar moral and societal concerns with good and evil (Steinbeck) and benevolence and hypocrisy (Fielding). Both embed these concerns in pictorial metaphors that depict “an action that criticizes human behavior and provides a way of looking at the world” (Carpenter 563).

Fielding’s own sources of influence further account for such a moral aesthetic and style—chief among them artist William Hogarth, whom he considered as “one of the most useful Satyrists any Age hath produced,” proclaiming his Progresses as “calculated more to serve the Cause of Virtue . . . than all of the folios of Morality which have ever been written.” The aesthetic and moral concerns in the interplay between the novelist and artist translate into a precursor of a postmodern aesthetic in Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Whether or not Steinbeck owes a direct debt to Hogarth as well as to Fielding, East of Eden nevertheless gazes backward at Fielding and Hogarth’s authorial/painterly involvement with the work of art, their methods of characterization, and their clearly bared intentions, while these same attributes point forward to a postmodern metafiction.

Keywords: Influence of Hogarth’s Art on the Novel, Influence of Fielding in East of Eden, Eighteenth-century Influences on Steinbeck, Influence of Art on Postmodern Metafiction, Mimesis in Art and Literature, Pictorial Metaphors in the Novel
Stream: Analysing Artforms, Meaning and Representation
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Barbara A. Heavilin

Associate Professor of English, Department of English, Taylor University

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, I received degrees from Indiana Wesleyan University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and Ball State University. I taught for some time in the honors program at Ball State and have been at Taylor University for the past fourteen years. As a Steinbeck scholar and a teacher of Restoration and Eighteenth-Century British Literature, I have long been interested in the echoes of the influence of Fielding and Hogarth in Steinbeck’s East of Eden and of Addison on his other writings. I serve as co-editor of The Steinbeck Review and have edited and written books and numerous articles on Steinbeck. My other scholarly interests include Quaker studies, Harry Potter, Wordsworth, women’s studies, among others.

Ref: A06P0537