Wednesday, January 26, 2011


The Short Reign of Pippin IV, John Steinbeck, The Viking Press, 1957, 188 pp

 In this short work of political satire, Steinbeck proved he could write just about anything. I have also been reading a biography of Steinbeck by Jackson J Benson, as I make my way through Steinbeck's novels. There I learned that the author never succeeded in writing a play, so perhaps that format eluded him. He also did not enjoy writing for magazines, but he could do humor. A long visit to France with a contract for a series of magazine articles resulted in this highly entertaining novel.

  The Short Reign of Pippin IV demonstrates both Steinbeck's intimate familiarity with Paris of the mid 1950s as well as his thorough understanding of French political history. But the story carries all this information so lightly that the humor and characters are allowed to make an amusing tale.

 Unable to get their politics back in order after World War II, French political parties decide the only solution that will be acceptable to all is to bring back the monarchy. An obscure descendant of the House of Charlemagne is chosen. Pippin Heristal, middle-aged amateur astronomer, living off the profits of an inherited vineyard, must take the throne.

 Pippin's wife, the consummate French housewife, becomes Queen while Clotilde, a spoof on Francoise Sagan, is the jitterbug age Princess. All very hilarious, except for the few times Steinbeck cannot resist putting his own political philosophy in King Pippin's mouth.

 What surprised me the most, though I might have guessed from his earlier novels, is the level of political sophistication combined with the amount of humor that John Steinbeck carried around in his mind.

(A Penguin Classic paperback edition of The Short Reign of Pippin IV is available by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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