The publication of Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights is somewhat enigmatic. Since the book was published posthumously, many of the traditional sources of information on the publication of a work, such as the author’s letters, journals, and other correspondence between the author and the publisher, simply do not exist because Steinbeck was not alive to write them. Ostensibly, the letters of his widow, Elaine Steinbeck, should be a good substitute, as she was his heir and executor of his literary estate. However, any correspondence between her and Chase Horton (a New York bookseller that John had recruited to help with the writing of The Acts, and eventually edited the published version) has been either lost, destroyed, or is otherwise unavailable to researchers.
The Acts was almost never published. According to Jackson Benson’s biography of Steinbeck entitled The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Elaine had decided that she would not allow Acts to be published. Benson remarks, “Since her husband had himself talked of publishing Journal of a Novel , her decision about that book was easily made, as was the decision to publish the letters of a man who put such stock in letter writing [Steinbeck: A Life in Letters: 1975]” (859). About The Acts, however, she had serious doubts. She was concerned that if it was published, it “would not add, but probably detract, from her husband’s reputation” (859).
The experience that finally changed her mind about publishing The Acts was the editing that she and Robert Wallsten did while compiling A Life in Letters. Both Otis and Horton (who would later edit The Acts for publication) had been asking her to publish The Acts since John’s death, but she had refused for the above reasons. However, as she went through all of the letters, she realized how important the work had been in John’s life, and decided to reread the manuscript (859). After doing so, she consented to publication. The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, appeared in stores in 1976.
The fact that she did not edit The Acts is likely also one of the reasons that there is such a small amount of information in her correspondence about its publication. Since she decided to publish The Acts while editing Letters, she presumably passed off the task of editing it to Horton, who had been more deeply involved in the research for The Acts in the late 1950s. If Horton’s letters could be located (if, indeed, they exist), a researcher may be able to discover more information about the process of publication. Another possible source of information would be the archives of publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux. At this time however, the mystery of this period in the text’s development must remain as such, until resources are identified that can add to our understanding.