The Dog that Ate the Manuscript of a Famous American Novel

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIt’s one thing when you’re dog eats your homework and you have to face your skeptical teacher — but what if your dog eats a manuscript considered one of the most famous American novels set in the Great Depression? Now that’s a tragedy! American writer John Steinbeck experienced that exact situation and imagine the reaction from his publisher when he had to explain that his dog ate his manuscript Of Mice and Men. The dog of this sad tale was a setter puppy named Toby that in Steinbeck’s words “[was] a very serious dog who doesn’t care much for jokes.” Apparently, he didn’t care too much for his regular dog food and switched to something with a bit more fiber. In his journal entry for May 27, 1937, Steinbeck wrote: “Minor tragedy stalked. My setter pup [Toby], left alone one night, made confetti of about half of my manuscript book. Two months work to do over again. It set me back. There was no other draft. I was pretty mad, but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically. I didn’t want to ruin a good dog for a manuscript I’m not sure is good at all. He only got an ordinary spanking… I’m not sure Toby didn’t know what he was doing when he ate the first draft. I have promoted Toby-dog to be a lieutenant-colonel in charge of literature. But as from he unpredictable literary enthusiasms of this country, I have little faith in them.”

The title Of Mice and Men was inspired by two of the lines from the poem “To A Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Lough, November, 1785” by Scottish poet Robert Burns. The poem is written in a light Scots dialect which is foreign to modern readers. The specific lines from the seventh stanza are: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley. (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.)” Steinbeck completed his work on his manuscript for Of Mice and Men and the book was published later that year in 1937. Toby eventually recovered from his spanking and never ate another manuscript again.

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For further reading: Conversations with John Steinbeck by Thomas Fensch

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