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Steinbeck's scientific muse

A friendship with a biologist inspired and informed the novelist's work, says science communication professor

Nicholas Russell
One of the most attractive scientific figures in literature is probably 'Doc,' the marine biologist in two of John Steinbeck's novels, Cannery Row (1945) and Sweet Thursday (1954). The cannery workers come and go, but on the waterfront a variety of lowlifes live permanently: various bums, winos, prostitutes, and Doc, who lives and works at a biological supply company. Today, many Steinbeck readers may not realize that Doc was modeled closely on Steinbeck's friend Ed Ricketts, a biologist who assembled one of the only facilities to blend both science and art under one roof, influencing scientists and artists alike.Doc is a saintly character, much admired in the strange community of Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. Steinbeck gives plenty of detail of Doc's work: He is an unusual scientist, a freelancer making a (not too good) commercial living, and also a great enthusiast for music, art and poetry...

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