When John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath became both the bestselling book of 1939 and a cause celebre, the Associated Farmers of California decided they needed their own fictional response to Steinbeck's masterpiece.
Ruth Comfort Mitchell, a writer of popular romances, and the wife of former state senator Sanborn Young, answered the call with her 1940 novel, Of Human Kindness:
It was very hot and close in the little bedroom. Mary groped for a handkerchief and blotted up the perspiration which stood in tiny pools under her eyes and trickled down her cheeks, and it seemed to her that everything in the world that mattered was melting and steaming and running away. A yellow-jacket skimmed angrily close to her face and she reacted automatically for a fly-swatter and struck it down. She must tell them. She must find them and tell them, her husband, and 'Mom,' and Ashley, her sixteen-year-old son. They had to know it. They had to know that Sally, daughter, granddaughter, sister, had run away from boarding-school and married her father's lazy, happy-go-lucky, good-looking, guitar-playing-ballad-singing Oklahoman. They must know; everybody must know. The news would spread like wild-fire on the roads, over the party-lines, across the counters of the grocery stores:
'Hear about Sally Banner?'
'What do you know about Ed Banner's girl?
'Ran away and married that Okie was working for him, the fellow he fired last week!'
'Yes, she did, the crazy kid. Gee, I bet you Ed's fit to be tied!'"
Ruth Comfort Mitchell was not the only writer to pen a novel in response to The Grapes of Wrath. Hard as it may be to believe, Of Human Kindness is far superior to the 1939 novel Grapes of Gladness written by Los Angeles real estate man M. V. Hartranft.
"Ruth Comfort Mitchell Young," photographer unknown, c. 1940. Larger.