The Short Reign of Pippin IV by John Steinbeck was April’s book selection. Marilyn Monroe’s copy of the book was a first edition, published in 1957, which was sold at auction in 1999 as part of a lot for $2990.00.
The satirical novel tells the story of a Frenchman named Pippin, living in contemporary Paris with his wife and daughter, who spends his time as an amateur astronomer. After a series of delegations, the French government decides to restore the monarchy, and thanks to his ancestry (traced back to Charlemagne) Pippin is crowned Pippin IV. The narrative goes through his reign, and we see Pippin increasingly vexed with his role as king (placed there to be a patsy of sorts) and his duty to his country. Though the novel was written nearly 70 years ago, many of the themes (and even some of the humor) still stand today.
At its time, the novel received generally mixed reviews at the time of its publication. Harry T. Moore of The New Republic called Steinbeck the “Soft-hearted Satirist” in his review, which I think is a fair assessment of the work. It is certainly a departure from his more serious novels.
Marilyn Monroe is referenced in the book (pg. 65), when Pippin’s uncle is trying to persuade Pippin to use an advertising agency to assist with his duties as King of France. At least one other book I reviewed from Marilyn Monroe’s library mentions Marilyn Monroe by name (the other book is The Magic Barrel). I am sure that I will come across more in the future!
One character who I wish played a more active role in the novel is that of Pippin’s daughter Clotilde. Her complex backstory includes writing an influential novel as a teenager, and working as an actress. She is relatively absent from the narrative when Pippin is crowned. The overall sense is that Pippin is not much involved in his daughter’s life.
A good portion of the novel is a critique of both politics and capitalism. The political debates that result in the institution of the monarchy are absurd (the Communists are convinced to vote for a king, for example, because they are swayed by the argument that all Communist governments can only arise from an anti-monarchic revolution).
The character Tod, the beau of Pippin’s daughter, is the son of a wealthy American businessman, and he explains to Pippin that in America there are two governments: the elected government and the corporation government. The former, he says, is actually autocratic, while the latter operates as “socialist states,” providing employees with healthcare, representation, retirement, and paid vacations, all the while claiming to hate socialism.
I bring up these particular themes in the book because of Marilyn Monroe’s personal history with radical politics. As this article by Time Magazine states, Marilyn Monroe had radical, progressive beliefs including pro-Castro views on Cuba and anti-McCarthyism. Additionally her bookshelf included Marx and works on radical politics, so I wonder what Marilyn Monroe would have thought of this satirical take on America and capitalism in The Short Reign of Pippin IV.
Though The Short Reign of Pippin IV did deal with some rather serious topics, the overall lighthearted absurdity made this book one of the easier reads from Marilyn Monroe’s bookshelf so far. She had several other Steinbeck novels, which I will read for this blog at a future date.
May’s book, which was voted for by The Vintage Bookclub Patreon Members is an autobiography of Mae West titled Goodness Had Nothing to Do with it. If you are interested in voting for future books to review, you can become a member here for just $1/month.