Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein, p.1Gertrude Stein
VINTAGE BOOKS EDITION, MARCH 1990
Copyright, 1945, 1946, © 1962, by Random House Inc Copyright, 1933, 1934, by Gertrude Stein. Copyright, 1934, 1935, by Modern Library, Inc. Copyright, 1940, by Atlantic Monthly, Inc. Copyright, 1945, by Random House, Inc. Copyright renewed, 1936, by Gertrude Stein. Copyright renewed, 1945, by Conde Nast Publications, Inc. Copyright renewed, 1960, 1961, 1962, by Alice B Toklas. Copyright renewed, 1967, by Daniel C. Joseph. Copyright renewed, 1974, by Joseph Solomon, Daniel Stein, Gabrielle Stein Tyler and Michael Stein.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto Originally published, in different form, by Random House, Inc in 1946. This edition was originally published by The Modern Library in 1962.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Stein, Gertrude, 1874–1946.
Selected writings of Gertrude Stem / edited, with an introduction and notes, by Carl van Vechten and with an essay on Gertrude Stein by F. W. Dupee. — Vintage Books ed.
Reprint. Originally published: Selected writings. New York.
Modern Library, c1962
I. Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964. II. Title.
818’ 5209—dc20 89-22658
The editor and publishers acknowledge their indebtedness to the Hogarth Press for Composition as Explanation and Preciosilla, to Vanity Fair for Have They Attacked Mary. He Giggled. (A Political Caricature), to The Atlantic Monthly for The Winner Loses
A Message from Gertrude Stein
General Introduction by F. W. Dupee
A Stein Song by Carl Van Vechten
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
The Gradual Making of The Making of Americans
The Making of Americans (Selected Passages)
Three Portraits of Painters:
Melanctha: EACH ONE AS SHE MAY
Composition as Explanation
Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia
Have They Attacked Mary. He Giggled (A POLITICAL CARICATURE)
As a Wife Has a Cow: A LOVE STORY
Miss Furr and Miss Skeene
A Sweet Tail (Gypsies)
Four Saints in Three Acts
The Winner Loses: A PICTURE OF OCCUPIED FRANCE
The Coming of the Americans (from WARS I HAVE SEEN)
About the Author
A Message from Gertrude Stein
I always wanted to be historical, from almost a baby on, I felt that way about it, and Carl was one of the earliest ones that made me be certain that I was going to be. When I was around fourteen I used to love to say to myself those awful lines of George Eliot, May I be one of those immortal something or other, I havent the poem here and although I knew then how it went I do not now, and then later when they used to ask me when I was going back to America, not until I am a lion, I said, I was not completely certain that I was going to be but now here I am, thank you all. How terribly exciting each one of these were, first there was the doing of them, the intense feeling that they made sense, then the doubt and then each time over again the intense feeling that they did make sense. It was Carl who arranged for the printing of Tender Buttons, he knew and what a comfort it was that there was the further knowing of the printed page, so naturally it was he that would choose and introduce because he was the first that made the first solemn contract and even though the editor did disappear, it was not before the edition was printed and distributed, wonderful days, and so little by little it was built up and all the time Carl wrote to me and I wrote to him and he always knew, and it was always a comfort and now he has put down all his knowledge of what I did and it is a great comfort. Then there was my first publisher who was commercial but who said he would print and he would publish even if he did not understand and if he did not make money, it sounds like a fairy tale but it is true, Bennett said, I will print a book of yours a year whatever it is and he has, and often I have worried but he always said there was nothing to worry about and there wasnt. And now I am pleased here are the selected writings and naturally I wanted more, but I do and can say that all that are here are those that I wanted the most, thanks and thanks again.
Paris. June 18, 1946
There used to be something known to all readers as “Steinese.” Steinese was the peculiar literary idiom invented by Gertrude Stein around 1910 and made familiar to a large American public by her admirers and nonadmirers alike. Gnomic, repetitive, illogical, sparsely punctuated, this idiom became a scandal and a delight, lending itself equally to derisory parody and fierce denunciation. It had a formidable currency in writing and conversation throughout the teens, twenties, and thirties. “A rose is a rose is a rose” and “Pigeons on the grass alas” were encountered as frequently—almost—as the “Yes, we have no bananas,” a nonsense phrase—later a song—of popular origin which may actually have been inspired by Steinese. “My little sentences have gotten under their skins,” Gertrude Stein was at last able to say, with the pride of someone who craved recognition the more that she got mere notoriety. In other words, her little sentences, originally quoted in scorn, had come in time to be repeated from something like affection; and thus the very theory that underlay her technique of reiteration was proved: what people loved they repeated, and what people repeated they loved.
Simple-minded as she sounded to the public, Gertrude Stein did have her theories—few writers of note have had more stringent ones. If she was “the Mother Goose of Montparnasse,” as someone said (such attempts to characterize her in a witty phrase were constantly repeated, too), she was a Mother Goose with a mind. She had studied psychology with William James at Radcliffe; conducted laboratory experiments there with Hugo Münsterberg; come close to getting an M.D. at Johns Hopkins; and then, settling in Paris with her brother Leo, communed with Picasso in his Paris studio where a different kind of experiment was in progress: the plastic analysis of spatial relations which gave rise to Cubist painting.
Thus, behind the popular image of Gertrude Stein there came to be, as we all know by now, a woman of immense purpose, equipped with astonishing powers of assimilation, concentration and hard work—as well as, to be sure, relaxation (she liked to lie in the sun and stare right into it). Her meeting with Picasso was in itself purely fortuitous; such a meeting might have befallen any tourist with a mildly questing spirit and enough money to buy paintings which, in any event, went almost begging. Gertrude Stein converted this meeting into the basis of a vocation and a life. It became for her the major case—her acquaintance with William James was another—of genius by association. Her scientific interests now fused with a passion, at last fully awakened, for art and literature. Out of this union of the laboratory and the studio came a body of theory and writing like none before or after it. There were elements in it of the Naturalism that was just then (ca. 1900) taking root in American literature. So far as these elements alone went, Gertrude Stein might have been a Dreiser manqué—except that, wit
The American writer who most attracted her was not Dreiser or any of his school, but Henry James. And there may have been personal as well as aesthetic reasons for her refusal of Naturalist pessimism and protest. Gertrude Stein felt no urgent identification with the oppressed; life was a struggle that she could very probably win. Her grandparents had been German-Jewish immigrants, but they had prospered in the United States; her parents, prospering too, had been beguiled by art, languages, and educational theory; as children, Gertrude Stein and her sister and brothers, like the young Jameses at an earlier period, had been transported to Europe for a prolonged stay in some of its great cities. Thus the impression left by the elder Steins, at least on Gertrude Stein, was that of people who, if they were not exactly free spirits, had to a degree done as they liked and made themselves at home equally in America and Europe. No doubt their example, as she conceived of it, fortified her own determination to do the same, do even better. Hence the impulse, so patiently and passionately followed by her, to root herself in a profession, in the city of Paris, in a society of her choosing. The consequences for her personality were, again, astonishing. In her maturity, she gave the impression, not merely of doing what she liked but of being almost anything she wanted to be. She seemed, as the many surviving likenesses of her suggest, at once female and male, Jew and non-Jew, American pur sang and European peasant, artist and public figure, and so on. She did not, however, create this intricate unity and sustain it without showing evidences of great strain. Her magnetic, almost magical, self-mastery was buttressed by frank self-indulgence and advertised to the world by a good deal of unashamed self-congratulation. A regular system of compensations characterized her life. Inclusions entailed exclusions in a virtually mechanical perfection of balance. For almost every idea she embraced, almost every person she befriended, there was some idea that remained pointedly alien to her, some person who was an outsider. Henry James had played something like this drama too, though with more compunction, it seems, and with himself often cast as the outsider. Gertrude Stein, never the outsider, seems not to have risen—or sunk—to the level of James’s flexibility. Thus her combined residence, salon, and art gallery in the rue de Fleurus, where she presided with the aid of the devoted Miss Toklas, presented the aspects, now of an infinitely charming refuge, now of a bristling fortress. The former aspect predominated; the wariest visitor was apt to be struck by things about Gertrude Stein which were more literally magical than her self-mastery—things that were not to be fully accounted for by will, intelligence, or the principle of genius by association: her magnificent head and features, her appealing voice, her elementally refreshing laugh.
But Gertrude Stein’s family background was not the only source, or even the principal one, of her prodigious and largely good-humored will to power. The same background failed to supply her brother Leo with any such determination to make himself at home in the world. Brilliant, erratic, eternally unfulfilled, Leo Stein became an early advocate and perennial patient of psychoanalysis, finding a sort of fatherland only in Freud. In Gertrude Stein’s case, obviously, it was her involvement in the profession of literature, and the exacting mysteries attending it, that made the difference. The profession was the more engrossing because of the variety of influences she brought to bear on it. If her conception of literature included elements of Naturalism, it also anticipated the literary Modernism that was to culminate in the chief works of Joyce, Eliot, Yeats, and others. To her as to them (up to a point), literature in the twentieth century presented itself as a problem in the reconstruction of form and language. But where the solution of this problem was a means to an end for these writers, it became, for her, on the whole, a pursuit worthy in itself of her best efforts. She had no quarrel, as they did, with culture, with history, with the self. Culture in her terminology becomes “composition,” an aggregate of institutions, technologies, and human relations which the artist, as artist, accepts as it is, eliciting its meanings primarily through eye and ear rather than through mind, memory, or imagination. And words, like the other materials of the literary medium, become useful to the artist, assume a character purely aesthetic, in proportion as they can be converted from bearers of established meaning and unconscious association into plastic entities.
Such was the theoretical basis of her work, a basis to which she added many refinements as she sought to find literary equivalents for the various experiments conducted by the Cubists. Her theories have been admirably expounded and criticized in a number of recent books. The usual conclusion is the common-sense one. Literature is a temporal art rather than, like painting, a spatial one; and in using words as plastic entities, as things in themselves, words become not more but less alive, indeed peculiarly inert. Mr. Kenneth Burke has called Gertrude Stein’s practice “art by subtraction,” a phrase that expresses well the literal and merely negative aspect of her work at its least effective. Mr. B L. Reid has made Burke’s phrase the title of a hostile study of Gertrude Stein; and Mr. John Malcolm Brinnin, in The Third Rose, the best biography of her, sums up his investigations into her methods as follows:
Language is plastic, but its plasticity must be informed and determined by the philosophy or, at least, by the information it conveys. In her earlier works, Gertrude Stein operated under this injunction naturally; but as she continued, her attraction to painting led her to wish for the same plastic freedom for literature, and eventually to write as though literature were endowed with such freedom. “The painter,” said Georges Braque, “knows things by sight; the writer, who knows them by name, profits by a prejudice in his favor.” This was the profit Gertrude Stein threw away.
All this applies to darkest Stein. Mr. Brinnin and many others, including the present writer, find this territory difficult of access. Nor, of course, is one helped by having learned one’s way around in, say, Finnegans Wake and Four Quartets. On the contrary, a knowledge of Joyce’s or Eliot’s methods sets one to looking in Gertrude Stein for meanings and values according to the principle of association. But this is the wrong principle to apply to, for example, Tender Buttons. Gertrude Stein was insistent that she was not practicing “automatic writing” or working in any literary convention, such as Surrealism, related to automatic writing. No release of unconscious impulses, her own or those of fictional characters, is intended. She must, in fact, have devoted much labor to eliminating such suggestions. Thus the body of her theory and writing at its most advanced occupies an anomalous position among the various modern schools.
The usual theoretical objections to her work are persuasive; yet between them and her work there is always a certain accusing margin of doubt. Poets have found her work exciting, however inexplicably so, as if words in themselves might in certain circumstances appeal to some receptive apparatus in man that is comparable to what people call extrasensory perception. This is not, on the whole, the experience of the present writer in the farther reaches of Gertrude Stein. Yet, read aloud, certain passages in, say, Tender Buttons, do make their effect, especially if read in the company of people prepared to laugh. The silent reader expects familiar rewards for his efforts. The viva voce reader is more apt to take what comes and m
Tender Buttons is probably Gertrude Stein’s most “private” performance. The verbal still-lifes in that book defy even Mr. Donald Sutherland, the critic who, in Gertrude Stein: A Biography of Her Work, has made more headway than anyone else in interpreting her. Here is a passage, surely very beautiful, from “Lend a Hand or Four Religions” (published in Useful Knowledge, 1928), followed by Mr. Sutherland’s comment:
First religion She is feeling that the grasses grow four times yearly and does she furnish a house as well.… Let her think of a stable man and a stable can be a place where they care for the Italians every day. And a mission of kneeling there where the water is flowing kneeling, a chinese christian, and let her think of a stable man and wandering and a repetition of counting. Count to ten. He did. He did not. Count to ten. And did she gather the food as well. Did she gather the food as well. Did she separate the green grasses from one another. They grow four times yearly. Did she see some one as she was advancing and did she remove what she had and did she lose what she touched and did she touch it and the water there where she was kneeling where it was flowing. And are stables a place where they care for them as well.
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