(Im)Personating Gertrude Stein

  • Marjorie Perloff


The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) has always been considered Gertrude Stein’s most ‘readerly’, her most ‘transparent’ text. In an important essay on Stanzas in Meditation, the difficult set of abstract poetic compositions written the very same summer as the autobiography, Ulla E. Dydo observes,

The language of the Autobiography may surprise by its cleverness and felicity, but it never calls attention to itself by its difficulty. The life and times of Alice Toklas and Gertrude Stein make easy reading. The difficult language of Stanzas on the other hand, demands a reader’s full and equal attention to every single word as word. … The two books do not even sound as if they were by the same author. Gertrude Stein herself was quite clear about this difference. The Autobiography was the first of a series of books which she characterized as her ‘open and public’ books, or as ‘audience writing’. … On the other hand, works like Stanzas — virtually everything Stein wrote up to 1932 and a good deal that she wrote after she became famous — she described as her ‘real kind’ of books: a literature of word compositions rather than a literature of subject matter.1


French Woman Easy Reading Continuous Present French People Saturday Evening 
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  1. 3.
    Marty Martin, Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein (New York: Random House, 1980). The text of the monologue is printed as a series of phrasal or clausal units with space (three or four characters) between units. I reproduce this format here.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Walter Kerr, New York Times 31 Oct 1979;Google Scholar
  3. Marilyn Stasio, New York Post 5 Sep 1979;Google Scholar
  4. Howard Kissel, Women’s Wear Daily 5 June 1979;Google Scholar
  5. Don Nelsen, Daily News 3 July 1979.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Richard Bridgman, Gertrude Stein in Pieces (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 218.Google Scholar

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© Marjorie Perloff 1988

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  • Marjorie Perloff

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