Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein. Stein, Stein, Stein

I just finished slogging through Gertrude Stein's novella, Melanctha. I had many thoughts about it but most of them eventually fled my mind as the hypnotic, rhythmic repetition made me feel that I was running a marathon, physically capable of finishing [though certainly not winning], but having begun to wonder after the first few miles why I had undertaken such a truly pointless way to spend a few hours. The why of reading this novella is a course in Women's Literature and the why of not giving up after a bit is that I believe Stein deserves a place in such a course and deserves informed discussion. She was an important figure in her time and contributed to the experimental, and sometimes equally impenetrable writing, of her time and place. I'm thinking of Ezra Pound and James Joyce in particular.

But, Lordy, Lordy! it's boring and "slogging" is the only word to define the hours I've spent. Melanctha is a half black woman who is searching for a man in her life, one suitor spends a lot of time with her talking and talking and talking. Not only is it highly repetitious, Stein does not paragraph each change of speaker but runs great hunks of dialog on and on in page-long paragraphs. I am not a speed reader except in nonfiction, and very little of that, so I register every word.

Most of the characters are black people or people of mixed race. Stein defines them often as stupid, lazy, selfish, etc. She does not believe is letting the reader discover personality traits through action and speech -- at least not in this novella. She grew up in St. Louis in a well to do family and surely lived with black servants. She is disturbingly racist. If this had not been in the anthology and I had not felt compelled to read it, I certainly wouldn't have read more than a few pages. Of the many things to talk about in a discussion of Stein, very little of it is positive from my point of view.

5 comments:

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

June -- I have never read anything by Stein. I don't think I will. Given what you describe about her book I wonder why she is such an exalted writer? -- barbara

June Calender said...

She was enormously innovative at a time when much experimentation was happening - and she knew the right people. I was thinking, she's one woman who managed to "play in the big boys' league." But some of the big boys, like Ezra Pound are not read much today either. I hope the class will have a good discussion.

June Calender said...

She was enormously innovative at a time when much experimentation was happening - and she knew the right people. I was thinking, she's one woman who managed to "play in the big boys' league." But some of the big boys, like Ezra Pound are not read much today either. I hope the class will have a good discussion.

jenclair said...

I tried to read Stein years ago, but found that I was unable to appreciate her writing. On the other hand, I love reading about her--she was a fascinating woman during eventful times in the art world.

Recently, I watched a documentary called "Paris Was a Woman." There were home videos of Stein and Alice, Picasso, and many others from the time period. The information about Sylvia Beach and James Joyce was interesting, and I'll never feel the same about Joyce.

Beach founded the original Shakespeare & Co book store that attracted Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Man Ray, Stein, and others. The interviews with her were so interesting.

June Calender said...

Thanks, Jenclair, that sounds likea documentary I'd love to see.