restricted access Interviews, and: Silence and Narrative: The Early Novels of Gertrude Stein, and: The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechlen (review)
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Reviewed by
Djuna Barnes.Interviews. Ed. Alyce Barry, with Foreward and Commentary by Douglas Messerli. Washington, D.C.: Sun & Moon, 1985. 396 pp. $16.95.
Janice L. Doane. Silence and Narrative: The Early Novels of Gertrude Stein. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood P, 1986. 189 pp. $27.95.
Edward Burns, ed. The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechlen. N. Y.: Columbia UP, 1986. volumes, 901 pp. $75.00 (set).

Twenty-five years ago, when I began my Ph.D. thesis on Gertrude Stein, she was a literary curiosity. Although well known, she was little read, with only a few books in print, and while much had been written about her, there was little active Stein scholarship in American universities. Since that time a whirlwind of activity has developed around the enormous Stein canon. Almost all her work is now in print, and books and articles appear at an impressive, accelerating tempo.

I also remember reading Djuna Barnes's Nightwood at that time—the only one of her works available in paperback—to become familiar with another difficult modernist author. I found Barnes to be as obscure as Stein, and it was many years before I read another book by her. While Barnes's reputation has not yet achieved the stature of Stein's, her writings are now being published, many of them collected from long-forgotten periodicals or old newspapers and printed for the first time in a book. Biographies and critical studies have also appeared, and with the burgeoning scholarly interest in such matters as modernism, [End Page 611] expatriation, feminism, and lesbianism, Barnes, like Stein, seems ready for academic prominence.

The collection of Barnes's Interviews is an example of the recovery of her buried materials. Who would have thought the author of Nightwood and Antiphon had written slick, entertaining popular journalism? Nonetheless, that is what we have in this set of almost 40 interviews with artists and celebrities written between 1913 and 1931. Many names have receded into obscurity, but many others remain well known, and these glimpses into Lillian Russell, Diamond Jim Brady, Flo Ziegfeld, Billy Sunday, Jess Willard, David Belasco, Alfred Stieglitz, James Joyce, and Coco Chanel retain a fascination similar to that of reading the latest Sunday supplement.

Most surprising of all is that Barnes's standards seem in no way higher than the average interviewer's, and even with her greater sensibility, we find ourselves longing for the ironic stance of the "new journalist." What Barnes does display is a cavalier attitude toward the actual words of the interviewees. The quotations are often pure Djuna, meant to catch the general aura of her subject rather than the words of actual speech. Here, for instance, is Billy Sunday on why slower-paced preachers are afraid of him: "Their pace was all right in the slow days, but you have got to catch up with those crazy, tango-mad, hugging-match-set-tomusic people."

One could conjecture that the grotesque characters in Barnes's "art" works emanate from the famous eccentrics she met as a clever young journalist. But what one most remembers from these seductive, evocative portraits is their language, as in the closing paragraph on Lillian Russell:

Out of the purple dusk I walked, and the simple-minded procelain Chinaman smirked at me from the piano, and the wise-mouthed sun god rolled sightless eyes toward the peacock feathers and the army of silver mugs, and the incense rolled on and up about the chair like a throne with its burden like a queen. (56)

These pieces originally appeared in the New York Press, Bruno's Weekly, the New York Morning Telegraph Sunday Magazine, the New York Sun Magazine, Vanity Fair, Charm, McCalls, the Theatre Guild Magazine, Physical Culture, and Unmuzzled Ox. Dates are given for each article, but the place of publication for individual pieces is not. Surely the editor could have done that much for us.

Janice Doane's study of Stein's early novels is a modest contribution to the growing literature on that author. Doane's major purpose "is to trace Stein's preoccupation with, and changing attitude toward silence in her early career, in order...


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