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  • A Gertrude Stein Companion: Content with the Example, and: Gertrude Stein and the Making of Literature
  • Michael Hoffman
Bruce Kellner, ed. A Gertrude Stein Companion: Content with the Example. New York: Greenwood, 1988. 368 pp. $49.95.
Shirley Neuman and Ira B. Nadel, eds. Gertrude Stein and the Making of Literature, Boston: Northeastern UP, 1988. 270 pp. $30.00.

These two books exemplify the latest turn in Gertrude Stein's evolution toward the unequivocal status of a major writer. No longer an outsider or marginal, Stein is now one of the innovative modernists, like Joyce, Eliot, and Woolf. In addition, because she is also seen more and more as exemplifying the characteristics of "postmodernism," she appears in much of the recent critical discourse as both modernist and postmodernist, a figure at the beginning of each period.

With the elevation of Stein's status, these books follow models that we associate with more canonical authors. Bruce Kellner's book resembles The Walt Whitman Handbook or a Reader's Guide to . . . , although it is an eccentric variation on those modes. Neuman and Nadel's is the first full-length volume (not originally a special issue of a journal) to contain all new essays on Stein, discussing her within a variety of critical contexts as in a volume on Woolf or Joyce.

A Gertrude Stein Companion: Content with the Example (note the pun on "content") is a reference text. The more pedestrian of the books, it is nonetheless likely to remain useful longer. Organized for straightforward referral, it contains the following sections: 1) An introduction entitled "How to Read Gertrude Stein," which gives Kellner's version of how to read her and explains the book's construction. It is full of common sense about Stein's career but adds little to our knowledge. 2) "Ex Libris: The Published Writings of Gertrude Stein"—also by Kellner—contains one-page descriptive essays as well as elementary bibliographical information. This section will be particularly useful to first readers of any of Stein's books. The readings are straightforward and frequently opinionated; the tone is causal and occasionally quirky.

3) This is a collection of writings from a variety of hands appropriately entitled "Compositions as Explanations"; it includes pieces by Marianne DeKoven, Ulla Dydo, and Marjorie Perloff, all of them represented by different essays in Neuman and Nagel. DeKoven's "HaIfIn and Half Out of Doors: Gertrude Stein [End Page 279] & Literary Tradition" discusses Stein's position on the modernism/postmodernism axis. She suggests that in its free play Stein's writing violates, subverts, deconstructs "the dominant modes of patriarchal writing." Ulla Dydo's essay examines Stein's manuscripts. She questions the claims that Stein never rewrote, because the remaining manuscript copybooks contain many notes and early versions of a number of her works, including handwritten comments in Alice Toklas' hand. Marjorie Perloffs "Six Stein Styles in Search of a Reader" is a convincing descriptive account of what Perloff claims to be Stein's six major styles. The rest of the section includes several not very interesting poems about Stein by a number of writers.

4) The longest section is "Friends and Enemies: A Biographical Dictionary" prepared by Bruce Kellner, Priscilla Oppenheimer, Paul Padgette, and Margaret Woodbridge. It contains brief (from one paragraph to three pages) biographical essays about almost every consequential individual in Stein's literary life. The tone is casual, often judgmental, and usually lively, and the section presents material useful for all Stein scholars, both beginners and experts. It would have benefited, however, from more careful editing because the text contains a number of errors. For instance, René Crevel's birthdates are given as 1901-1939, but he is said to have "committed suicide at the age of thirty-four"; the "douanier" Rousseau's death is said to have occurred in 1919 (it was 1910).

A fifth section contains, in alphabetical order, quotations from Stein on a series of topics designed to exhibit her as a source of aphoristic wit and wisdom. Another section contains a good annotated bibliography of the major secondary works on Stein. There is also a bibliography of works consulted and cited in the various reference sections of...


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