- 14 Fiction:1900 to the 1930s
Substantial books or collections on Gertrude Stein, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Owen Wister, among others, make this a productive year, and numerous essays on Wallace Thurman and Claude McKay attest to continuing interest in the critical study of a gay Harlem Renaissance. Other essays emphasize publicity and the context of publication as authors seek to control the circulation of their ideas in the marketplace. Perhaps most noteworthy is the emphasis on lesser-known popular authors (Opal Whiteley, Anita Loos) or critically neglected issues in the works of better-known ones, such as essays that discuss race instead of class in Sinclair Lewis, celebrity instead of heredity in Jack London, fictions of the body instead of primitivism in Jean Toomer, and codes of manners instead of passing in Jessie Fauset. Although certain critical judgments about the authors recur—all the work on Stein, for example, discusses her use of repetition and indeterminacy—a broader variety of approaches and texts discussed characterizes this year's work.
i Gertrude Stein
This year marks the appearance of Ulla E. Dydo's Gertrude Stein: The Language That Rises 1923–1934 (Northwestern). The result of 20 years of research in the Yale archives, this essential work on Stein surveys the 9 years before Stein began her decline into "writing for audiences." Mingling biography, careful examination of the manuscripts, identification of allusions, and often line-by-line readings of both familiar and neglected works, Dydo seeks to clarify but never to reduce the play of meaning in the works and to recover Stein's composing processes, from jottings in the neglected carnets or notebooks, to draft versions in the cahiers or manuscript books, and finally to published versions. Dydo's ordering of texts is [End Page 309] carefully documented and corrects errors both in the texts and in the ordering of them; for example, she rejects her own earlier contention that the writing of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is related to "the writing of 'Stanzas' or A Manoir and Short Sentences." Although Dydo comments that "Stein did not like intrusion into her writing process" and "safeguarded her artistic privacy," the study of the manuscripts leads to a clearer understanding of the relationships between works: in another of many examples Dydo shows how the end of "Regular Regularly in Narrative" appears on the same page as the origins of Four Saints in Three Acts, a connection that reveals Four Saints as originally "a part of the study of narrative."
Stein's public persona, self-portraiture, and portraits of her contemporaries are the focus of several essays. In "A Rose Is a Pose: Steinian Modernism and Mass Culture" (JML 26, iii–iv: 12–27) Alyson Tischler joins a growing number of critics erasing the traditional divide between modernism and mass culture. Drawing from the collections of newspaper clippings that Stein preserved, Tischler sees in the contemporary parodies of and references to Stein's prose—"Steinese"—a subtle system of teaching the public to read her work correctly. Among those contributing to this public education was Don Marquis, author of the popular column "The Sun Dial" and creator of Archy and Mehitabel; with his excerpts from and parodies of Stein's work and his invitations to readers to respond to Stein's prose Marquis helped the public to reimagine Stein's works as deliberately nonreferential and refreshingly iconoclastic rather than as opaque and obscure. Along with parodies in advertisements such public circulation paved the way for the 1930s success of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, a new edition of The Making of Americans, and Four Saints in Three Acts. In keeping with recent assessments of Stein's courting of celebrity, Helga Lénárt-Cheng's "Autobiography as Advertisement: Why Do Gertrude Stein's Sentences Get under Our Skin?" (NLH 34: 117–31) examines the techniques of advertising embedded in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Stein's concealment of her purpose, deliberate simplicity of theme and style, use of Toklas as a narrative front for her self-praise (including favorable reviews and comments from famous friends), and repetition of ideas, including mentions of Stein's...