- 14 Fiction:1900 to the 1930s
Following current critical trends, an increasing number of articles this year address issues of race, nation, and cosmopolitanism. A host of new biographies of male writers also contributed to scholarship on the authors of this period, with subjects ranging from Theodore Dreiser and John Dos Passos to H. L. Mencken, George Schuyler, B. Traven, and Thomas Dixon, but an increasing interest in biography seems evident in the work on other writers as well. Also new is an increased focus on visual contexts, as well as historical, cultural, and psychoanalytic approaches. Among the writers most strongly represented are W. E. B. Du Bois, Zitkala-Ša, and Gertrude Stein, with fewer articles published on some authors, such as Jack London and Onoto Watanna.
i Gertrude Stein
Interest in Stein continues to be strong, with more work on The Making of Americans and Tender Buttons than on Three Lives. Emphasizing the "pure pleasure" of Stein's texts, Dana Cairns Watson approaches Stein through her use of conversation in Gertrude Stein and the Essence of What Happens (Vanderbilt). Drawing on theories of conversation analysis and psychology, Watson notes that Stein announces (somewhat belatedly, at 700 pages into a 900-page novel) that The Making of Americans is "a history . . . of talking and listening" and that her interest lies in interactional rather than transactional conversation, or conversation for pleasure rather than for business. From the prism of William James's [End Page 289] emphasis on seeing differently, which Stein employs in Tender Buttons, to the late exploration of conventional conversation and its political valences of capitulation and resistance in late pieces like Brewsie and Willie, Watson reads conversation as Stein's way of introducing instability, and hence freshness, into the linearity and predictability of conventional writing. Constructing audience within the work itself as a different kind of conversation, this time a dialogue between author and reader, Karin Cope's Passionate Collaborations: Learning to Live with Gertrude Stein (ELS) uses experimental techniques ranging from formal essays to hypothetical interviews, side-by-side dialogues and commentary, and a play featuring Stein as a character to convey the nature of Stein's collaborations with Picasso and others. Another work linking identity and performance is Leslie Atkins Durham's Staging Gertrude Stein: Absence, Culture, and the Landscape of American Alternative Theatre (Palgrave). Durham shows that Stein's plays can best be understood as intersections of "sight and sound, text and context" rather than as isolated written texts. Toward this end, she links performances of Stein's plays to four issues of identity, including African American cultural identity in Four Saints in Three Acts, protests against mass culture, connections between national identity and feminism, and Stein's sexual identity. Durham examines several aspects of the performances of Stein's plays; for example, the "mask of primitivism" attributed to African Americans energized Virgil Thomson's music and Frederick Ashton's choreography in Four Saints in Three Acts during the original 1934 performances, but the play fell flat when revived 20 years later, in part because the primitivism that seemed to mitigate racism in the earlier version now seemed an embarrassing reminder of it.
G. F. Mitrano's Gertrude Stein: Woman without Qualities (Ashgate) focuses on Stein's self-transformations through her deft employment of the cultural icons of European modernity and her equally studied approach to "visual self-presentation and cultural access." In writing about Stein and Cézanne, Mitrano argues that Stein's experiences as both the collector and the writer of word-portraits sensitized her to the ways in which cultural power could be accessed and discarded. Stein's transformations reveal themselves both intellectually—her shedding of "American provincialism" by writing The Making of Americans, for example—and visibly, in portraits showing her abandonment of the corseted Victorian silhouette in favor of a loose velvet garment that marked her as a modern artist. Mitrano traces this idea through Stein's [End Page 290] relationships with Mabel Dodge Luhan, the modernist icon Adrienne Monnier, and Picasso, concluding with her American lectures and her transformation into a public woman. Susan M. Schultz also considers Stein's ideas on self-presentation, audience, intelligibility...