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  • Fiction:1900 to the 1930s
  • Donna M. Campbell

In addition to perennial topics of interest such as race, modernism, and queer studies, work on fiction from 1900 to the 1930s increasingly extends the designation American into global and transnational contexts, especially in Harlem Renaissance writers such as James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, and Nella Larsen. Other indications of a renewed interest in the world beyond the text are investigations of authors' political, social, philosophical, and even religious ideologies in the cases of Gertrude Stein, W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary Austin, and Sinclair Lewis. With continuing interest in print and visual culture comes a renewed, and rewarding, attention to primary documents ranging from authors' archives to historical documents to the ephemera of popular culture that have enabled critics to propose new understandings of the complexities of race, ethnicity, and citizenship, as in essays on Winnifred Eaton/Onoto Watanna, Anzia Yezierska, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, and even Thomas Dixon.

i Gertrude Stein

Stein's activities during World War II are the subject of significant work this year. Janet Malcolm's Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice (Yale), portions of which appeared in the New Yorker, is a fascinating account of incidents in the lives of Stein and Alice B. Toklas, especially in its discussion of Stein's World War II experiences, Toklas's life after Stein, and the story of Stein's papers. Malcolm reads Stein's work with a [End Page 301] perceptive writer's eye: The Making of Americans, "a text of magisterial disorder," nonetheless repays the effort of reading it, for "every writer who lingers over Stein's sentences is apt to feel a little stab of shame over the heedless predictability of his own." The war is also the subject of Barbara Will's "'And Then One Day There Was a War': Gertrude Stein, Children's Literature, and World War II" (CLAQ 32: 340–53), which addresses the question of why The World Is Round became a popular classic and the other three of Stein's works for children written during this period did not. Will contends that its plot of a girl's quest, with its heroic and rebellious elements ending in marriage to a male authority figure, represents the "patriarchal protection" that Stein enjoyed through her translation work for Maréchal Philippe Pétain, head of the Vichy regime. In contrast, Stein's other works for children deny them agency in a frightening environment, which Will reads as Vichy France. Stein had originally tried to saddle The World Is Round with a similarly ominous feeling through her initial selection of the sophisticated, perverse drawings of Francis Rose, a choice her publisher rejected in favor of the comforting pictures of Clement Hurd, the illustrator of Good Night, Moon. In "Seeing the War Through Cut-Off Triangles: H.D. and Gertrude Stein," pp. 217–29 in Back to Peace, Kathy J. Phillips explains that the phrase "cut-off triangles" refers to the way in which historical context is injected into the purely aesthetic in Cubist painting; the language of An Exercise in Analysis interrupts the aesthetic context to convey messages about the true nature of war. Daniel Katz's American Modernism's Expatriate Scene: The Labour of Translation (Edinburgh) addresses the aesthetic rather than the political ramifications of Stein's translation work for Pétain. Because Stein has the capacity that she claims for James in her essay "Henry James"—the ability to "write both ways"—her translation work is not passive but creative, especially given Stein's commitment, like James's, to reproducing American speech as she does in "The Coming of the Americans." Another piece of Stein biography is Amy Feinstein's "Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, and Albert Barnes: Looking Like a Jew in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" (Shofar 25, iii: 47–60). Feinstein provides the missing context for Stein's sole reference to Jews in the Autobiography, in a description of well-regarded art collector Albert Barnes. Because Barnes, the target of Stein's comment that he "looks like a Jew," was not Jewish, Feinstein interprets Stein's words as a means of distancing race from behavior and exposing such a phrase as an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2125
Print ISSN
0065-9142
Pages
pp. 301-334
Launched on MUSE
2009-10-01
Open Access
No
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