Abstract

In 1933, Gertrude Stein simultaneously wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which fulfilled her desire for wider acclaim, and Stanzas in Meditation, her most emotionally complex and perhaps least read poetic work. Stuttering and simmering by night in her stanzas, she managed to create by day a bestseller that propelled her into fame. While it is widely accepted that Stein’s gender and sex are central to her creative process, the article proposes through these two works that her writing aesthetic can be more specifically described as “butch.” A purposively less-than-academic term, butch can be used to consider in a more nuanced way Stein’s gender performance, as butch can describe a masculine lesbian who typically desires a more feminine counterpart, and who confronts the world with an impenetrable gaze while maintaining a hidden tenderness. Importantly, butch does not locate “true gender,” but rather unpacks the historical and present-day complexities of a particular style of lesbian performance. Twenty-first-century critics must be attentive to the continuing lesbian absence in contemporary scholarship. The article argues that reading Stanzas and Autobiography through butch requires a renewed commitment to feminist criticism and reengagement with Terry Castle’s concept of the apparitional lesbian. Despite institutional trends that suggest otherwise, there persists a gap in understanding of how lesbians have chosen to navigate their loves, bodies, oppressions, fantasies—and pens.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2151-7371
Print ISSN
2151-7363
Pages
pp. 27-45
Launched on MUSE
2015-09-24
Open Access
N
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