|Gertrude Stein painted by Pablo Picasso|
Ann Charters explains in her introduction that the constant repetition of names and phrases Stein indulges in has something to do with an attempt to create a written equivalent of the paintings of Cezanne. I’ll buy that, although to my eye/ear at least it doesn’t work, not here anyway.
Charters also says “a feminist reading of the book as a literary satire, […] could argue that each of the three heroines exemplifies different aspects of the way society trapped underclass women […] in stereotypical roles.” I’ll also buy that, cautiously, although it’s a tough one at times given that the author is a rich woman looking down on everyone.
Take this sentence I read yesterday on the bus after deciding to give the book a second chance (I had put it aside in exasperation two weeks before):
“In the days when he had been young and free and open, he had never had the wide abandoned laughter that gives the broad glow to negro sunshine.” (Stein, “Melanctha.”)
I put the book down again when I read that. I don’t intend to pick it up again. Stein, when she finished “Three Lives,” wrote to her friend Mabel Weeks, “I don’t know how to sell on a margin […], so I have to content myself with niggers and servant girls and the foreign population generally. . . . Dey is very simple and very vulgar and I don’t think they will interest the great American public.”
(Note the highly amusing use of “dey.”)
Now, it could be that I am underestimating Stein’s gift as a writer, or not understanding it because of what she would undoubtedly call my German pedantry. You could even argue that in her views about race and class she was a product of her time, and therefore she cannot be judged by contemporary standards.
But I’m not judging her. I just don’t want to spend any of my own time in company I find narrow-minded and boring; and for that reason I will be taking “Three Lives” to a charity shop at the earliest available opportunity. Maybe Nick Griffin or Godfrey Bloom could use something to read on those long nights in the political wilderness.