Stein Ink announces a new collection of Gertrude Stein letters. Move over Virgil Thompson and Thornton Wilder; Gertrude’s correspondence with her “favorite cousin” Rose Ellen Stein, wife of Julian Stein, Sr. of Baltimore, is now available for publication.
All we need is a publisher! That’s not so hard, is it??
ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP
Rose Ellen’s first note to Gertrude, on the occasion of her engagement to Julian Stein, Sr., in 1913, ends with the prescient “I hope we will some day get to know each other.” Their knowing of each other proved to be exceptional, from the delight in Rose Ellen’s first introduction to Gertrude, in Paris, through the years of the Depression, war and loss.
Gertrude’s devotion to, and enjoyment of, Rose Ellen Stein’s epistolary company provides a unique analysis of her life and work. At the same time, Rose Ellen’s words and life are beguiling in their illumination of an intelligent, well-to-do, but untraditional, woman of the early twentieth century. Rose Ellen sees Gertrude through the lens of family, including the straightforward matrimonial relationship Gertrude has with Alice B. Toklas.
Gertrude’s letters demonstrate a more everyday interest in her family than any work to date has recognized. She relies on Rose Ellen to keep her centered in the family, and Rose Ellen does so by recounting the activities of her husband (Gertrude’s first cousin) Julian and their children. The two women exchange news of shared Baltimore acquaintances and Stein relations, a large middle-class Jewish network. Despite the lengthy transit time of the post, very little is overlooked or neglected in their conversation.
Rose Ellen’s commentaries reveal a self-aware woman with a sense of humor and loyalty, and an interest in a wide range of subjects. Gertrude’s letters are appealing for their pictures of her daily life and thoughts. She gives the reader a picture of her life at home with Alice, on their “farm,” abroad, and with friends both urbane and mundane. As with all of Gertrude’s writing, these letters provide fresh Steinian bon mots, and evidence of the feminine thought process, such as: “disasters never last but it is so hard to make a man know that, women know it but men don’t.”
Running through all their conversations is the love they have for “Big” Julian; Julian’s presence is the pivotal connection they share, yet, even after his untimely death, Rose Ellen and Gertrude maintain their devotion to each other, a devotion built on like-mindedness and mutual admiration.
There are also gems hidden in the correspondence which I have not seen mentioned in other books about Gertrude Stein. For example, Rose Ellen transcribed The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas into a Braille edition: “I am pleased as pleased can be about your doing The Autobiography in Braille . . . “ Gertrude wrote in December 1933. In 1930, Rose Ellen had written that she was learning to be a “Brailler,” but had three times flunked the transcription test. We are not sure why Rose Ellen took up this hobby, but she did it for many years. By 1933, she had mastered the skill and successfully petitioned the Red Cross (for whom this volunteer work was done) to let her transcribe Gertrude’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. In another more subtle collaboration, Gertrude paraphrases Rose Ellen’s thoughts on the Depression: “However, these things always seem to come to an end and people don’t seem to change their habits much. What really happens is, I guess, that the habits continue, but change ownership,” (RES 11/15/1929). In Wars I Have Seen, Gertrude writes: “ . . . as a cousin of mine once said about money, money is always there but the pockets change, it is not in the same pockets after a change and that is all there is to say about money.” (p. 27, Random House, New York, 1945)
Finally, Gertrude confesses that they really do like America best, after returning to France from their 1934–35 trip to America: “it was a nice home an American home and we liked it all of it all of our American home and now here we are with the nightingales and that is nice too but well I won’t say we liked the other best but I guess we do,” (GS 10 June 1935). In Rose Ellen Stein, Gertrude kept one sensibly shod foot in America, while still firmly planted in France.