Saturday, October 11, 2014

Does anyone actually read Gertrude Stein? (A Book Post)

Three Lives by Stein

I am still plugging away at my 14 x 14 in 2014 Reading Challenge, but with the realization that time is short I'm looking for more books that are "double dippers" and apply to more than one category of the fourteen. 

Since one of my categories is "Books to Read Before You Die" and another is "Women's Studies" I took the step of flipping through the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die looking for books written by women.  It's a depressingly smaller list - and forget about the selections from pre-1800. I was very discouraged as I flipped through the book and then it randomly opened to a page on Gertrude Stein.

Of course I know who Gertrude Stein was - she's notorious as part of that ex-pat group from pre-WWI, and as a lesbian.  But although most people I know seem to know who she was, no one seems to actually read her writings.  Her books were not part of any college course I took (including the Women's Lit class) - does anyone actually read Gertrude Stein?

I chose to read Three Lives and had a mixed experience with it.  Her narrative style, which avoids sticking to a plot line and instead seems like the sometimes repetitive descriptive style that would come from verbal communication, was refreshing and engaging for me.  This book is really just a trio of character sketches, describing the lives of three unrelated women: one controlling spinster german servant, one black woman, and one young german girl who was brought over and married off into another german family. 

I loved the first sketch, of "Good Anna".  Perhaps I just felt a kinship with her:

"She worked away her appetite, her health and strength, and always for the sake of those who begged her not to work so hard.  To her way of thinking, in her stubborn, faithful, german soul, this was the right way for a girl to do."

But when I got to the second life, that of Melanctha, I just couldn't tolerate the racism enough to actually finish reading it - so sadly I don't know what ended up happening to Melanctha.  I know the time period being what it was that I should try to read this in the context which it was written, but I just couldn't do it.  Boo to that.

And then, soured by that, I didn't enjoy the third sketch as much either.  By the time I skipped to that, I was spotting more racism and was irritated by the attribution of personality traits to the "natures" of various ethnicities. 

So, mixed results but at least now I can say that I actually have read Gertrude Stein!

No comments:

Post a Comment