Ernest Hemingway

Gertrude Stein wrote very few book reviews.  Behind each is a web of friendship which is part of the American literary procession of the 1920s and 1930s.  From the United States, on December 3, 1921, Sherwood Anderson, whom Stein had met through Sylvia Beach in June, wrote her to introduce his friend Ernest Hemingway and his wife who were coming to live in Paris.  He was, Anderson wrote, “an American writer instinctively in touch with everything worth while going on here.”  The story of their friendship, as told by Stein in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and Hemingway’s version in A Moveable Feast, has become part of the lore of twentieth-century literary history.  Stein’s review of Hemingway’s first book, Three Stories & Ten Poems (1923) was done in part to thank him for his review of her Geography and Plays (1922), which had an introductory essay, “The Work of Gertrude Stein,” by Anderson which had been published in the “Recent Publications” column of the European edition of the Chicago Tribune on 5 March 1923 (p. 2).  His review speaks of Stein as “probably the most first rate intelligence employed in writing today.  If you are tired of Mr. D. H. Lawrence who writes extremely well with the intelligence of a head waiter or Mr. Wells who is believed to be intelligent because of a capacity for sustained marathon thinking or the unbelievably stupid but thoroughly conscientious young men who compile the Dial you ought to read Gertrude Stein.”  Of Anderson Hemingway wrote, “Sherwood wrote the introduction soon after he won the Dial prize and the new respectability was still on him.  It is a little restrained, the introduction.  But the next to the last paragraph is a corker.”  Hemingway does not quote the paragraph in his review, it reads: “For me the work of Gertrude Stein consists in a rebuilding, an entire new recasting of life, in the city of words.  Here is one artist who has been able to accept ridicule, who has even forgone the privilege of writing the great American novel, uplifting our English speaking stage, and wearing the bays of the great poets, to go live among the little housekeeping words, the swaggering bullying street-corner words, the honest working, money saving words and all the other forgotten and neglected citizens of the sacred and half forgotten city.”

To thank Hemingway, Stein wrote the following review of his first book, Three Stories & Ten Poems (Paris: Contact Publishing Co., 1923):

“Three stories and ten poems is very pleasantly said.  So far so good, further than that, and as far as that, I may say of Ernest Hemingway that as he sticks to poetry and intelligence it is both poetry and intelligent.  Rosevelt [sic] is genuinely felt as young as Hemingway and as old as Rosevelt.  I should say that Hemingway should stick to poetry and intelligence and eschew the hotter emotions and the more turgid vision.  Intelligence and a great deal of it is a good thing to use when you have it, it’s all for the best.”

Stein drafted the review on the verso of Carl Van Vechten’s letter to her of September 3, 1923.  She also drafted a letter to W. Dawson Johnston who edited Ex libris, the monthly review published by the American Library in Paris, telling him that she thought the review and her composition, “He and They, Hemingway: A Portrait,” would “do nicely together.”  Stein’s review was published in the “Recent Publications” column of the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune on November 27, 1923 (p. 4), the portrait, which she had written sometime before Hemingway and his wife Hadley left France for Canada on August 16, 1923, appeared in the December 1923 edition of Ex libris.  Until 1981, Hemingway scholars believed that the review had never been published.  Stein’s was, in fact, the first published review of Hemingway’s first book.

Sherwood Anderson

On May 14, 1921, Anderson and his second wife Tennessee sailed for Paris with Paul Rosenfeld, the journalist and music critic.  The editors of the Dial announced in June that they had awarded him a two-thousand dollar prize for his contribution to American literature, in particular for his work on the short-story form.  The meeting of Anderson and Stein is also part of the mythic lore of American literary relations.  In his wanderings about Paris, Anderson found himself by accident peering into the window of a book shop at 8, rue Dupuytren, near the Carrefour de l’Odeon.  The shop was the first location of Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company.  In the window was a copy of his Winesburg, Ohio, which had been published by B. W. Huebsch in New York in 1919.  Anderson introduced himself to Beach, and it was she who wrote to Stein (undated June 1921 letter) asking if she would let her bring Anderson to meet her.  “He is so anxious to know you for he says you have influenced him ever so much & that you stand as such a great master of words.”  Anderson’s meeting with Stein was one of the high points of his trip to Paris.  Edmund R. Brown, the publisher of The Four Seas Company suggested to Stein that an explanatory preface to her forthcoming Geography and Plays would be helpful in marketing the book.  Anderson had returned to the United States, and when she wrote him in the fall of 1921 asking him to write an essay.  He wrote her in February 1922 from New Orleans of his willingness to write on her work and its importance to him, and later that month he sent the essay to her.  To thank him, Stein wrote “Idem The Same: A Valentine for Sherwood Anderson” (most of the sections of the valentine are a love poem to Alice Toklas), which was published in The Little Review in Spring 1923.  When Anderson’s A Story-teller’s Story was published by B. W. Huebsch in 1924, Stein wrote a review, “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine.  Birds of a Feather Flock Together.  Chickens Come Home to Roost,” which was published in Ex libris in March 1925.

Review of Sherwood Anderson’s A Story-teller’s Story:

“There are four men so far in American letters who have essential intelligence.  They are Fenimore Cooper, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain and Sherwood Anderson.  They do not reflect life or describe life or embroider life or photograph life, they express life and to express life takes essential intelligence.  Whether to express life is the most interesting thing to do or the most important thing to do I do not know, but I do know that it is the most permanent thing to do.

“Sherwood Anderson has been doing this thing from his beginning.  The development of the quality of this doing has been one of steady development, steady development of his mind and character, steady development in the completion of this expression.  The story-teller’s story is like all long books uneven but there is no uncertainty in the fullness of its quality.  In detail in the beginning and it does begin, in the beginning there is the complete expression of a game, the boys are and they feel they are and they have completely been and they completely are.  I think no one can hesitate before the reality of the expression of the life of the Anderson boys.  And then later, the living for and by clean linen and the being of the girl who has to have and to give what is needed is without any equal in quality in anything that has been done up to this time by any one writing to-day.

“The story-teller’s story is not a story of events or experiences it is a story of existence, and the fact that the story teller exists makes a story and keeps on making a story.  The story-teller’s story will live because the story-teller is alive.  As he is alive and as his gift is the complete expression of that life it will continue to live.”

Stein remained loyal to Anderson, and the passages about him in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) show her deep appreciation of him.  When she travelled to the United States in 1934-35, crisscrossing the United States on a lecture tour, she saw Anderson twice, the first time in Minnesota and then again in New Orleans.  Shortly before she returned to France, in May 1935, her review of Puzzled America, a collection of Anderson’s essays published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, appeared in the May 4 edition of The Chicago Daily Tribune.  Anderson died on March 8, 1941, while he and his wife Eleanor were on a cruise to South America.  On board the same Grace liner, the Santa Lucia, was Thornton Wilder.  In a letter to him postmarked 6 March 1941, she wrote of the deprivations in occupied France and of “a wonderful sugar made of grapes.”  When she learned of Anderson’s death, the sweetness of the grape sugar became associated with Anderson’s “sweetness” in her tribute, “Sherwood’s Sweetness,” which appeared in the Anderson memorial issue of Story (September-October 1941).

Alfred Kreymborg (1883-1966)

Kreymborg was a poet, playwright, and novelist.  He founded a number of literary journals which advocated for the work of modernist writers.  The first of these journals was The Glebe (1913-14).  On the advice of John Cournos, Ezra Pound sent Kreymborg a typescript of the collection of poems he named Des Imagistes.  In February 1914, issue five of The Glebe published Pound’s selection of poems.  A set of pages was then published by Albert and Charles Boni as a separate publication.  Kreymborg also founded Others: A Magazine of New Verse which lasted from 1915 to 1919.  Among the contributors were Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and Marianne Moore.   Kreymborg’s play Lima Beans was produced by the Provincetown Plays in the autumn of 1916.  Mina Loy played the role of The Wife and William Carlos Williams The Husband.  William Zorach played the silent role The Huckster, and with his wife Marguerite designed the sets and costumes.  In 1921, Kreymborg came to Europe with Harold Loeb with the intention of founding a new literary review.  Stein’s Massachusetts friend Kate Buss introduced them to her.  Eventually Broom, which was published in Rome, accepted two pieces by Stein, “If You Had Three Husbands” (published in three installments, 1922) and a short piece “Wear” in 1923.  Kreymborg left Broom in 1922.  Stein was indebted to him, and when he published his Troubador: An American Autobiography in 1925, she wrote a review which was published in Ex libris in June 1925 and reprinted in The Baltimore Evening Sun on September 2, 1925.

Stein wrote of Troubadour:

“There are many histories of us then and now and they are written now and they are often written now.  Many histories of us are often written now.  Sometimes in the histories of us each one of us is different from the others of us and the one writing the history of himself and us is different in his history of himself and us from us.  In this history of us of himself and us Kreymborg makes us makes himself and each one of us different enough so that some one can know us.  That is very nice for him and for us and very pleasant for him and for us and very satisfying to him and to us. We are all pleased with him and with us and so we say that he has made a very good description of himself and of each one of us.  A history of himself and of each one of us and connections of more than one of us is a very sensitive thing, a sensitive history of himself and of each of us and some who are ones and one. Always this is a good thing.”

When she wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas she recalled her meetings with Kreymborg and Loeb, “Kreymborg and his wife came to the house frequently.  He wanted very much to run The Long Gay Book, the thing Gertrude Stein had written just after The Making of Americans, as a serial.  Of course Harold Loeb would not consent to that.  Kreymborg used to read out the sentences from this book with great gusto.  He and Gertrude Stein had a bond of union beside their mutual liking because the Grafton Press that had printed Three Lives [1909] had printed his first book and about the same time [Love and Life, and Other Studies, 1908].

On January 20, 1934, the Kansas City Star printed excerpts from a letter of Stein to Bernard Faÿ about his book Roosevelt and His America.  A more substantive book review, and indeed the last she was to write, was Stein’s commentary on Lloyd Lewis’ Oscar Wilde Discovers America (1936) which was published in The Chicago Daily Tribune on August 8, 1936.  Stein met Lewis (1891-1949), the journalist, editor, and historian when she was lecturing at the University of Chicago in February and March 1935.  In Everybody’s Autobiography she writes, “I always want to collaborate with some one about General Grant, I have written about him in Four In America, as if he might have been Hiram Grant instead of Ulysses Grant and what a difference that would have made.  Lloyd Lewis liked what I said about him and so now I want to collaborate with him about General Grant.”  Later in the book she writes, “I am always wanting to collaborate with some one I wanted to collaborate with Sherwood Anderson in a history of Grant I wanted to collaborate with Louis Bromfield in a detective story and now I want to collaborate with Lloyd Lewis on a history of Grant.  They are all very polite and enthusiastic about it but the collaboration does never take place.  I suppose I like the word collaboration and I have a kind of imagination of how it could take place.  Well any way.”  Stein’s efforts to induce Thornton Wilder to collaborate with her on IDA: A NOVEL never progressed beyond the discussion stage.

Book reviewing did not appeal to Stein.  The few reviews she wrote were done to reciprocate acts of support for her work, or, in the case of Lloyd Lewis, in admiration for his work and the hope that they might collaborate.  Her reviews were not “throw-away” pieces.  It is evident that she read the books with care, and made intelligent observations about them and their authors.



Edward M. Burns is Professor of English at The William Paterson University of New Jersey.  He is at work on “Questioning Minds: The Letters of Hugh Kenner and Guy Davenport.”