The Gertrude Stein First Reader and Three Plays. Decorated by Francis Rose
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948. First edition. Hardcover. 83 pages ; illustrated ; 22 cm. $3.00 dust jacket with minimal wear. Gently used copy with firm binding, clean and unmarked pages.
THE FIRST READER AND THREE PLAYS
By Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein's last and perhaps most delightful book is offered now in a posthumously published edition cleverly designed and illustrated by Francis Rose and beautifully produced by Maurice Frid-berg of Dublin and London. A collector's item of charm and originality, it is barely possible that the genius of Gertrude Stein will live on in this unpretentious little volume when the results of her head-on collision with the Lost Generation have long since been forgotten.
Like Alice In Wonderland, it is a juvenile for adults. There are no tender buttons in this one, no insistence on geography and roses, nothing about Ida or Brewsie and Willie or Picasso and Matisse or Alice B. Toklas or Paris, France.
The First Reader has Miss Stein's characteristic free association of words and images, her consciously unconscious rhyming and alliteration, but not the obscurity of her more esoteric works. It is all as a rather precocious child might think or might talk to himself while playing involved private games, with the adult world at a safe distance. The eavesdropper behind the hedge learns why little Caesar counted his w's, why noises that come one by one are worse than noises that come all at once, about the blackberry vine* who was never alone, what happened on the 13th of March, why Johnnie was Jimmie and vice versa, and the answers to many other riddles that obsess the imaginative and untarnished mind.
Like Benjamin Baby who was only a baby on Tuesday and Thursday and talked all the time and had very little to say, Miss Stein indulges herself in seemingly casual talk which has great charm and great freshness. If this is nonsense, it is delightful and sometimes quite seriously symbolic nonsense. In many ways it is the purest Stein extant.
Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, in 1874 She studied at Radcliffe during the years 1893 to 1897 and attended Johns Hopkins Medical School from 1897 to 1902. In 1902. she travelled the Continent with her family and decided to stay on in France indefinitely.
Most American GI's passing through Paris got to know Gertrude Stein, not as someone exotic and arty, but as a vigorous, earthy old lady who insisted on good housekeeping, direct questions, and direct answers. She stayed in her beloved France (at her farm in Belignen) all during the Occupation and returned to her spotless, polished apartment on the Rue Christine after the Liberation.
She was a familiar figure walking along the river, leading her white poodle, Basket. She liked to sit around Red Cross Clubs talking to the boys. If celebrities of the IO'S and 30s found her inaccessible, infantrymen of the 40's found her as easy to talk to as their own grandmothers.
Active to the end, she died in the spring of 1946, at the American hospital at Neuilly, a brief week after attending a reception for Richard Wright at the publishing house of Gallinard.
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