Gertrude Stein Paris France (New York: Liveright, 1940). The edition I own is from 1970; a new edition, with an Introduction of Adam Gopnik was published in 2013.
The early pages of Paris France may seem to suggest that the remainder of the work will be about her beloved Paris, but, in fact, Stein’s focus shifts from the city to the country as early as page 18 (of the book’s 120 pages) as she begins to speak in broader and broader terms of overall French values, particularly France’s “feeling about foreigners.”
After all to the French the difference between
being a foreigner and being an inhabitant is not very
real to them are those that inhabit Paris and France.
In that they are different from other people. Other
people find foreigners more real to them when they
are in their own country but to the French foreigners
are only real to them when they are in France.
Naturally they come to France. What is more natural
for them to do than that.
In this paragraph, Stein reveals much of the texture of the book at large. As Adam Gopnik has noted in a thoughtful introduction to the new 2013 edition of Paris France, “Understanding Steinese,” Stein’s language throughout is a purposely stylized representation of everyday speech. As he makes clear, Stein removes nearly all the interconnections of associative thinking that her mentor, Henry James embraced, making her “subtle thoughts sound flat and straightforward, and […letting] straightforward, flat thoughts sound subtle.” Indeed, Stein’s commentaries—embedded in what sound like maxims, declarative observations, conversational asides, old wives’ tales, gossip, and, as Gopnik asserts, sometimes “disingenuous and morally obtuse…remarks”—may sometimes convince us, as Gopnik suggests, of “the truth of her observations,” but just as often, I would counter, seem ridiculously personal and hegemonic.
One might almost be tempted to suggest that Stein’s observations are thrown out in a way that allows one simply to take them or leave them, perceiving that there are always vast differences in the ways things are perceived, particularly given not only one’s personal views, but the vast separation in time since Stein penned her comments. Take, for the example, Stein’s comments quoted above. Certainly, given the American (and other international citizen’s) invasion of Paris after World War I, we might be ready to grant Stein the acuity of her comments. Looking at it today, however, in a period of increasing French disparagement of Northern African, Gypsy, Albanian, and other minorities, and in its own wartime and ongoing attitudes to the Jews—both its own citizens and émigrés—one might “naturally” (to use Stein’s preemptive assumption) have to immediately disagree with Stein’s assertion.
Stein’s heady considerations of the difference between British and French culture, for example, seem to be correct, but only if you are, like I am, a determined Francophile as opposed to an Anglophile:
….France was so important in the period between 1900
and 1939, it was a period when there really was a serious
effort made by humanity to be civilized, the world was
round and there really were not left any unknown on it
and so everybody decided to be civilized. England had the
disadvantage of believing in progress, and progress has
really nothing to do with civilization, but France could be
natural background for this period.
Obviously the French also liked progress, and the British clearly saw themselves as utterly civilized. The Germans claimed they were the source of all culture, and the French only a culture of “civilization.”
Elsewhere, Stein—who one must always remember, was, like so many progressive and experimental writers of her generation (Djuna Barnes was another example), a devout conservative when it came to social and political behavior—argues for the French nature being inherently conservative. Questioning the revolutionary rhetoric of Napoleon, for example, Stein attempts to associate the role of revolution to the period of human adolescence:
How could you be civilized if you had not passed through
a period of revolt, and then you had to return to your pre-
revolt stage and there and there you were you were
civilized. All Frenchmen know that you have to become
civilized between eighteen and twenty-three and that
civilization comes upon you by contact with an older
woman, by revolution, by army discipline, by any escape
or by any subjection, and then you are civilized and life
goes on normally in a latin way, life is then peaceful and
exciting, life is then civilized, logical and fashionable in
short life is life.
In some senses you might almost think that Stein is arguing here for the life-changing possibilities of war as argued by the Futurists. But she follows up that paragraph by insisting that “War can not civilize, it takes life to civilize….” Taking this viewpoint even further, she contends, in an interesting aside, that such was the problem with the Surrealists:
That was really the trouble with the sur-realist crowd,
they missed their moment in becoming civilised, they
used their revolt, not as a private but as a public thing,
they wanted publicity not civilization, and so really
they never succeeded in being peaceful and exciting,
they did not succeed in the real sense in being fashionable
and certainly not in being logical.
Even if one recognizes in this viewpoint that perhaps Stein is correct, when one realizes that such commentary is being issued from one of the most noted self-publicists of the century, it certainly gives pause to nearly anything Stein might be proclaiming in these kinds of comments throughout her book.
Some of her assumptions, moreover, as Gopnik posits, are simply silly and even morally reprehensible. “Well war does make one realize the march of centuries and the succession of generations.” Even if we grant the fact that in 1940, just six years before the end of her life, Stein had seen her share of war, and that for her, perhaps, the actions of “too many fathers” (Mussolini, Hitler, Trotsky, Stalin, and even Roosevelt) seemed to her more another bother than anything to be fearful of, or that, isolated as she was now from her Paris, war was not yet such a serious thing, nonetheless, the very fact that she and Toklas had had to transfer to the country in order to save their lives and that, as Jewish women, they were still very much in danger of being sent to a concentration camp or killed outright, were realities that she would have had to daily face. Although she may not have yet known the full extent of the Jewish extermination, she certainly would by that time (the camps were begun in 1933) have heard rumors about the camps and their brutal methods. And Stein would have had to be utterly ignorant—something that she emphatically was not—to be unaware of the German hatred for the Jews and the growing anti-Semitism across Europe.
While, throughout this work, Stein seems intent in arguing that the French continue to go on with normal life despite the war at hand, associating all wars, as being things of “isolation” (“Wars always take place in vacation time and in vacation weather, so one is not in Paris”) she, quite obviously knew that things had turned “bad.” As she muses at the near center-point of Paris France:
It could be a puzzle why the intellectuals in every
country are always wanting to form a government
which inevitably treat them badly, purge them so to
speak before anybody else is purged. It has always
happened from the French revolution to to-day.
Unlike Gopnik, who argues that being ironic “isn’t her way,” I would argue that irony is very much at the core of many of Stein’s commentaries in this and other works, including her outrageous 1934 suggestion, in an interview, that Adolf Hitler should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Even if she could not yet know of all the unimaginable horror that World War II would bring upon the world in which she was located, she surely sensed the tensions rising around her, that the world had, once more, turned “bad.”
Many of the observations and conversations of Paris France, moreover, would be repeated in her war-time fiction, Mrs. Reynolds, in far poignant and absolutely terrifying contexts. The various questionings of her friends and neighbors that take place throughout Paris France become the pattern of Mrs. Reynolds’ encounters in the later book. If there is a raison d’etre for Stein’s position, one might argue that Paris France is a book in which the narrator is trying her hardest to forget everything going on around her. In its intense discussions of dogs, French cooking, the use of French loan-words in Shakespeare, remembrances of the quays of Paris—and perhaps even her rather homophobic insistence that in every French village there “is a man who has not married,” (who they [the local women] cannot take seriously and call “a hen, and most of the time he does go a little funny…and once in a while goes quite queer…[one] shot a woman just any woman as he saw her at a distance.”)—reiterates Stein’s determination to deflect the war-time world in which she has suddenly discovered herself.
Yet again and again, despite all the seeming chatter of ordinary living, war rears its ugly face, often in the very moments when the narrator is thinking about the most mundane of subjects:
You talk to yourself about chestnuts and walnuts
and hazelnuts and beechnuts, you talk to yourself
about how many you find and whether they have
worms in them. You talk to yourself about apples
and pears and grapes and which kind you like best.
You just go on talking to yourself in war-time. You
talk to yourself about spiders or lizards, you talk to
yourself about dogs and cats and rabbits but not about
bats or mice or moths.
The worm, as she notes, is always a possibility in the isolated world she now inhabits. It is a world even populated by spiders or lizards, but she will not go so far as to focus, she suggests, on the even more frightening specters of “bats or mice or moths.” If the first two animals are obviously frightening, even moths, one might recall, help to unravel the fabric of the world they inhabit. As Mrs. Reynolds comes to perceive in Stein’s long fiction, despite the always welcoming presence of Mr. Reynolds, war creates so much empty space; as Stein writes in Paris France, “There are so many people who go away in war-time here there and everywhere.
Finally, I would argue, the reader of Paris France might be better off to see the book as less a gathering of Steinian “truisms” about French culture, than as a constantly shifting and very personal apologia for the author’s remaining in France during such difficult and morally abhorrent times. This is no memoir in the usual sense, but an impassioned plea for the reader to share or least comprehend Stein’s own commitment, despite her love of American culture, to all things French.
France, for Stein, represents a kind of inner being, the core of self that is clearly not always rational (or as Stein would put it, “logical”) in its perception of things. From early on in her life, Stein ruminates, she came to realize that even as a young girl in San Francisco “there was more french””
After all everybody, that is, everybody who writes is
interested in living inside themselves. That is why
writers have to have two countries, the one where
they belong and the one in which they live really.
The second one is romantic, it is separate from them-
selves, it is not real but it is really there.
This is perhaps one of the most important statements in understanding Stein’s aesthetics and, particularly, her need to remain in France, despite whatever it may have cost her and Alice, throughout the war. Even from afar, one might empathetically comprehend why two lesbian women, having lived most of their lives abroad, would find it nearly impossible to suddenly re-assimilate themselves to the far more parochial and unaccepting world that repatriation to the US might have represented. Stein would simply no longer be the figure she was if she had returned, let us imagine, to Baltimore! How might any of us at Stein’s age of 66 suddenly imagine ourselves as leaving what we have come to define as the country define as home. The six last years of her life would have been lived in even greater isolation than that she describes in the pages of Paris France. We have only to look at an example such as the former expatriate Djuna Barnes—in Paris perceived as one of the great wits of the age, a woman without whom no party could be complete—who, upon returning to the US because of World War II, quickly developed a life that has correctly been described as being life of a hermit who scared away almost anyone who might have wanted to visit. Yes, Barnes continued to live for several more decades and even wrote. But she was no longer a joyful human being in touch with other human lives. Perhaps Barnes was never a truly a joyful human being, but Stein was! Stein desperately depended upon the social interrelationships with artists and writers that she had had in Paris, even with the natives of village where she hunkered down during the War, and, after, the hundreds of soldiers who accepted her open visits to her dinner table.
Stein’s France, moreover, as she makes clear in Paris France, was not anybody else’s France. If at times it may seem to related to others’ perceptions of that country or, even, if, as Gopnik imagines, “we are convinced by the truth of her observations”—something that, for all my love of Stein, I seldom was—we recognize that Stein’s version is a Romantic one, “not real,” but for her, alone, “really there.”
Los Angeles, August 31, 2014
Reprinted from EXPLORINGfictions (August 2014).
Gertrude Stein Mrs. Reynolds (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1995).
But from the very beginning of the fiction, Stein also warns us to be careful upon what we focus. Although the language and events of this book may be very straight-forward, almost transparent, the real concerns of both the character Mrs. Reynolds and the fiction in which she appears relate to something far more abstract. “Mrs. Reynolds is not all about roses, it is more about Tuesdays than about roses” (9). The way the work functions, so Stein straight-forwardly states, is more about dates, the days of the week and, as we shall soon see, the years of events, than it is about Mrs. and Mrs. Reynolds’ domestic life.
“Tuesday was when Mrs. Reynolds was born.” More importantly, Stein continues, Tuesday “was the day they made peace from war and that was the day they made war from peace.”** And already in the few first paragraphs Stein briefly shifts attention from her comments about the book’s central character to memories of World War I, speaking of Mrs. Reynolds’ nephew and his friend, who together “went to be soldiers and they were both killed by a bomb on the same day.” (10). The intelligent reader perceives, in another words, that although a great part of this fiction might be superficially concerned with talk about “bread in soup,” “eggs and butter,” and “guinea hens and geese” (10), the book’s true subject is a far more profound one.
The next few pages, devoted to the process of the young baby growing up to become Mrs. Reynolds, may seem, like almost anyone’s adolescence, to be very uneventful, with the major subjects being things such as strawberries, box-hedges, and the girl’s youthful friendships—innocuous events that might even lull the reader into the belief that Stein’s fiction will be a strange kind of biographical telling of her heroine, a kind of Bildungsroman. Already by page 20, however, when Mrs. Reynolds turns 22, she suddenly begins to notice the clouds in the sky:
Then the clouds began to come that is she began to see the
white clouds and silver clouds. Whichever clouds there were,
she noticed them and she looked at them.
The discussion of clouds continues for two more pages until Mrs. Reynolds finally becomes Mrs. Reynolds at the age of 23: “And now Mrs. Reynolds was twenty-three and this year she was to be Mrs. Reynolds.” Events, accordingly, are linked up with the years of being, and the years of being are associated with larger events in the world.
Mrs. Reynolds coming of age also hints at another major structural element of the book, that of predictions and foretellings. The first prediction of this tale, very much centered around one major prophesy, that of Saint Odile, is uttered by a distant cousin’s brother’s son when the future Mrs. Reynolds is just seventeen, predicting that at the age of 23 she will become Mrs. Reynolds. And indeed, through the machinations of another couple, Epie and Leonardo, the young heroine is introduced to her future husband. The same morning Mrs. Reynolds dreams that “there were five artichokes blooming in the garden,” a reference, possibly, to James Joyce’s Ulysses, where Bloom recounts his memory of the evening in Matt Dillon’s garden with Dillon’s bevy of six daughters (Tiny, Atty, Floey, Maimy, Lou, Hetty) who with the seventh, Molly, create a kind of floral landscape: “Open like flowers, know their hours, sunflowers, Jerusalem artichokes. In ballrooms, chandeliers, avenues under the lamps.”*** Just as this passage calls up Bloom’s marriage to Molly, so does it in Stein’s work presage the young 23-year old girl’s encountering of her life-time companion, Mr. Reynolds.
Mr. Reynolds has also been affected by war; “He had lost two brothers in the war. …Very much later and in another war [presumably the war of which Stein’s fiction is concerned] he lost his only nephew.”
Over the next few pages Stein recounts the marriage and the relatives that attend the ceremony; but suddenly, with the introduction of Mr. Reynolds’ younger brother William, who lives next door with his wife, Hope, everything changes. For William, quite obviously a very different kind of man than his elder brother, has two friends who quickly become the foreboding figures who consume the days and nights of Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds’ life.
The parents of the wife [Hope} sometimes came and stayed
with them [William and his wife] but mostly they had other
kinds of people with them.
The ones they knew best were two men.
The one was Angel Harper. He became very well-known
but they [Mr.and Mrs. Reynolds] did not know him any more
eyebrows and was older than any of them and it did not make
any difference to him how young he was or how old he was. (24)
Stein goes out of her way to dissociate the central couple of her story from William and Hope, describing William as a man who stays in bed “when anything happens, which did happen very much that winter.” Although Hope, a teacher, does go out and even encounters others, she too has very little to do with Mrs. Reynolds and her husband. Stein goes even further in insisting upon the dissociation of the two families:
She [Mrs. Reynolds] and her sister-in-law were neighbors
but it would not be very likely that they would be either going
out or coming in at the same time.
Anyway neither the brothers nor the sisters-in-law met, they
really never met.
Why, one might well ask, does Stein make it so evident that Mrs. Reynolds has no relationship with her in-laws and, as she later reports several times, never met either Angel Harper or Joseph Lane? Even more importantly, why does she associate these two figures—whom readers quickly discern represent Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin (only four pages later Stein writes “Angel Harper later was a dictator.”)—with a relative of Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds?
Recognizing that some of those neighbors, even somewhat distant friends such as Stein’s admirer and, some argue, protector, Bernard Faÿ, may be Nazi-sympathizers, Stein goes out of her way to dissociate herself from them, insisting not only that Mrs. Reynolds has never meet Angel Harper (that she had no knowledge of him and his ideas), but that she does not engage with those who do know of him, refusing to consort even with her brother and sister in-law. What gradually becomes apparent is that Stein’s choice of the word “knowing” with regard to Angel Harper and Joseph Lane, does not necessarily indicate that her brother and others are actual “acquaintances” with those dictators, but rather hints that the gerund is a code word implying that those with such “knowledge” are sympathizers or supporters of Hitler or Stalin—just as one, so I have read, might identify oneself as an alcoholic attending AA meetings by inquiring of another, “Do you know Bill?” (William Griffith Wilson being the founder of that organization). With that word, Stein makes it clear that Mrs. and Mr. Reynolds are utterly opposed to those who are “in the know.”
Soon after his early friendship with William, Angel Harper leaves: “he went away and they never saw him again” (37). But William Reynolds and his wife Hope continue to be tainted by their former relationship to him. Later, he and his wife are visited by a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Madden-Henry, obviously a British pair who are admirers of Angel Harper: “Mr. and Mrs. Madden-Henry admired Angel Harper because he never coughed.” (96) Hope also expresses her admiration of Harper, in a strange way, by suggesting the dual meaning of the word “bat”: “Bat is a word that has two meanings, one that flies by night and one that hits a ball.”
Possibly in this passage Stein is simply satirizing the situation by playing with the satirical notion, held by many and particularly apparent in Chaplin’s 1940 film The Great Dictator, that Hitler’s rants often sounded very much like coughing fits; his name in the film, Adenoid Hynkel, reiterates that fact. Not only is Harper a “bat,” a frightening, vampire-like figure, but like the little tramp in The Great Dictator, “hits” the ball, which Chaplin represents in the form of a giant globe of the world, around the room.****
Others, such as Mrs. Coates, immediately begin to think very badly about the Madden-Henrys, and, more importantly, Mrs. Reynolds—who has already prophesized that Angel Harper would be drowned (“She never knew Angel Harper which was just as well because she would have said of him that he would be drowned dead….”) (62)—a short while later tells her husband that she “really never wanted to see or hear William again” (138). Soon after William and Hope, thankfully, move away.
If Mrs. Reynolds and most of her neighbors at first know little about Angel Harper, once his name is invoked, the fiction is soon overwhelmed with mentions of him and, to a far lesser degree, of Joseph Lane. After the early naming of Harper, his moniker crops up throughout the rest of the fiction on nearly every page and, at times, in nearly every paragraph. In short, as Stein notes, even if Mrs. Reynolds and most of the others in her village had never “known” him before he “went away,” it hardly matters: “…Ten years after, it made no difference, because everybody knew about him and might he might be afraid enough” (37-38).
The fiction itself becomes, just as Angel Harper is described, more and more gloomy. A hoot-owl hoots “terrifically” (38), the winters seem colder, it rains for “twenty-eight days in the daytime and in the evening and at night….” (81). The link between these events and Hitler are made quite clear, as in the very next paragraph Stein repeats: “By this time Angel Harper was very well known, so well known that everybody knew about him.”
Already by page 50, the woman who began the work as one who “never sighed,” begins to sigh quite often, an act in which she continues to engage throughout most of the rest of the fiction.
When Angel Harper was a little boy he did not drill other
little boys and make them march. Some do. He did not.
He sat and when he sat, he sat. Enough said.
He talked to himself and he said, all the same.
And when he said all the same he meant it. (68)
Although these brief memories have no common thread, they generally show Angel Harper at a distance from others and removed from the rest of world events. He often acts alone, watching, focusing on his own inner thoughts. Many of them show a person not knowing how to relate to others around him:
Angel Harper was bitter he was where he was and he was
bitter, he ate what he ate and he was bitter, nobody saw
him just then and he was bitter and little by little it was
as much worse and he was bitter. (90)
This passage, in particular, reminds one of Hitler’s anger with his father who stood against his desire to become an artist, described in Mein Kampf.
As Axelrod makes clear in his essay, Mrs. Reynolds not only recognizes Angel Harper as evil (“Angel Harper is annoysome, he is dangerous, he is painful, he is owned and is annoysome…”), but she would have him dead.“: “And I would be pleased if they killed him (98).” Mrs. Reynolds truly wishes that he might become an “angel harper,” a dead man harping in some vague depiction of an afterlife. In this case, as Axelrod has argued, I think we have to think of the “angel” as a fallen one, as a satanic force rather than a creature of paradise.
As the wartime situation grows in its horrors, Mrs. Reynolds becomes more and more sad (282). She has bad dreams and fears for the future. What begins as a wish for Angel’s death is transformed into hate: “If I knew about him I would hate him, and I do know about him and I do hate him” (298).
Before long what began as descriptions of simple feelings, emotional responses to Angel Harper that alternate with the very ordinary and uneventful days of Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds—as they rise each morning, leave the house for periods of time, eat dinner, and, ritualistically, go back to bed—begin to be overshadowed by longer units of time which designate the years of the dictator’s life.
This begins with a brief mention of Harper/Hitler being thirty-eight (“Angel Harper was now thirty-eight and it was not at all too late” (108). And in the next line Stein warns the reader to pay attention: “Listen here,” she insists. Something is about the change, she hints, as if warning us that a new element of narrative structure is about to be introduced.
On the very next page (109), Angel Harper is described as being forty-three. A couple of pages later he becomes forty-four, an aging process upon which Stein continues to focus until the end of her work. Narrative time in Mrs. Reynolds shifts as the Hitler figure grows older. The numerous figures of the earlier pages begin to disappear; life becomes more difficult as people aimlessly pass by the Reynolds’ window. Food becomes scarce. The small daily events that were so crucial to the narrative pattern of the fiction, become more and more vague as Mrs. Reynolds increasingly fears to even leave the house.
To understand this shift, I argue, one has to further make sense of Mrs. Reynolds’ increasing fixation with Angel Harper’s age, particularly since, we quickly perceive, more and more pages are devoted to each passing year. Stein hints at the key to comprehending this shift by noting that in the year 1942 one naturally thinks of Columbus’ voyage of 1492, a voyage which her husband links to wider world events that embrace even the distant USA:
Mr. Reynolds came in, he did not meditate but he told Mrs.
Reynolds what every one said. They said that suddenly in
September 1940 the United States of America instead of being
a big flat land illimitably flat, the land against which Christopher
Columbus bumped himself in 1492 became a part of the round
world that goes around and around.*****
In another words, through the Columbus simile, the reader is asked to see the very flat world, where hardly anything happens, as a multi-dimensional reality, as a world in real time and space; the sympathetic reader is asked to infuse the flat narrative of Stein’s Mrs. Reynolds with events in the real world to make sense of the emotional responses of Mrs. Reynolds and others described in the book in order to make it, too, part of the “round world that goes around and around.” If, as Stein claims in her final “Epilogue,” “There is nothing historical about this book except the state of mind,” she asks that the reader bring with him that “state of mind,” that he impose historicity upon her flat fiction to comprehend the significance of the author’s and characters’ observations.
When Angel Harper/Hitler becomes 44, for example, the year would have been (given Hitler’s birth year of 1889) 1933, an important year for Hitler: in that year he was named Chancellor of the Reich, which, in turn, allowed him to gain control over the German police. On February 27 that same year, The Reichstag was set afire, which, with Hindenberg’s support, led to the suspension of basic rights and permitted detention without trial. In March of that year, Hitler’s German National People’s Party acquired the largest number of seats in parliament, and. along with the “Enabling Act,” transformed Hitler’s government into a legal dictatorship.
An even longer chapter is devoted to Angel Harper at age forty-six (128), Hitler’s 1935, the year the people of the Saarland voted to unite with Germany and its Fürher expanded the Wehrmacht; relationships between Jews and Aryans were outlawed. At forty-seven (133), Hitler reoccupied the Saarland, breaking the Versailles Treaty of World War I. He sent troops to Spain to support General Franco.
As the situation becomes worse and worse, as I said, more and more time is given over to each year of Angel Harper’s life. Quite clearly, Stein is paralleling her character’s increasing fears with the flurry of events surrounding Hitler and his Third Reich. By the time he becomes fifty-one (1940), the year Germany attacked France, conquered Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Belgium, nearly everything in Mrs. Reynolds life has stopped:
…in every way it was a day in which Angel Harper was more
fifty-one than he had been then it was time that trains stopped
puffing and that chairs were not there to sit in and that hens
stopped laying eggs and when cows saw snow it excited them
and they jumped around and perhaps some of them broke their
leg. Angel Harper was fifty-on and there was no longing no
longing for anything.
The world in motion has become almost dead, a world of stasis.
Contrary to the forces of Angel Harper, however, are two major dynamisms. The first is the vague and distant (he is after all, as Mrs. Reynolds notes, “a foreigner”) presence of Joseph Lane. As Axelrod has observed, if one supposed, given Stein’s “sometimes conservative personal politics,” Stein might focus on Lane/Stalin’s evil capacities, through the persona Mrs. Reynolds she surprisingly sees him to be in opposition to Harper, arguing at one point, “It is very nice and quiet of him to go on…and Mrs. Reynolds gave a sigh of relief” (237)—passages, which Axelrod points out, clearly “refer to Soviet successes on the eastern front beginning in late 1941.”
The second opposing force to Harper/Hitler comes from Mrs. Reynolds’ belief in predictions and prophesies, in particular the somewhat surprising prognostication of the seventh century Saint Odile. It is clear that, as she says of her heroine, Stein was not so interested in the Catholic convictions of Saint Odile and others, but found their holiness to lie in their faith expressed through their visions of the future, their commitment to the future through the evidence of their predictions:
To prophesy for years is more difficult than to prophesy for
months.This is perfectly well known. She said spiders can
exaggerate but months and days. She was fairly fortunate
because after all prophecies do come true yes they do.
As world events grow more and more dire throughout the book, the years of Harper’s life growing into longer and longer events outweighing the daily comings and goings of the Reynolds, that figure’s belief in the saint’s seventh-century prediction permits her to grow stronger in the face of current events.
Saint Odile had said, listen to me my brother, I have seen
the terror in forests and mountains where the Germans shall
be called the most war-like people of the earth.
It will happen that the time will come when a war the
most terrible war in the world will happen and mothers will
weep for their children and will not be consoled.
From the Danube the war will commence and will be a
horrible war on earth, on the sea and even in the air, and
warriors will rise in the air to seize stars to throw them down
upon cities and make them the cities burst into flames.
Odile evidently made several prophesies, mostly about local events; but the one referred to by Mrs. Reynolds is believed to speak of the German’s defeat in 1941, when the eternal city of Rome will burn, and the Huns will be forced to fight a new army that will come from across an ocean (55).*****
By the end of Mrs. Reynolds, although still unsure of the precise date in which the terrible events will end, the heroine is so convinced of the Saint’s predictions that she serves almost as a proselytizer for Odile’s predictions of the future, sharing her knowledge with nearly everyone with whom she meets. By the year in which Angel Harper is fifty-two, Mrs. Reynolds, convinced in Odile’s prediction, is certain that “he is nearly through.”
Accordingly, Stein asks that just as the reader has infused the book with an historical reality, so too must he bring to it a faith that might justify Mrs. Reynolds’ belief in what lies ahead in order to make certain that Harper, like Hitler, is not “fifty-five” alive.******
It is not enough to simply focus, as have previous critics, on Mrs. Reynolds’ life as depicted in the fiction, in short, but, as I argue, Stein asks that we direct our attention to the world outside the fiction, which includes the historical facts of Hitler’s rule and the religiously-inspired divinations of St. Odile. By centering her fiction on both history and faith, Stein illuminates what first appears as a flat, one-dimensional reality, projecting it somewhat like a folded image in a pop-up card, creating a three-dimensional perspective.
What Axelrod’s and my own readings also make quite clear, finally, is that attending to Mrs. Reynolds helps one to perceive a Gertrude Stein who—far different from the one hazily described by writers such as Janet Malcolm in her rather scurrilous study Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice (2007) and who stands apart from the even more disparaging attack on Stein by Barbara Will in Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma (2011), as well as behaving far differently from the figure described by numerous other rumor-mongers—empathically expressed a strong hatred for Nazism in her writing of the period, values that are just as apparent in her sensitive dialogue with American soldiers in her Brewsie and Willie that followed. If in Paris France Stein seems to be attempting to keep her mind off of the horrible realities hovering over her, in Mrs. Reynolds she and her heroine squarely face those horrors of what she admits has tragically resulted in “so many deaths.”
**Presumably the “peace” of which Stein is writing is the end of World War I. In actuality, the armistice that ended that War was on Monday (“the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”), but we can forgive Stein’s carrying it over until the next day, perhaps the day when she first heard the news. The same war, however, is generally cited as having begun on a Tuesday, July 28, 1914, just as she claims in Mrs. Reynolds.
***”Blooming artichokes,” in fact, are thistles, and have little to do with Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus), which are the roots of plants related to Sunflowers. The name bears no relationship to the city of Jerusalem, but derives instead from the Italian word girasole because of the plants’ similarity to the garden sunflower (the word literally meaning “sunflower artichoke”), which somehow became corrupted in English to the word “Jerusalem.” Yet the dream of Mrs. Reynolds bears a great deal of resemblance to the Ulysses passage. However, one might observe that if it is a literary reference, it would be one of a very few in all of Stein’s writing.
****As far-fetched as this may sound, such an allusion to cinema would have again tied Stein to the Jewish issues very much at the center of that film. Similarly, only a few pages later (121), a guest in Mrs. Reynold’s house, Valerie Harland, jokes, “To be or not to be Angel Harper,” in response to which everyone laughs. This may simply be a joke based on the Hamlet speech, but it might also refer to Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 satire To Be or Not to Be, in which Jack Benny portrays Hitler. Clearly, both of my statements are pure speculation. There is no evidence of which I am aware that Stein saw either of these movies or even heard of them. It does not change Stein’s heroine’s clear abhorrence of Mr. Reynolds’ brother, William, his wife, and others like him.
*****Throughout the quiet and patient Mr. Reynolds is associated with the US in his numerous comments about what Stein calls “the romance of America.” See pages 58-59.
******A translation of the Odile prophesy I found on the internet reads:
Los Angeles, September 5, 2014
a time gone mad
Gertrude Stein Wars I Have Seen (New York: Random House, 1945; London: Brillance Books, 1984.
After finishing her “fiction” Mrs. Reynolds in 1942, at the house in which she was living in Biliginin—although it is also evident that she later revised that fiction to include the end of the war in 1945—Stein, having moved to Culoz, turned, in 1943, to writing a book that at first seems to be a kind of continuation of her earlier, Paris France—the latter seemingly a larger discussion of not just the current war, but about all the other wars she had experienced, Wars I Have Seen.
At times it seems that these maxims, pronouncements, and musings will, in fact, overwhelm any coherent narrative about her World War II experiences. One almost cringes, at moments, for example, when Stein attempts to differentiate the current War from World War I, which she declares was a nineteenth century war which its veterans remember as something they “liked”: “it was a nice war, a real war a regular war, a commenced war. It was a war, and veterans like a war to be a war.” Tell that to the over nine million soldiers and seven million civilians who died during World War I. Had Stein even seen a trench? I am tempted to try to ameliorate such ridiculous statements by simply describing them as the blind spots of an old woman—until I remind myself that at 69 in 1943, Stein was only a couple of years older than I am today.
But what we must also recognize is that not everything Stein writes in this book, as in Paris France, represents her own point of view. As in that earlier book, what Stein often creates is not a work which, instead of personally commenting on history, serves as a kind of expression of the panoply of voices and their accompanying points of view that living in a small French village during 1943 and 1944 would naturally produce. And, in that sense, her Wars I Have Seen is less a personal memoir about war than, like Mrs. Reynolds, an attempt to demonstrate “the way anybody could feel these years.” Perhaps we cannot go so far as to say that, as she does in the Epilogue of her “fiction,” “There is nothing historical about this book except the state of mind,” but we can argue that the history she tells is not merely a personal one. And if, at times, it appears that Stein is somewhat impervious to the feelings anyone might have during this tense period in French history, it is because it is not a history about any one person—even though those events are represented through her point of view and she very much stands out as the central figure within the book.
One need only to observe the basic structure of most of this work to realize that it is unlike nearly any other Stein creation. Although a great many of Stein works are conversational in tone, here the very patterns of the book suggest a kind of narrative structure that is not only oral but is based on way human beings converse with one another.
Consider, for example, the quote I so objected to above: “It was a nice war.” That statement appears on page 75 in the 1984 British edition of the original 1945 Random House publication. Given Stein’s usual predilection for outright pronouncements and generalizations, we may not, at first, even question her description of a war—any war—as being “nice.” But Stein quite clearly knows in saying this that she has made a rather strange comment. And two pages later, after ambulating through a great many other issues, including the appearance in 1918 of a vision to two children of the Virgin who predicts “a much worse war,” Stein returns to her comment to explain:
The 1914-1918 war was must like our civil war, it was that
kind of a war and that made it possible for Elmer Harden to
make Pierre Caous admit that it was a nice war. A nice war
is a war where everybody who is heroic is a hero, and everybody
more or less is a hero in a nice war.
This quite clearly alters what at first seems to be a personal observation. Elmer Harden is a figure, also appearing in Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, who Stein and Toklas met and shared with them his experiences in World War I. I quote below the entire passage from the 1933 work:
not known him much but a little; Elmer Harden,
who was in Paris studying music. During the war
we heard that Elmer Harden had joined the french
army and been badly wounded. It was rather an
amazing story. Elmer Harden had been nursing
french wounded in the american hospital and one
of his patients, a captain with an arm fairly disabled,
was going back to the front. Elmer Harden could not
content himself any longer nursing. He said to
Captain Peter, I am going with you. But it is
impossible, said Captain Peter. But I am, said
Elmer stubbornly. So they took a taxi and they
went to the war office and to a dentist and I don’t
know where else, but by the end of the week Captain
Peter had rejoined and Elmer Harden was in his
regiment as a soldier. He fought well and was wounded.
After the war we met him again and then we met often.
He and the lovely flowers he used to send us were a
great comfort in those days just after the peace. He
and I always say that he and I will be the last
people of our generation to remember the war. I am
afraid we both of us have already forgotten it a little.
Only the other day though Elmer announced that he
had had a great triumph, he had made Captain Peter
and Captain Peter is a breton admit that it was a nice war.
Up to this time when he had said to Captain Peter,
it was a nice war, Captain Peter had not answered,
but this time when Elmer said, it was a nice war,
Captain Peter said, yes Elmer, it was a nice war.
Obviously Captain Peter is Pierre Caous, the man he convinced to allow him to nurse the French wounded in the American hospital. And his seemingly outrageous comments are not meant as a commentary on the horrors of the war, issues which he brilliantly explored in his own writing,* but are merely a generality on the values of those who fought in the war, the individuals who saw themselves and others as heroes. For Stein, World II was much more of a medieval experience, a far more brutal world, which, she argued, made it a 20th century war instead of a 19th century one, a war in which the people no longer believed in progress or that personal invention might still somehow save them. In short, Stein’s casual way of approaching her subjects should not obscure her more serious consideration of the issues she brings up, which reveal not always her own points of view, but those of the past and those around her.
Stein brings these issues up, one might also say, as tantalizing questions which she later answers in various ways that are not always personal. As Stein puts it another way, “Anybody can ask a question and anybody can answer a question, and during war-time they ask questions more than ever particularly in war-time like this one of 1943.” The seeming triviality of some of these questions is humorously revealed in her next comments:
Who said Christine aged six of her mother who is the
question, why the Germans said her mother, and who
are friends of the Germans, why the Italians said her
mother, and who are friends of the English said
Christine, why the Americans said her mother, and
is Stalin friends with the Germans said Christine,
no with the English said her mother, and who are
the French friends of, said Christine, why no one
said the mother.
The incessant child-like questions, many of which Stein posits, creates a kind of chatter than reveals more than its speakers sometimes perceive. “So if you ask questions and there is an answer it is not nevertheless any less illuminating,” Stein concludes, arguing for her approach.
One might perceive this structural device, in fact, as a purposeful clue to the reader that what Stein has to say on the aforementioned subject will be returned to from various perspectives, from the viewpoints of many in the context of sometimes conflicting ideas. Certainly, she applies this approach to the most sensitive issues that she brings up, including her often clashing viewpoints that she and her neighbors have about the Vichy government and its nefarious leader, Philippe Petain. On page 83 she writes: “But to tell about Petain and all the things one could I could think about him.” Immediately after, however, she jumps to a long passage about eating honey in the war, a replacement for sugar that one at first misses, but gradually realizes is every bit as good as sugar. Clearly one might read this as a kind of metaphor for her relationship to Petain and the Vichy government, particularly since it was her acquaintance Bernard Faÿ’s interference that allowed her and Alice to remain in France during the war. In 1941 she was even asked to translate some of Petain’s writings. But when she does finally proceed into her discussion of what we now recognize as a villainous figure who sent thousands of French Jews to their deaths, it is with the removed restraint of a biographical story about his life (p. 86), explaining how this retired World War I figure was brought back to head the French German-sponsored government. Even in that discussion, Stein expresses a great many doubts about Petain’s positions, particularly with regard to the French consensus that they as a people “getting slack.” Stein even appears to mock Faÿ and others in describing what Petain and many of the French sought, “a sort of heroic rotarianism in every walk of life. I used to hear Bernard Faÿ talk about this and mixed up with it all was a desire to have back a king, they thought that kings suit France, most Frenchman prefer a republic but everybody has to think as they like about that.” Stein clearly questions Petain’s position while he served as ambassador to Spain:
should done but did he does he….
Even when she finally sums up his achievements, it is clear that Stein, like many in the French population is quite conflicted in her feelings about Petain:
Well anyway there was the armistice Petain
and completely sad in a way and we had so
many opinions. I did not like his way of saying
I Philippe Petain, that bothered me and we
were in the unoccupied area and that was
Despite the fact that others had suggested to her that there was no difference between the occupied and unoccupied zones, Stein argues convincingly that “there was a difference all right. One might not be very free in the unoccupied but we were pretty free and in the occupied they were not free, the difference between being pretty free and not free at all is considerable.” Her mixed views, moreover, were similar to a great many French Jews, as Caroline Moorehad has made clear in her Village of Secrets. In the beginning a large portion of the population supported Petain, changing their viewpoints as they grew more and more aware of his roundup of the Jews and his other capitulations to the Germans.
Several pages later, after some stories that help to prove her point, Stein humorously summarizes her and her neighbors’ attitudes, “And all the time there is Petain, an old man a very old man and mostly nowadays everyone has forgotten all about him” (p. 92).
Alice Toklas has just commenced typewriting
we left it in manuscript as my handwriting is so
bad it was not likely that any German would be
able to read it, but now ell if they are not gone
they area so to speak not here, we can leave
our windows open and the light burning, dear
me such little things but they do amount to a lot,
and it is.
For suddenly we realize just how precarious Stein’s and her neighbor’s situations have been all along. And because of these purposeful expressions of communal sufferings I would argue strongly against Djuna Barnes caustic dismissal of the book, “You do not feel that she [Stein] is ever really worried about the sorrows of the people. Her concerns at its highest pitch is a well-fed apprehension."
I go out in the village of Bilignin there I see
they are still there and that is everything that
they are not gone. But now they are gone and
going. Some of them betake themselves to the
mountains others are conspiring, the son of our
dentist a boy of eighteen has just been taken
because he was helping and will he be shot or
not. Oh dear. We all cry.
The connection between the visitation of the young men about to travel to Germany and her statement that “some of them betake themselves to the mountains” are meaningful. If a few youths had previously escaped from the often German-filled villages, such as Culoz, after the Vichy government issued, in February 1943, the Service du Travail Obligatoire (STO)—requiring all men born in the years 1920-1922 be obliged to serve as workers in Germany—the Maquis groups grew commensurably. As Moorhead summarizes: “With the STO came the beginnings of a Marquis.”
A resourceful neighbor called the French police,
asking them for requisition orders that they did not
have. (When the police arrived, the Gestapo men
were in Stein’s bedroom trying on her Chinese
coats.) A longer-term reprieve for the paintings was
achieved by Bernard Faÿ, the collaborationist who
protected Stein and Toklas during the war, and now
used his influence to protect the art.******
Numerous other, “minor” “bibelots, linens, and utensils,” however, were looted.
…and now I have something rather serious to tell you.
Sivain had been sous-prefet at Belley and had been
most kind and helpful in extending our privileges
and our occupation of our house, and Maurice Sivain
said to me, tell those ladies that they must leave at
once for Switzerland, to-morrow if possible
otherwise they will be put into a concentration camp.
Clearly shocked by his comments, Stein queries him about the difficulties of traveling into Switzerland, which the lawyer assures her “could be arranged.”
You mean pass by fraud I said. Yes he said, it could be
Some critics, such as Malcolm, have criticized that seemingly inappropriate word, “funny,” as demonstrating an insignificant response to the situation. But it is a word that Stein uses time and again throughout Wars I Have Seen, representing, it seems to me, not what my dictionary describes as the “simple, general term” meaning something that creates laughter or a sense of mirth, but as what is described as the “quaint” meaning, as something that “because of its strangeness” amuses one in a more thoughtful manner. In my larger Random House Unabridged Dictionary, the word “funny” also suggests something that “arouses suspicion,” a feeling of deceitfulness. For Stein it hints also of a sickening feeling that hits one in the pit of one’s stomach. Feeling “funny,” Stein rushes home to tell Alice what she has heard that they must now do, Stein repeating the phrase, as she arrives home, “I felt a little less funny but I still did feel funny, and Alice Toklas and Madame d’Aiguy were there, and I said we are not moving to-morrow we are going to Switzerland.” The women suffer they meal together, until Stein comes to a decision:
We both felt funny and then I said. No, I am not
wherever we are sent than to go irregularly where
nobody can help us if we are in trouble, no I said,
they are always trying to get us to leave France but
here we are and here we stay.
If, within the context, this appears like a dangerously sudden decision, a Steinian-like bluff against what she describes as “realism,” by work’s end we see the wisdom of her determinedness to stay. But we also must somewhat qualify our feelings, with the suspicion that Stein, like most of those in France during this period, did not truly know what might have been her and Alice’s fates if they had been interred in a concentration camp; even as late as 1943 many French Jews still perceived themselves as protected by their citizenship. While a few had seen, first hand, the Vichy brutality expressed against the Jews in Vénissieux detention center in nearby Lyons, Stein and most of the region’s residents could have had no idea that conditions would have been so awful, and even fewer could have imagined what lay ahead in the Poland camps where by 1943 most of the Jews who had not changed their identities and were not in hiding had been sent. As Moorehead writes of the remaining French Jews in 1942: “What exactly awaited them in Poland was still a matter of conjecture; many found it impossible to believe that it was mass murder. But what was clear was that with the German occupation of the whole of France, another step had been taken in the delivery of Jews for deportation. The little optimism that had remained among Vichy’s Jews now died” (VoS, p. 155).
…of course everybody must know it, the big
industrialism are not in any modern country
Jewish and everybody must know it but nobody
wants to know it, because everybody likes it to
be as it was supposed to be as for so many
hundreds of years it was so course religion does
get mixed up with it…and so anti-semitism which
has been with us quite a few centuries is still
something to cling to (p. 56).
Stein was attempting to be logical in a time that had gone mad.
…a good many people had for a year consciously
finds that there is no use in doing it, no use at all
and so nobody does, nobody does except funnily
enough some timid grocery storekeepers, who are
afraid. I know one family of them and they are the
only ones around her who continue to be thin and to
get thinner. Nobody else is, nobody else is thin and
nobody else continues to get thinner, nobody not
unless they are awfully poor and because of their
situation in life unable to work. Nobody. (p. 106)
Rather than seeing this as an example of Stein’s dismissal of those going without, I perceive it simply as another instance of Stein’s understatement, a purposeful playing-down of the horrific elements of war- time living.
To-day we were for the first time in company with a
to go to Culoz, and we were delighted, he had the
tricolor on his shoulder rand looked bronzed and
In the next paragraph, she expresses herself even more clearly: “The maquis were pretty wonderful of course now they are armed and more or less superior in numbers to the Germans….”
No, we had no idea that a group of Jewish children were
deported, we only found out months later. I’m sure Gertrude
and Alice had no idea of the incident at the time. Izieu is
about 20 K from Belley and 30 K from Culoz. In those
days the only way of getting to and fro was walking or
on a bike, people were pretty isolated from each other.
Anything confidential was never mentioned by phone.
Indeed, Stein describes herself was only walking or occasionally taking a train and never mentions Izieu in Wars I Have Seen. Chapman, however, also wrote Malcolm of another event, the arrival of two young boys, one, a five-year old Jewish-German orphan named Manfred Iudas. Caring for the children, Chapman and her mother evidently grew quite fond of the boy and had decided to adopt him. Consulting their friend Stein, the Chapmans apparently were warned against adopting him, with Stein insisting that he “must be adopted by a Jewish family.” Malcolm immediately jumps on this statement, which she presents almost as an “edict,” suggesting that, once again, “Stein did not behave well in the Second World War.” Malcolm melodramatically writes: “The story chills the blood….. To propose that a Jewish child be sent to a Jewish family at a time when everywhere in France Jews were being rounded up was an act of almost inconceivable callousness. Ulla Dydo and Edward Burns agreed that Stein’s advice was inexplicable and terrible.”
Los Angeles, September 4-5, 2014
Reprinted from EXPLORINGFictions (September 2014) and PiPPoetry (September 2014).
Gertrude Stein Brewsie and Willie (New York: Random House, 1946)
Despite the serious doubts expressed by the most of the soldiers, and, in particular, by their lead spokesman, Brewsie, Stein’s work is a testament to the American future, particularly a future with will embrace the thousands of GIs about to be “redeployed” back to their home country. As Stein had made clear in Wars I Have Seen, there was something “different” about the soldiers she encountered after World War II from the former doughboys of the First World War. These soldiers of 1944 and ‘45, unlike their silent, more drunken, and ruminative World War I brothers, having grown up as sons and daughters during the Great Depression, were open to their European experiences and interested in the post-war citizens of France, Germany, England and other countries. And, most importantly, these men talked and listened; rather than simply accepting their new experiences and their collective re-internment to the country of their birth, they doubted and even challenged the values they would face upon their return. Although, in Stein’s telling, they were nearly all eager to get back home in order to start over again, they were also afraid, worried by changes in their country’s economy and politics, and troubled abour how they might fit in among the others who had not had gained their war-time experiences.
It’s funny, said Willie, the way a nigger
talk to, you’d think there were no nigger
anywhere and there he is, he just is sitting
on a chair in a garden and two darky little
boys talking to him and they talking French
and he talking to him and they talking French
and he talking and go on talking French and
does talk the same to them, and I do think it
is funny. (p. 28)
But one quickly recognizes that that is precisely the way soldiers, particularly several of them being Southern-born, might have spoken; and, more importantly, what is really being described throughout this section (part “Five”) is that in fighting beside Blacks throughout the War, these men are no longer surprised to see Black soldiers dining among them, talking with the French (even possibly in French), and doing everyday things alongside them that would not be permitted for many years in some of their states back home.
Does it make one mad or doesnt it make one
Well, said Willie, I saw a Negro soldier
sitting on a bench just looking out into the street,
and next to him were three white women, not
young, not paying any attention to them and I
didnt know whether it made me mad or didnt
make me mad. (p. 41)
Jo rightfully argues that it “doesn’t make ‘em mad not even when they see a white woman walking with one of them, the boys like to think it makes ‘em made but it doesnt really make ‘em mad not really it doesnt.”
You know the other day I heard a colored major
nine years and I said, how is that, and he said, is
this America any place to make born a Negro
It’s apparent that many of the ideas the central figure, Brewsie expresses arise, as he puts it, from being “kind of foggy in the head.” For one wonderfully comic instant, Brewsie even ponders the idea of a transgender existence:
WAC and if I was a WAC and if I was a WAC,
oh my Lord, just think of that. (p. 11)
More intently, Brewsie, his G.I. friends and nurses explore cultural stereotypes by throwing out pejorative terms such as “Frog” (for the French), Heinies (for the Germans), and Limies (for the English) while simultaneously questioning their own prejudices, wondering why, for example. although they enjoy drinking with German men, they more highly admire the French women for basically refusing to fraternize with the Germans, even though the German women readily slept with Americans and Russians. One young soldier is determined to stay in Europe instead of returning home, to allow him, he insists, to become educated, to have more time to explore the differences between the European cultural ideas and those of his homeland. Others find some aspects of European life far more “up-to-date” than the “old-fashioned” constructions and the concepts behind them of the United States:
Jo said, what do you think, one of those frog girls
baby in the baby carriage and she said, what,
do you have those old fashioned baby-carriages
with high wheels and a baby can fall out, no we
French people, we have up-to-date baby-carriages,
streamlined, she said. (p. 25)
Jo immediately wants to get home and buy himself one of the new baby-carriages. But much of the conversation between these soldiers, especially as Willie articulates Stein’s ideas, is that the U.S. is doomed in its reliance on industrialism. Like England and other countries which have already gone through vast industrial growth, the U.S., he argues, will eventually use up so many of its resources and will fall into decline. The very thing they all look forward to, to find a decent job that will permit them to buy new goods, will, in fact, give them no time to talk and think, no time and space in which to embrace the very activities they have now begun to enjoy and that have suggested to them new ways perceiving. They will become subjects to a system that ultimately will steal away their possibilities for exploring the new potentialities with which they have just begun to come into contact. And it is these complex ideas that take up much of Stein’s dialogue, particularly since Willie struggles to intelligently express them. Speaking of the English, Willie begins a long spiel which we will continue and expand upon from time to time throughout the remainder of the book:
and tin right there on that island and they just made
and made, and everybody gave up every kind
of way of living excepting jobs in factories and
mines, even little children, and they made all their
colonies and empire buy them, and it was swell just
like us and they got richer and richer. Well we
horned in after our Civil War we went industrial
and we got richer and they got poorer and their
markets that is the people in their empire slowed
down in buying and they used up their raw
material, and then they tried to take new places
to sell to, like Egypt which they took from the
French and Africa from the Dutch. The lousy Limies,
said Willie. You just wait, said Brewsie, and there
we were getting richer and richer and why because
we had our outside market right at home that is we had
emigration, thousands and millions in every year into
our country… (pp 35-36)
After a summarization of the developing industrialization in Russian, German, and Japan as well, he continues:
And it’s all because everybody just greedy
can buy, well then you know what happened
after the last war we cut off immigration, we
hoped to sell to foreign countries, foreign
countries didnt want to buy and we had the
depression. …Yes and then we had to fight,
and yes we won but we used up a hell of a lot
of raw material and now we got to make a club
to make those foreign countries buy from us,
and we all got to go home and make some more
of those things that use up the raw material and
that nobody but own little population wants to buy.
Oh dear, said Brewsie. (pp. 36-37)
Brewsie and others soon recognize, however, that, in the end, they probably will be unable to change the course of American economics. As an alternative they suggest the possibility of “pioneering,” of each going their own way, living in a world apart from the corporate-dominated factories in which they are expected to find jobs. What their concept of “pioneering” actually entails is a little vague, at times sounding a bit like the alternative choices some of their own children would make in the 1960s—a kind of perpetual hippedom, a life lived apart, at the very least, as Lawrence suggests, from being middle aged:
I tell you old and young are better than tired
way as middle-aged, have got the guts to make
a noise while we are still young before we get
middle-aged, tired middle-aged, no we haven’t,
said Willie, and you know it, no we haven’t, said
Willie. (p. 90)
Their fears of what they believe will be their future are so bleak, even frightening that it makes another nurse, Pauline, want to cry. All look to Brewsie for some sort of solution, but the more they wait for him to speak, the less he has to offer, and the more the others finally do speak out.
And tell me, said Janet, wont you miss
dont you all of you nobody talks like you
you were boys were always talking, not
back home. Yes we know, said Jo. Yes we
know, said Jimmie. Not Brewsie, said Willie,
he’ll talk but, said Willie, Brewsie will talk
but we wont be there to listen, we kind of
will remember that he’s talking somewhere
but we wont be there to listen, there wont be
anybody talking where we will be. But, said Jo,
perhaps they will talk now, why you all so sure
they wont talk over there, perhaps they will talk
over there. Not those on the job they wont, said
Willie, not those on the job. (p. 110).
Stein saw the moment as a precipitous one.
…I am sure that this particular moment in
since the Civil War. (p. 113)
We have to find a new way, she argued, or we will go poor like other industrial countries before us. “Don’t think that communism or socialism will save you,” argued the conservative but perhaps prescient writer: “you have to find a new way out” (p. 113).
Los Angeles, December 4, 2014
Reprinted from EXPLORINGfictions (December 2014).