Baby Precious Always Shines
, a delightful selection from the 300 love notes that Alice B. Toklas accidentally deposited with the rest of Gertrude Stein's papers in the Beinecke Library at Yale, would not have been possible before the 1980s, when the locked cabinet in which they were kept was finally opened to scholars. In her excellent introduction, Kay Turner (whose other books include I Dream of Madonna: Women's Dreams of the Goddess of Pop
) explains that with their baby talk and constant blessings, the notes provide "a tantalizing mosaic of a marriage between two women that was built to last." Composed in the "word-inverted, long-breathed, rolling, repetitive, refluent style that Stein invented," they touch on everyday events in the Stein-Toklas household and reiterate Stein's love and desire for Toklas. Many seem to have been left for Toklas to find in the morning beside the manuscripts that Stein had written during the night. A few were written by Toklas to Stein. Turner also offers a convincing new reading of Stein's famously obscure "cows" (in A Book Concluding with As a Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story
and elsewhere), previously thought to signify female orgasm; she argues that Stein and Toklas subscribed to the "cult of regularity" that swept Europe in the first decades of the 20th century. Indeed, the love notes, despite their Steinian verbal play, leave little doubt that the recurring cows, "now sweet smelly and complete," are bowel movements--further evidence, for Turner, of the women's extraordinary intimacy, their love "express[ing] itself daily in the rituals of bodily caretaking."
From Publishers Weekly
Before she retired after a long night of writing, American modernist Gertrude Stein often scribbled tender notes to her longtime companion, Alice B. Toklas. The two met in Paris in 1907 and lived together until Stein's death in 1946. These poetic missives, published with nine of Toklas's replies, reveal a loving pair sharing a private language of endearments. While intimate correspondence often doesn't galvanize those outside the relationship, Stein's incantations demonstrate her playful language and liberal use of double entendres. Too often, however, they sink into mere repetition: a few rounds of "Baby precious [Stein's nickname for Toklas], oh dear baby so precious, sweet kissed baby so precious" will drive more than a few readers to distraction. The only new facet of Stein's personality to come to the fore, highlighted by Turner's introduction, is Stein's obsession with Toklas's bodily functions. Apparently, Stein's many references to "having a cow" ("As a Wife Has a Cow a Love Story," etc.) have a meaning other than the orgasmic connotations that many Stein scholars have attached to themAindeed, they are Stein's imprecations for Toklas to have a bowel movement. Those scholars and readers who have focused on the butch/femme identities of this famous lesbian couple may be shocked to discover that Stein's theories of "bottom nature" may boil down to those who are regular and those who are not. Illustrations. (Nov.)
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