Gertrude Stein, the great lesbian modernist, met Thornton Wilder when he was a young writer in search of a mentor. Stein became that mentor and helped Wilder shape his aesthetic into classic American plays such as Our Town
and The Skin of Our Teeth
. Begun during Stein's lecture tour of the U.S. in 1934, their friendship lasted until Stein's death 12 years later. These letters record Wilder's attempts to help Stein with publication and Stein's insistence that the writer's work is not teaching or lecturing or seeking fame, but writing. The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder
records not only a friendship, but also the writers' struggles with the position of their writing in American culture.
From Publishers Weekly
Lovers of modern American literature will be delighted to read this correspondence between the noted lesbian avant-gardist and the closeted homosexual playwright who wrote Our Town and the Skin of Our Teeth. Wilder wrote to Stein from 1934 to 1946 with some interruptions, usually in a blithe mood, addressing Stein and her lover, Alice Toklas, as "Dear Gertralicitude." Stein's letters are like all her prose, a combination of the cryptic and the colloquial, with expressions like "xcited" and "xhausted." The only flaw in this literary delight is in the editorial presentation, which is often too detailed and burdened with descriptions of interest only to textual scholars, while missing some perceptions that would be of broader interest. For example, Stein introduced Wilder to the gay pornographer and tattoo artist Samuel Steward, and the two got along so swimmingly that Wilder later destroyed all of Steward's letters to him: however, the present editors completely ignore the sexual subtext. Further, as ardent Stein-ites, they praise her at Wilder's expense, saying "to many, Wilder's stage cannot contain the great movements of Stein's ideas." There are some small problems like two letters in which Wilder says he's just read a book by the French philosopher Alain (Emile-Auguste Chartier), one dated October 30 by Wilder, and the other which the editors place in the following July: either Wilder spent ten months reading one book, or the dating is confused. This highly enjoyable material would have benefited from more careful and less pedantic presentation.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.