Post # 12.
“I am really almost despairing, I have really in me a very very melancholy feeling, a very melancholy being, I am really then despairing.” (The Making of Americans) This describes Gertrude before she met Alice, when she was writing “for myself and strangers” and nobody understood. All this changed when she met Alice, when Alice moved into 27, Rue de Fleurus, and brother Leo moved out. Every writer needs one good reader, just one, to not despair. For a long time, Alice was that reader, the only one able to understand, comment, and sometimes even edit Stein’s language revolution. Moreover, with Leo’s departure, the two women brilliantly and with chuzpe reinvented the European salon tradition. A salon needed a hostess (it still does) and back then it needed a male genius to be worshiped. Gertrude and Alice stepped into these roles with gusto — which of course was scandalous and created as many enemies as friends.
Even today, their life-long love is controversial. People don’t understand it and keep puzzling over it again and again. Not so long ago, some well-meaning feminists like Shari Benstock (“Women of the Left Bank”) bought into the (still circulating) cliché of Alice, the unfortunate, oppressed secretary and Girl Friday. Benstock resented their butch-femme roles as “imitating the heteronormative patterns of dominance and domesticity.” Oh dear. And just recently Janet Malcolm even upstaged Benstock (“Two LIves: Gertrude and Alice”) by doubting that Gertrude Stein had orgasms. What a hoot — if you have read, really read Stein’s passionate erotic texts. Well, perhaps you can’t really read and decypher these coded texts unless you have some serious lesbian experience under you belt (pun unintended). Voilà la question.