Here’s my own small anniversary: 50 times Gertie, many more quotes! Inspired by the sisterhood of She Writes, in Oct. 2009, I started sharing my musings about my first Muse — my passion (and sometimes exasperation) for Stein. 50 is a good moment to take a little loop backward and solve one of her mysteries… In post # 2, I had already alluded to Blood on the Dining-Room Floor: A Murder Mystery . Now it’s time to dive in.
In this famous photograph, Gertrude Stein sits with her massive back turned to the world, at her desk in Bilignin, in the southeast of France, writing about being unable to write. She reports what is happening in and around the deceptively dreamy little village while “it” — the writing — is “not happening.”
“Now can I think how I will try.
You will say to me it has not happened and I will answer yes of course it has not happened and you will dream and I will dream and cream.
It has not happened. She slept and it has not happened. He will have been unhappy and it has not happened. They will be dogs dogs and it has not happened.
Shut forty more up and it has not happened.
Prepare sunsets and it has not happened.
Finally decry all arrangement and still, it has not happened.”
It can be considered a true mystery that after some 40 years of a continuous stream of writing, words suddenly didn’t flow for Gertrude Stein, just at the moment when her literary merits bought her a flow of money for the very first time.
This riddle and its related “murder mystery” has vexed many a Sherlock Holmes of Literature Studies and lured them down uncertain tracks. Jane Rule, for example, in the seventies, speculated that perhaps The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas had been written by Alice, after all. A number of Stein scholars came to the conclusion that the huge success of The Autobiography had created a writing block – the first ever in Stein’s life. Now there was a division between the Gertrude Stein who had been used to “writing for myself and strangers” and the new Gertrude Stein who suddenly had a large audience who was listening in. She was a “lion” with an expecting readership – just what she had dreamed about all her life. This dream come true – being widely read and understood, promptly caused her to fall out of balance. “I am I because my little dog knows me.” She didn’t know any more who she was and what she was writing for. Success and money? Such a tempting idea. She even had a literary agent now who urged her on to produce more bestsellers. A murder mystery would be just the thing for the author who was so fond of detective stories.
So was it really a writing block? Stein expert Ulla Dydo doesn’t think so. Stein never stopped writing. But writing is not like writing; writing and writing aren’t necessarily the same. One kind of writing can be blocked while the other can still go on… mysteriously, perhaps. One kind of writing can try to solve the mystery of the other that is dead. Here we approach the reason why Blood on the Dining-Room Floor is a favorite for many people who like to read Gertrude Stein.