GERTRUDE STEIN, American writer, was born (d. 1946); Like the cubist paintings she knew so well, Gertrude Stein was multi-faceted, complicated and occasionally impenetrable. So much as been written about her (see White Crane issue #74 Lovers) it is difficult to know exactly what to make of this extraordinary woman, whose long and happy life with Alice B. Toklas she once summed up by writing, “I love my love with a b because she is peculiar.”
Was she a genius, a fraud, a bitch, a saint, over-rated, under-rated or a little of each? What she was more than anything else was honest, scrupulously so, perhaps the most honest writer of her time. Her early fiction, Q.E.D. and Three Lives, offers us the first realistic portrait of Lesbianism in the English language that is not veiled in misty metaphor or drowned in sickly sentiment.
The very act of creating these books required an heroic courage that is inconceivable today. What she risked in breaking new ground, in writing about a subject scarcely known, no less understood, was the creation of works destined to cause shock and be called “ugly.” As she later wrote in her inimitable style, “…When you make a thing, it is so complicated making it that it is bound to be ugly, but those that do it after you they don’t have to worry about making it and they can make it pretty, and so everyone can like it when the others make it.” Gertrude Stein was first. We keep her memory green.