31 August

31 August 1920

2 Portland Villas, Hampstead - London

Miss Gertrude Stein has discovered a new way of writing stories. It is just to keep right on writing them. Don't mind how often you go back to the beginning, don't hesitate to say the same thing over and over again - people are always repeating themselves - don't be put off if the words sound funny at times: just keep right on, and by the time you've done writing you'll have produced your effect. Take, for instance, the first story of the good Anna who managed the whole house for Miss Matilda and the three dogs and the underservant as well. For five years Anna managed the little house for Miss Matilda. In those five years there were four underservants. 'The one that came first ...' She was succeeded by Molly; and when Molly left, old Katy came in every day to help Anna with her work. When Miss Matilda went away this summer 'old Katy was so sorry, and on the day that Miss Matilda went, old Katy cried hard for many hours ... When Miss Matilda early in the fall came to her house again old Katy was not there.' At last Anna heard of Sally....
Now that simple German way of telling about those simple German women may be very soothing - very pleasant - but let the reader go warily, warily with Melanctha. We confess we read a good page or two before we realized what was happening. Then the dreadful fact dawned. We discovered ourselves reading in syncopated time. Gradually we heard in the distance, and then coming uncomfortably near, the sound of banjos, drums, bones, cymbals and voices. The page began to rock. To our horror we found ourselves silently singing:
[Quotation from ‘Three Lives']. Those who have heard the Southern Orchestra sing ‘It's me - it's me me' or ‘I got a robe' will understand what we mean. ‘Melanctha' is negro music with all its maddening monotony done into prose; it is writing in real rag-time. Heaven forbid Miss Stein should become a fashion! [Review of Three Lives by Gertrude Stein, the Athenaeum,  15 October 1920.]