By Cecilia Konchar Farr & Janie Sisson
Publication Date: 3/26/24
A companion to Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans.
How to Use this Book
I created the Gertrude Stein Seminar because, as an irremediable extrovert, I needed a community to help me work through and understand this long, weighty novel better, to more precisely locate it in the context of the history of the American novel and its mostly women readers. Even as an experienced reader, I couldn’t do it alone. Because most Stein scholars work on her poetry or short stories, on the more accessible Three Lives or The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, I was essentially lighting out for the territories, and I needed some fellow travelers to help me sort through what I was reading.
That senior seminar was stimulating and my traveling companions, advanced undergraduates, were strong writers and insightful critics, even though they had little previous experience with modernism. They were always game to tuck in and take on the next 100 pages. They were also, it turned out, ideal colleagues for the trek through Stein’s novel. When, with their prompting, we decided to fill the empty space where this book you have in your hands should have been, they were my models of patient, eager readers for As I Was Saying: A Companion to Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans. They became my collaborators. They became the voice of this book, now your own sociable companions through TMOA.
My co-author, Janie Sisson, was among those seminar students, as was our collaborator, Emma Hargreaves. Together, we imagined this book into being over two years of work after the seminar ended, re-reading, writing, and meeting once a week to check in. Our fondest hope is that this will serve as your seminar, your community support system for reading TMOA. And that you will read this novel with at least some of the appreciation we found for it.
In Part One you will find some introductory material—a brief biography of Stein, a history of TMOA’s publication and its early reception, and an account of our encounters with early drafts of the novel. We also offer signposts in Part Two, the “Reading the Novel” section—hints for working with Stein’s unfamiliar prose style and themes to watch out for, many of them inspired by the Stein seminar.
In Part Three, the heftiest part of the book, we take on as thorough a summary as we could muster from an often plot-free (and chapter-free) book. We hope you will use this to keep reading, reminding yourself what you have to look forward to. We all agreed that this is what helped us most as we made our way through the novel together in seminar. When you inevitably ask (and you will), “What is going on here?” we offer a ready answer, or at least an informed speculation. There is also a list of characters, a family tree (thanks to Emma Hargreaves and Maia LaBrie who sorted out those “strong grandmas” and accounted for “the glutton”) and a Bibliography, in case you become as entranced with Stein as we are and want to read more (I particularly recommend the engaging Wagner-Martin biography, which we all enjoyed).
As others have noted before us, TMOA has been waiting a long time for its audience and for the serious consideration it deserves. We each know of friends or fellow readers (John Waters among them) who, out of curiosity about the legendary lesbian or in response to others’ enthusiasm, committed to reading it, then quickly put it down. We get it. It’s a tough text to take on alone.
So let us join you. In creating this book, we aspire to make Stein’s great American novel more widely available not just to students and scholars but also to avid novel-readers who are flummoxed by Stein’s repetitive and sometimes sleep-inducing style. For you and other adventurous readers we offer As I Was Saying as your conversational companion, one seat over, helping to navigate this essential text of American modernism.