31 July 2008


I may be missing something very obvious, but one question I have while reading Stein and Barnes concerns why they are considered a part of "British" modernism. What definition of "British" do either of them fit? I read that Barnes wrote Nightwood in Devonshire, however Paris (and the U.S.) seem to be much more central to these writers than England. Still, does "British" mean much more than location? If so, what does it mean?

The other issue I've been pondering centers around their homosexuality/bisexuality, in particular the seeming lack of discussion around it. There seems to be more talk of D.H. Lawrence as sexually scandalous. I was surprised to hear that Gertrude and Alice were such popular celebrities and yet so out in their sexuality. Did people at the time look the other way? Would it have been much different for two men?


Snehal said...

1) Stein and Barnes are not British nor are they grouped in the body of works generally called "British Modernist." But they share some features: interacting with a similar coterie of writers; patronizing and/or being patronized by similar figures (in Barnes case, TS Eliot) and being published in similar journals and by similar publishing houses; a preoccupation with the effects of modernity on national identity; an appreciation of modernism as a style and the need to link that style to questions of modernity; and a kind of interest in the relationship between continental artistic movements (surrealism, cubism) on letters in English. However you understand British modernism, remember, there are figures who should be seen as problematically British (Joyce, for instance, and Eliot and Pound). And if you investigate what makes them British or allows them to be grouped under the rubric of British modernism, then it seems that this should hold true for Stein and Barnes, as well.

At the same time, I'm not interested in changing what counts as British modernism but in trying to develop a trans-Atlantic, transnational understanding of modernism as a movement by focusing on issues of patronage, publication, and readership.

I'm not sure what to make of Stein's celebrity or what produced it. I think that would be a great subject for further inquiry.

Richard Rossi said...

I think historically lesbianism has been more readily "tolerated" if not accepted by society than male homosexuality. It is, I think, a reflection of male attitudes towards homosexuality, which have dominated society throughout most of history. At least in western society, straight men have always felt threatened by male homosexuality but are either titillated, curious, or indifferent when it comes to female homosexuality.

I got some interesting insights into this question from a website I stumbled across, www.sappoho.com. There is a fairly long tradition of lesbian poetry by writers we generally think of as "mainstream."

All of that might help explain why there wasn't much reaction to Stein and Alice's sexuality. It might also explain wht "Nightwood" flew under the censors' radar. That, and the lack of explicit explicit sexual activity.