To See a Fine Substance Strangely

1966

Gertrude Stein “had a laugh like beefsteak.” At least according to one of her friends, Mabel Doge Luhan. “Gertrude was hearty…She loved beef, and I used to like to see her sit down in front of five pounds of rare meat three inches thick…” I’m not sure if Luhan meant for this passage in her memoirs to be so subtly derisive, to align our thoughts of Stein with the bestial, to shame her for being a masculine woman, a lesbian genius. Regardless, recent scholarship has certainly been pointing in this direction and I can’t help but agree. Since she first began writing, critics and even biographers have called an absurd amount of attention to her large size and her sexuality—oftentimes more attention than they were willing to give to her actual writing. And yet, I can’t help but be enthralled by that description. “She had a laugh like beefsteak.” Despite…

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