Dykonography 101: Gertrude

December 10, 2008 at 9:11 am (Dykonography 101) (, , , )

Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein

In addition to becoming—with Alice B. Toklas—half of an iconic lesbian couple, Gertrude Stein was an important innovator and transformer of the English language.

Her difficulties in medical school paralleled her growing awareness of her lesbianism. Her sexuality placed her in conflict not only with the bourgeois morality she espoused but also with the views of feminist theorists such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who argued in Women and Economics (1898) that the unfettered expression of sexuality would jeopardize women’s capacity to succeed in the professions and gain economic independence from men.

While in Baltimore, Stein became involved in a group of college women led by Mabel Haynes and Grace Lounsbury, who were, unlike Stein, experts at disguising the reality of lesbian passion behind the respectable cover of female romantic friendship.

Stein had little idea of these social dynamics when Mabel Haynes suddenly dropped her “friendship” with Lounsbury and began an affair with another student, May Bookstaver. In the meantime, Stein herself, despite her professed horror of “passion in its many disguised forms”, fell precipitously in love with Bookstaver.

Confronted by an experienced and formidable rival, as well as by her own moral crises and sexual naïveté, Stein found herself excluded from the Bookstaver-Haynes romance.

When Stein died from cancer on July 27, 1946, the news made front-page headlines around the world. However, at the time her work was largely out of print and unread, and she was known principally as a personality. Only with the advent of the second wave of the women’s movement, as well as the development of post-structuralist, feminist, and lesbian and gay literary criticism, has the full extent of Stein’s importance as an innovator and transformer of the English language become apparent.

-excerpted from Corinne E. Blackmer‘s glbtq’s entry (read the rest)

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