Tuesday, January 20, 2009

All in a day: two letters from 25 November, 1938

To Carl Van Vechten
[postmark: 25 November 1938]
5 rue Christine
[Paris]

Dearest Papa Woojums,

I have not been writing to you lately because Basket died and we like Rose in the story just cried and cried and cried. 1 We are a little better now but it is still pretty bad, and now we do not know quite what to do. The Vet who liked Basket too says we should have another which will never be Basket but some consolidation and it should be as much like him as possible, Daniel-Rops says so too, Pablo [Picasso] says not, he says it would be a torment, just imagine he said if I should die and you went out and got another Pablo it would be alright but it would not be the same, so far we have done nothing but just miss him, little Pepe tries to console us he is very sweet but it isn't the same. Well I do wish Donald Evans might have known, and I did write you about the Boudoir Companion, it must have been one of my most illegible moments but I did tell you, 2 it was the early spring they asked me to contribute and they seem sincerely pleased, Gerald Berners has been over this week, and we have been very busy, English art show at the autumn salon 3 and vin d'honneur and all sorts of things and everybody seems to like the Child's story, I have sold it to Scott, Bennett [Cerf] could not seem to see it, 4 I am afraid Bennett is getting solemn, he is just and sweet and kind but I think he is beginning to believe in the importance of being earnest, and alas, I seem to see its importance less rather than more, had a funny encounter with the real Ernest Hemingway and we loved each other for an hour obstructing traffic on the Faubourg Saint Honoré, he was funny really funny, and there is a cinema project, a real one this time and everybody is busy and we love you all the time dear papa Woojums, 5

Mama & Baby Woojums 6
Notes

-- nts --

Note : 1 Rose in Stein's The World Is Round.
Note : 2 Stein had not written Van Vechten about her contribution to The Boudoir Companion.
Note : 3 Sir Francis Rose together with Henry Moore, Victor Pasmore, Graham Sutherland, and John Piper were the English artists exhibiting at the Salon d'Automne, Paris.
Note : 4 Cerf wrote to Stein, 23 October 1938 (YCAL), that he could not see the book as a juvenile work; he thought it would confuse children and many of their parents as well.
Note : 5 Stein had not had word from Ivan Kahn or his sister Lillian Ehrman since 1936 about their efforts to interest a Hollywood studio in her work. Similarly the efforts of Harry Dunham (see Stein to Van Vechten, [25 February 1936], note 1) were not realized. Dunham had last written Stein on 14 February 1938 (YCAL) but had not mentioned the film projects. This may refer to Stein's statement "Francis Rose wants to use it [The World Is Round] as a film" (Stein to Van Vechten [15 November 1938]).
Note : 6 Both signatures are by Stein.


3469: To Ethel Smyth
52 Tavistock Square [W.C.1]
Friday [25 November 1938]

A bitter, black cold day, and to tell the truth I was feeling miserable. I was walking down Regent Street, thinking how can I face Leonard, who sent me out to buy myself suspenders, since my stockings came down in the Square; and the horror of shops, especially intimate underwear shops, holds me so fast that I cannot go in. But this grave weakness seemed in the gloom, Ethel, in the spare brown failing November light, still unpricked by the lamps and stars, so profound in my soul, that...well I hadn't a bone to throw to a dog, or a Bo to say to a goose; when suddenly from a bye street there marched out, ahead of me, you yourself. You were wearing a spongebag suit, and a grey felt hat. You were striding along at first I thought with another woman. So I followed. I did not like to interrupt. And then I thought, well old Ethel wouldn't mind if I did break in: And old Ethel would put the fear of God in me and the courage of a Calvary Regiment. And I should buy suspenders. So overcome with love and reverence for Ethel, and sure that she would solve all my problems, I dashed after you. And oh God it wasn't you! No, only a stranger. A mild elderly woman.

The sad true story is scribbled down in all humility. What did I do next? Took a bus home; and here I sit over the fire, cursing the ghost. Not you. But why wasn't it you? Or did you send a spirit to Regent Street to hearten me to buy suspenders; about 4 this afternoon?

And did you get Sido [Colette] safe?
And have you ever read Chaucer?

V.

2 comments:

the unreliable narrator said...

These are wonderful. Though sadly I have nothing more interesting to add, only that I was heartened to hear I am not the only woman daunted by clothing retail.

Lemon Hound said...

Sometimes the expectations of one's gender do overwhelm. Certainly clothing retail. Best not face that alone. And I think the sensation of the ground beneath falling away makes as much sense as losing one's stockings...or having one's undergarments exposed.