Close Up

13 July 2017: Gwendolyn Leick: Things as they Were


Gwendolyn Leick presents a reading from her book Things as they Were: Gertrude Stein, my Grandmother and their Lover, followed by a 16mm screening of Perry Miller Adato’s biographical documentary Gertrude Stein: When This You See, Remember Me.

Gertrude Stein’s first novel Q.E.D., once it was posthumously published in 1950, was called Things as they Are. She wrote it to exorcise the experience of her first passionate love affair with the New Yorker May Bookstaver. May was the friend and lover of the Bostonian Mabel Haynes, a fellow student of Gertrude Stein’s at Johns Hopkins Medical School between 1898 and 1902, who moved to Austria-Hungary in 1907 where she married two Austrian officers in succession. Bookstaver married a flamboyant stock-broker from Wall Street and was politically active in the women's Suffrage movement and edited a Journal for Birth Control.

In her book Gwendolyn Leick examines the things as they were between the three women after they went their separate ways until they died. The method of writing lays out the things, the notions and ideas, the people (friends, relatives, lovers, husbands), in the form of associative "entries" based on Gertrude Stein’s texts as much as on private letters, photographs and other found objects. It is an encyclopaedic enterprise, rather than a chronologically ordered biographical account, and the character and the fates of the three women can be only glimpsed through the kaleidoscope of these vignettes.

Gertrude Stein: When This You See, Remember Me
Perry Miller Adato
1970 | 90 min | B/W & Colour | 16mm

Widely recognised as a pioneering work of the biographical documentary genre, the film was highly innovative at the time. To create a vivid, living portrait of Gertrude Stein, it combines vintage photographs, letters, works of art, songs, archival and newsreel footage and radio. In addition, live musical and dramatic performances are based on Stein’s writings; interviews with surviving witnesses who were part of Gertrude Stein’s legendary charmed circle, contribute intimate recollections. Artists, writers and a wide variety of fascinating personalities beat a path to 27 rue de Fleurus, for Gertrude Stein’s salon was one of the most sought-after in Paris in the early decades of the Twentieth century. With a script derived mainly from Stein’s cleverly mistitled self-portrait The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas this biography views Stein within the time, the place and the milieu in which she thrived.