Tuesday, October 04, 2016
Notes on The World Is Round by Gertrude Stein
The World Is Round is a children's book written by Gertrude Stein, published in 1938. The book was illustrated by Clement Hurd, who is best known as the illustrator for Margaret Wise Brown's children's classics The Runaway Bunny (1942) and, especially, Goodnight Moon (1947).
I've lately decided I am firmly pro-Gertrude Stein, but to date this is still just the third book I've read by her. I only recently learned of its existence, via Ethan's posts about it, and even then, I wasn't expecting to read it any time soon, except I came across the attractive 75th anniversary edition on display at the Children's Book Store here in Baltimore. This edition includes the original book - with its pink pages and blue text, as mandated by Stein - an afterword by Clement Hurd's wife, Edith Thacher Hurd (from 1986), and a new foreword by Thacher Hurd, their son (and incidentally a writer of children's books himself, including one of our old favorites, Art Dog). These two pieces, especially the afterword, tell the interesting story about the genesis of Stein's book and its production, in the context of the burgeoning and 'experimental' world of children's books in the 1920s and 1930s, including some letters between Stein and Hurd. Briefly, Margaret Wise Brown, a big admirer of Stein's, suggested to Young Scott Books that they invite literary authors to write children's books. Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Stein were asked; only Stein responded.
But never mind all that! How is the book? In many ways it makes perfect sense that Gertrude Stein wrote a children's book. Her vocabulary and her syntax tend to be simple. There's rhythm and repetition, like you'd find in many children's books.
[In my effort to include pictures from the book in this post - an Existence Machine first!! - I struggled mightily with formatting. I had wanted, e.g., pages 1 and 25 to be side-by-side, but it wasn't happening. So then I thought, well, ideally, I'd write something alongside each image, preferably something relevant and insightful or at least useful. Alas, no. At one point, I came back to this post, as it remained in draft status - where it remained for many months before being published, if we're honest, and we're nothing if not that - I stared at the blank space next to the page, and nothing was coming... I typed "what am I doing" - because honestly my god what am I doing.] [Incidental side note while we still have white space to fill: this book is one of the many places, but not the first, where the line "A Rose is a Rose is a Rose" appears.] [But anyway look at page 1! Isn't it lovely?]
"Water yes and birds yes and rats yes and snakes yes and lizards yes and cats yes and cows yes, and trees yes and scratches yes, and sticks yes, and flies yes, and bees yes but not a Rose with a chair, all a Rose with a chair can dare is just not stare but keeping on going up there."