THE LETTERS OF GERTRUDE STEIN AND THORNTON WILDER
By giving both sides of an ongoing written conversation, this useful collection offers an unusual portrait of a long and important literary friendship. From Stein's thank-you note written in late 1934, the month after Stein and Wilder first met in Chicago, to Wilder's 1946 note of condolence to Alice Toklas following Stein's death, the letters record a warm friendship marked by a sharing of ideas, friends, and (perhaps not least significantly) a belief in Stein's genius. Wilder is the chattier of the two, whether reporting from Vienna that he has visited Freud, who informs him that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's works, or from New York, noting that Mabel Luhan's effort to hold a weekly salon has failed. Wilder is forthright in discussing Stein's influence on his work, and in a 1937 letter says that the third act of Our Town "is based on your ideas, as on great pillars." That Stein in turn appreciates Wilder's talent is apparent in her attempt to persuade him to collaborate on her novel Ida: "a really truly novel is too much for me all alone we must do it together." Throughout, the letters are enhanced by thorough annotations that help make them accessible to a wide audience by supplying details on contemporary events and people, explaining allusions, offering speculations, and even editorializing when, the editors say, "texts appear to ask for it." Likewise, the addition of useful supplementary appendices (on Stein's 1934-35 U.S. lecture tour; and on what occupied Wilder and Stein during WW II, when they exchanged few letters) help round out the scene surrounding the correspondence. Perhaps the most convincing marker of the success of this collection is that, in addition to conveying so much about these correspondents, it prompts one to regret anew the decline of letter writing.