Books by Linda Wagner-Martin

Released: Nov. 9, 2004

"Adds very little to this far more than twice-told tale. (11 b&w photos)"
Another analysis of the Zelda-and-Scott train wreck, this one heavier on feminist psychology, lighter on quotidian detail. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1995

An amiable and perhaps charitable portrait of the self- proclaimed grandmother of the modern movement. Although it's impossible to write a life of Gertrude Stein (18741946) without mentioning her famous Paris salon and her many well-known friends, Wagner-Martin (Telling Women's Lives, 1994, etc.) does an excellent job here of downplaying those more hackneyed aspects of Stein's existence. The author instead focuses on Stein's complex personality and relationships, especially those with her immediate family members and her longtime partner, Alice B. Toklas. The author begins with Stein's early years as the youngest of five children in an upwardly mobile American- Jewish family in Oakland, Calif.; her time abroad as a very young girl; the early trauma of her mother's death from cancer; and her father's domineering personality. By age 16, Stein was an orphan, and she looked to her eldest sibling, Michael, as a surrogate parent. Michael was a pillar of financial and emotional security for the family—especially the two youngest, Leo and Gertrude. After several years in school in the east, Gertrude and Leo—and later Michael and wife Sally—moved to Paris, where they became collectors of avant-garde art and artists. Stein began writing and, in 1907, met Toklas—two events that were catalysts in her breakup with Leo. Wagner-Martin describes the split well but cannot adequately explain how the formerly inseparable siblings could have had no contact for the last 25 years of their lives. Nor does she fully elucidate Stein's complex relationship with Toklas, or why the two Jewish Americans remained in Vichy France during WW II. The author does convey well, however, Stein's near-obsessive need for recognition and fame—or gloire—which she finally achieved, in 1933, with The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Not the innovative work the author claims, but clear, lively, and comprehensive. Read full book review >
TELLING WOMEN'S LIVES by Linda Wagner-Martin
Released: July 8, 1994

A well-researched, engrossing history and critique of biographies about women. After publishing Sylvia Plath, A Biography (not reviewed), Wagner-Martin (English and Comparative Literature/Univ. of North Carolina) found herself ``bewildered and then amazed at the lambasting'' some British reviewers gave her book. Compelled to understand this criticism, Wagner-Martin attempts here to delineate why writing about women's lives has become ``a dangerous cultural and literary project.'' In probing the differences between biographies about men and women, she analyzes the unique difficulties faced by the biographers of women. Biographies, she asserts, are a traditionally male domain because comparatively few women have had the kind of success that attracts notice. And because fewer women have lived public lives, women's biographies are more often based on private events. It is the centrality of these private events that creates problems for traditional biographers. ``If a woman is promiscuous,'' asks Wagner-Martin, ``what kind of response will readers have to this aspect of her existence?'' A biographer who acknowledges the lesbian relationships of Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Margaret Mead has to risk alienating certain readers who chauvinistically hold women up to different moral standards. Postfeminist women biographers of the past 30 years, on the other hand, are seen as changing the parameters of biography to focus far more on the internal lives of their subjects. In the course of examining these questions, Wagner-Martin also delves into other interesting areas, such as the ethical issues biographers face (what to reveal and what to conceal) and gender stereotypes about ``what a good, moral woman should be.'' An extensive bibliography appends the text. A significant and provocative contribution to postfeminist literary criticism. (b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >