Stein Sneak Peek

Front Cover of Portrait of Mabel Dodge at Villa Curonia, Image Courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University

Flowery but a little rough on the edges, this version of Gertrude Stein’s Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia is delicate and singular. The book is more like a pamphlet since the pages are sewn together and contain only one poem. With the exception of the wall-paper cover, the book is probably made of laid paper since it consists of horizontal lines. The sheets are fragile and yellowed from age, the cover has faded, and the binding is falling from the text block, but the contents are hanging in there.

The pamphlet is not dated nor does it have any information about its printing, but this first edition was privately printed in 1912. How or where the books were bound, sewn, and produced is uncertain, but I especially love the cover of this book because it is very personalized. There are only 300 copies of this first edition, and the binding says a lot about Stein’s struggles with appealing to readers. The probable reason the book was privately published and bound in wallpaper is because Stein was not as popular during her time, though her book, Three Lives, became a classic. Once Stein had submitted a poem for publication and received a hilarious rejection letter written in the repetitive style of a poem she had submitted. Her failure in gaining popularity probably forced her to print other writings in private. She had some manuscripts that were never published. This would be interesting to investigate since the journey of an author’s writing, from manuscript to printing, could reveal new details about the author.

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