Celebrated author and poet Gertrude Stein had an approach to writing that divided audiences, the unimpressed of whom found her often repetitious style—“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” being a classic example—simply impenetrable and nonsensical. For others, it was, and remains, a breath of fresh air; something unique, to be savoured. In 1912, having just read one of her more repetitive manuscripts, The Making of Americans, publisher Arthur C. Fifield rejected Stein with this wonderful, light-hearted letter that perfectly mimicked the technique for which she was famous.
April 19, 1912.
I am only one, only one, only one. Only one being, one at the same time. Not two, not three, only one. Only one life to live, only sixty minutes in one hour. Only one pair of eyes. Only one brain. Only one being. Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your M.S. three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.
Many thanks. I am returning the M.S. by registered post. Only one M.S. by one post.
A. C. Fifield
This letter features in the original volume of Letters of Note, special editions of which are currently on sale here. If you haven’t already done so, please consider supporting this newsletter by becoming a paying subscriber—for which you will receive monthly ‘members-only’ emails and my everlasting love—or by donating, or simply by sharing it with friends/family/enemies. It all helps. Options are below. Thank you x