Gertrude Stein Gets a Snarky Rejection Letter from a Publisher (1912)


Gertrude Stein con­sid­ered her­self an exper­i­men­tal writer and wrote what The Poet­ry Foun­da­tion calls “dense poems and fic­tions, often devoid of plot or dia­logue,” with the result being that “com­mer­cial pub­lish­ers slight­ed her exper­i­men­tal writ­ings and crit­ics dis­missed them as incom­pre­hen­si­ble.” Take, for exam­ple, what hap­pened when Stein sent a man­u­script to Alfred C. Fifield, a Lon­don-based pub­lish­er, and received a rejec­tion let­ter mock­ing her prose in return. Accord­ing to Let­ters of Note, the man­u­script in ques­tion was pub­lished many years lat­er as her mod­ernist nov­el, The Mak­ing of Amer­i­cans: Being a His­to­ry of a Fam­i­ly’s Progress (1925). You can hear Stein read­ing a selec­tion from the nov­el below.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon. If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Gertrude Stein Sends a “Review” of The Great Gats­by to F. Scott Fitzger­ald (1925)

No Women Need Apply: A Dis­heart­en­ing 1938 Rejec­tion Let­ter from Dis­ney Ani­ma­tion

Alice B. Tok­las Reads Her Famous Recipe for Hashish Fudge (1963)

by | Permalink | Comments (5) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (5)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • John Andrew Karr says:

    Who knew edi­tors were some­times crass holes back in the day? Won­der if he lat­er wished he had pub­lished Stein after all.

    These days it’s more ‘just did­n’t love it’ kind of replies.

  • Bob Waring says:

    I thought this a rather wit­ty and sur­pris­ing response for the peri­od, if a lit­tle kat­ty. It does­n’t seem to have put Ms Stein off.

  • sfemet says:

    In Mar­ty Mar­t­in’s play, “Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein” Gertrude talks about the let­ter:

    “Even a no can be a yes if it is done right. For exam­ple, Alice and I mailed off the man­u­script of ‘The Mak­ing of Amer­i­cans’ to a Mr. Fifield, a pub­lish­er in Eng­land and he respond­ed by send­ing back my man­u­script along with a let­ter that said Dear Madam there will be oth­ers will be oth­ers will be oth­ers oth­er styles oth­er books oth­er pub­lish­ers thank you; thank you no thank you no thank you no. And although it was a rejec­tion it was not a no no no it was a yes an unmis­tak­able one an that is what crit­ics refer to as style; style.”

  • Ross Alan Bachelder says:

    What what what do EYECARE if the for­tu­nate­ly for­get­table Mr. Fred­er­ick Folderol Fifield finds Ms. Stein’s demon­stra­bly for­tu­itous fable incom­pre­hen­si­bly far far far off the lit­er­ary Wall-Wall com­pared to His-His? ‘Tis M’la­dy’s Bud­dha Badge of Hon­or to have been del­i­cate­ly trashed by that lin­guis­ti­cal­ly chal­lenged, ever-so-tight-bummed Lon­Lon­Lon-Done-and-Dis­missed, Hard­ly-the-Last-Word­smith Cross-the-Pond? Fah on the Far Out Mr. Fifield, I say!

  • Bruce Watson says:

    Hav­ing suf­fered through Stein, I thought the response was bril­liant. If life was too short in 1912 to slog through “The Mak­ing of Amer­i­cans,” imag­ine how swampy it seems now. Stein’s life in inspi­ra­tional. Her work is vast­ly over­rat­ed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.