cover image Baby Precious

Baby Precious

Gertrude Stein, Turner. St. Martin's Press, $17.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-312-19832-9

Before she retired after a long night of writing, American modernist Gertrude Stein often scribbled tender notes to her longtime companion, Alice B. Toklas. The two met in Paris in 1907 and lived together until Stein's death in 1946. These poetic missives, published with nine of Toklas's replies, reveal a loving pair sharing a private language of endearments. While intimate correspondence often doesn't galvanize those outside the relationship, Stein's incantations demonstrate her playful language and liberal use of double entendres. Too often, however, they sink into mere repetition: a few rounds of ""Baby precious [Stein's nickname for Toklas], oh dear baby so precious, sweet kissed baby so precious"" will drive more than a few readers to distraction. The only new facet of Stein's personality to come to the fore, highlighted by Turner's introduction, is Stein's obsession with Toklas's bodily functions. Apparently, Stein's many references to ""having a cow"" (""As a Wife Has a Cow a Love Story,"" etc.) have a meaning other than the orgasmic connotations that many Stein scholars have attached to them--indeed, they are Stein's imprecations for Toklas to have a bowel movement. Those scholars and readers who have focused on the butch/femme identities of this famous lesbian couple may be shocked to discover that Stein's theories of ""bottom nature"" may boil down to those who are regular and those who are not. Illustrations. (Nov.)