ARTS & CULTURE

Gertrude Stein Gets An Epic Rejection Letter

04/22/2015 08:22 am ET | Updated Apr 22, 2015
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Gertrude Stein never seemed to gain the acclaim of her intellectual compatriots, dubbed The Lost Generation. The group -- which included Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse -- boasted the brightest artistic lights of its age. bad days in history

Stein, while a forceful personality and notable writer, battled critical and popular confusion in response to her experimental style. She eschewed most punctuation and capitalization, instead amassing overwhelming, repetitive waves of unbroken words. Her most well-known quote, "A rose is a rose is a rose," is perhaps the most succinct way to capture this style.

Her deliberately obscure writing confounded and irritated many critics, and apparently at least one publisher. On April 19, 1912, she was sent a rejection letter for her latest manuscript parodying her impenetrable prose. Ouch.

Below, we've excerpted the letter from Bad Days in History: A Gleefully Grim Chronicle of Misfortune, Mayhem, and Misery for Every Day of the Year by Michael Farquhar, published April 21, 2015 (National Geographic):

APRIL 19, 1912 A Snub Is a Snub Is a Snub

The acclaimed but often impenetrable author Gertrude Stein received the following rejection letter -- cruelly mocking her eclectic writing style -- from London publisher Arthur C. Field, dated April 19, 1912:

Dear Madam, 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.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For the uninitiated, M.S. stands for manuscript.

  • Meaning: Bull’s penis
  • Meaning: cuckold—a man whose wife was unfaithful was thought to grow horns; from Latin “cornu,” horn
  • Meaning: man who busies himself with women’s household tasks
  • Meaning: dupe, fool, object of scorn
  • Meaning: one with faith in stupidity
  • Meaning: large cask of malmsey, a strong sweet wine
  • Meaning: saucy, insolent boy
  • Meaning: the short, erect tail of a deer
  • Meaning: a scoundrel, villain
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