February 7th, 2011 / 7:44 pm
Behind the Scenes

Gertrude Stein’s Rejection Letter

via Letters of Note


  1. M. Kitchell

      this is fucking hilarious

  2. lily hoang

      this was the picture on my desktop for a few hours two weeks ago. i couldn’t get a background colour that looked right with it.

  3. Anonymous


  4. deadgod

      Rejection is foolhardy sarcasm is unintended flattery is widespread imitation is literary achievement is rejection.

  5. shaun gannon

      oh my god this owns

  6. reynard

      well i mean he was right actually it wouldn’t have sold at all, she simply didn’t, for like almost forever

      which is exactly why that means nothing at all

  7. deadgod

      Well, did Fifield only publish books – poetry books – of which he expected to sell lots, or even “hardly”, > one copy? Did he respond in every rejection letter in a parodic ventriloquization of the rejected writer? It seems to me like there was something more somehow ‘between’ Fifield and Stein – had he rejected her previously? – and was tired of or offended by repeated submissions? had he met her, or heard unkind things about her? or was he so struck by the strangeness of her writing? etc.?

      She was tough and capable of unkindness herself, as the gossip goes, so probably nobody is crying crocodile tears for her now.

      – but this letter might be an ice cube on the tip of the tip of an iceberg of establishment incomprehension of new looks/sounds in modern poetry – something like the reviews Keats saw of his last book.

  8. alan

      Wouldn’t it be funny if this was a form letter?

  9. Lincoln Michel

      I know this is normally listed alongside other famous rejection letters as an example of how stupid editors are, not realizing the true geniuses in their times and instead publishing crap. And obviously I like and respect Gertrude Stein’s work.

      However, this letter is hilarious and a total burn.

  10. Jack M

      Best. Rejection letter. Ever.

  11. jenandthepen

      […] latest on the gender disparity in publishing comes from Vida, who has released a damning breakdown of the numbers of women being published and reviewed in some of the most prominent literary […]

  12. Sean

      Maybe Fifield was having fun. It can get boring writing rejection letters.

  13. Sean

      Maybe Fifield was having fun. It can get boring writing rejection letters.

  14. NLY

      ‘foolhardy sarcasm’

      haha, come on man. And something like the review of Keats saw of his books, which decimated him in front of all of England? It’s a man who didn’t like it and wrote back a joke letter, let’s not get carried away. The woman was enough of a snob to feel very content with being adored by the avant garde, anyway. Or, to pull rein a moment, would you think I’m playing too heavily on the foreordained history of Stein’s eventual acceptance? Well! Having posited this response, let me assure you that it is possible to play heavily on history, because it happened!

      To consider more seriously, though, I’m interested to know what exactly catches you about the letter, in this particular instance of establishment conservatism, in as much as you weren’t yourself being humorous (which I did not fail to note before launching in, just so we’re clear).

  15. deadgod

      This ‘response’ seems to be intended towards another post!

      Let’s come on about ‘coming on’ – “something like” means ‘family resemblance; falling – more or less disclosively – in the same category’. – in this case, the category being “dully conventionalized and officious attentiveness”, which admits of a ‘public shaming/private sneer’ distinction. ‘This letter is a small, private cousin to the dimwitted contempt shat in all the papers on Keats’s Endymion.’

      (- though checking – nah; don’t bother – reveals that I misremembered the history of Keats’s lifetime reception; his last book got positive reviews that he actually read (I think).)

      Stein sure had the confidence to shrug off this ridicule – it looks like she kept the letter: ‘Ha ha, fuck you, “Mr.” Fifield.’

      What’s striking to me, as my own parody might suggest, is, given the then-future of literary experiment and confrontation, how much of a pregnancy Fifield mistook for a sterility-contagious miscarriage: “Only one look, only one look is enough.” – well, then only one look it is, boss.

      Don’t you find the rejections eventually successful work gets to be disclosive and even haunting?

  16. NLY

      His last book was negatively reviewed, with some more positive ones (several of these being written by his entourage) than Endymion enjoyed, though (relative to the merit of the volume’s contents) it was at best patronizing. Shelley himself read the last volume and thought Hyperion and the other long poems contained marvels, though the smaller lyrics (including the odes) were of little interest, reflecting a kind of congenital/contemporary inability to take the boy seriously, which was to last through not only all of his life but decades of his afterlife. I was thinking only that Stein (who was immediately popular among the avant garde, and soon enough acknowledged by others well within the span of her life) was not necessarily comparable in response, and it might have a touch of the overstatement about it, beyond both of them being new and having been in some capacity rejected. But I would not wish to belabor the point.

      I find them disclosive, and interesting, though not haunting. I personally think one should be rigorous in one’s personal evolution into a new capacity required by a new mode, practice: this has more to do with rebelling against one’s own conservatism than it does with just being liberal in one’s intake, which makes Mr. Fifield a prime candidate for this practice. So I think if something is new, and you don’t make the effort to tell what sort of new (qualitatively) it happens to be, then the joke’s on you, as well as the blame. But, while I realize this is a kind of an outlandish comparison, it also seems to me that expecting people of 1912 to jump on the Stein wagon, otherwise they are bad/lazy readers/publishers, seems like saying because Dickens in the High Victorian year of 1862 was a racist he was a bad human being.

      Now, I’m not saying you said he was a ‘bad’ anything, but you seemed to be holding him to a standard I’m not sure I would apply to him; for one, while it might be nice to be able to appreciate everything of quality produced in the world, I’m not sure it’s necessary to like or be nice to it; that is, if he missed one pregnancy, well then so have we all. The man is dead and he no doubt took his taste with him, so to be ‘haunted’ by his inability to like what no more than a handful of people liked or were capable of liking does not arise naturally in me. In any case, I mostly thought your response was funny (as your own parody suggested to me), and wasn’t attempting to speak against it, though apparently I should be looking into the suggestiveness of my own words.

  17. deadgod

      – yes: inevitably, the joke is on ‘me’ – that’s what’s “haunting”.

      (I’d not “blame” Fifield for not getting it with Stein – I’m not her biggest fan! – , but rather, for going to the trouble to scorn a writer. That gratuitous slap makes me wonder about some connection between them.

      It is cute – just not especially, eh, conscious.)

  18. NLY

      Ah, then for you it comes down to more than a ‘so have we all’–it is a less blithe, more ashen ‘I Have.’

  19. deadgod

      Eh, not so “ashen”. Nobody gets everything right, but, when one has a scrap of power – the power to publish a book, say – , using the call to beast a supplicant . . . ? Bah. – unless he was clowning a pal, which makes sense.

  20. dm

      Only one, only one…

      Dustin Hoffman as Rain Man
      the autistic acquisitions editor!

      “Sometimes we have pancakes at 4,
      with maple syrup for a manuscript …
      Wopner at 4 . Only one… only one.”

  21. NLY

      ‘Was more just thinking about the way it would be ‘haunting’ for you in particular rather than connecting it to him and the letter.

      I personally could not imagine a more ridiculous occurrence as a publisher in 1912, though, than to have a Stein ms. slide across my desk. It would probably seem to me like they were the ones beasting, not taking things seriously, and I would have every right to clown them.