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Biography & Autobiography Literary

The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson

Composition as Conversation

edited by Thomas Dilworth & Susan Holbrook

Oxford University Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2010
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2010
    List Price

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Thomas Dilworth is a 2011 Fellow of The Royal Society of Canada.

Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson are known as much for their formidable egos as for their contributions to twentieth-century arts. That either could collaborate intimately with anyone is surprising. Yet Stein and Thomson did work together, magnificently so, most notably on the landmark opera Four Saints in Three Acts and the fanciful The Mother of Us All. This annotated collection of correspondence reveals the spark that existed between the two American masters over the course of their sometimes rocky friendship. The roughly 400 letters written between 1926-1946 record the fascinating nature of their partnership-their mutual excitement over evolving projects and their process for bringing together two often radical aesthetic sensibilities. The style of the letters is careful and forceful when the relationship is strained, but most often it is relaxed and affectionate. As a record of friendship the letters are particularly compelling, replete with love, support, and mutual fascination. Not surprisingly, the correspondence is stylistically remarkable-Stein being arguably the most innovative literary modernist and Thomson the author of crisp, insightful, irreverent music criticism, the most quoted of his century. In addition to their artistic partnership, the letters provide a revealing glimpse into their individual careers in the realms of literature and music, as they document a web of mutual friendships and the vibrant artistic community of the early twentieth century. The editors' notes contextualize this valuable exchange and add a layer of richness and accessibility. The volume will interest readers, critics, and scholars in music, literature, avant garde arts and modern culture more generally.

About the authors

Thomas Dilworth is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and specializes in Modern Literature and Romantic Poetry. He is the author of multiple volumes of literary criticism, one of which, The Shape of Meaning in the Poetry of David Jones, won the British Council Prize in the Humanities, as well as a book of poems, Here Away.

Thomas Dilworth's profile page

Susan Holbrook's poetry books are the Trillium-nominated Joy Is So Exhausting (Coach House, 2009), Good Egg Bad Seed (Nomados, 2004) and Misled (Red Deer, 1999), which was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award and the Stephan G. Stephansson Award. She lives in Leamington, Ontario, and teaches North American literatures and Creative Writing at the University of Windsor. She is the author of a poetry textbook, Reading (and Writing About) Poetry (Broadview Press, 2015) and co-editor, with Thomas Dilworth, of The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson: Composition as Conversation (Oxford, 2010).

Susan Holbrook's profile page