The first publisher of Tender Buttons described the book’s effect on readers as “something like terror, there are no known precedents to cling to.” Written in pencil in a small notebook and barely revised after its first composition, the text caused a sensation and was widely reviewed and discussed on its publication. This edition of Gertrude Stein’s transformative work immerses the text in its cultural context. The most opaque of modernist texts, Tender Buttons also had modernism’s most voluminous and varied response.
This Broadview Edition uses the response to Tender Buttons as a way of understanding this spectacular moment in publishing history. Stein’s text is published alongside its parodies, defenses, publicity brochure, and selections from the hundreds of responses to it in American daily newspapers, which placed it in the context of Cubism, fashion shows, and celebrity culture.
“Ever since I heard of Don Marquis’s parodies of Tender Buttons, I have been waiting for this edition. Stein’s art, for Mina Loy, ‘makes a demand for a creative audience, by providing a stimulus,’ and I felt that a parody was an interesting response to it. Now with Leonard Diepeveen’s superb, archive-based edition, I know that Marquis was one of many in the popular press in 1914 who went through bafflement by using her style, copying it to understand it. Stein wanted a new way to say, not explain, and the journalists followed suit. I now know that like the Cubists and Fauvists whose work drew massive crowds to the Armory Show in 1913, Stein had an audience, and it was a similar audience—and if this bellwether text was the literary analogue of the paintings, it did not disappoint. I know that when Stein later said ‘My sentences do get under their skin’ she was thinking back to this historical moment, this annus mirabilis, when to write about her led to writing like her; read and ‘the pesky flea has bitten you,’ said Alfred Kreymborg. Once again, we begin.” — Logan Esdale, Chapman University
“Few modernist landmarks are as exhilarating in challenging the tyrannies of sense-making as Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. Published originally by a one-man avant-garde press, the 78-page booklet caused an uproar among columnists who couldn’t decide whether it marked a revolution in language or a practical joke. But while the media made fun of Gertrude Stein, writers absorbed her rhythms and repetitions until her influence grew inexorable. Leonard Diepeveen’s edition makes Stein’s accomplishment more accessible than ever before. His excellent introduction brings alive the book’s writing and reception, and a broad selection of early reviews and commentary demonstrates how it both baffled and emboldened audiences. The Broadview Press edition of this wholly singular classic reveals both how and why the mater of modernism pushed literature’s buttons—sometimes tenderly, sometimes not.” — Kirk Curnutt, Troy University
“This terrific edition of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons vividly situates the text in its moment of publication in 1914. The editors provide, as footnotes, Stein’s own corrections to errata in the Marie Claire edition, and follow up with a generous sampling of print reviews and press reactions. In addition to classic statements by Mencken and Van Vechten, readers will find very keen and rewarding treatments of Tender Buttons by arts patron Mabel Dodge and poet Mina Loy. These and the other respondents, imitators, critics and celebrants brought together in this volume offer an historical center of gravity for a poetic text that challenges readers to ‘Act so there is no use in a center.’” — Patricia Schechter, Portland State University