Grand Tally: A True Account of the Recent Happenings in Moosehead, Montana and New York City

Note: This post is \one of three installments from my novel, Grand Tally, which is available at local bookstores and on Amazon. The idea for the novel came from a writer for People Magazine who told me that a major U.S. mapmaker had issued an atlas minus one of the western states. The novel is my take on the insanity of contemporary America. It’s characters include FBI agents, the Montana militia, a charismatic Christian cult headed west to meet the Rapture, egomaniacal network news reporters, two New York celebrity nitwits, and assorted  rednecks.

The Background:

The heir to Grand Tally has no interest in the family mapmaking business, and the board appoints two Harvard MBAs to head the firm.  Thanks to their business acumen, Grand Tally, “the world’s foremost mapmaker,” is now run by accountants.


Inside Grand Tally offices on the seventy-fifth floor of a New York skyscraper, Jovina Rates, assistant accountant, sat at her desk examining the proof sheets of Grand Tally’s new world atlas, its first in fifteen years. In a move designed to increase sales, Tally had combined its U.S. Road Atlas with its Student World Atlas. Newspapers and magazines were anticipating review copies.

The board of accountants, which had supervised the making of the atlas, had decided at the outset that the map would have 120 pages, no more or less. Ms. Rates was looking at the last page of the proof sheets for the atlas. Something was wrong, and she began to feel very sick. Her stomach began twisting itself into knots.

“Mr. Potts!” she called to a balding gentleman seated at a desk nearby. “What is it?” Mr. Potts wanted to know.

“Something’s wrong!”

“What’s wrong?” insisted Mr. Potts.

“Please look. Come here.”

Not very pleased at leaving his sandwich, Mr. Potts pushed back his chair, stood up and ambled over to Ms. Rates, who was jamming her left forefinger repeatedly onto the top left corner of the last page.

“What?” asked an irritated Potts.

“The number! The number!”

“What about the number?”

“Look!” she gasped in horror.

“For gawd’s sake what?” insisted Potts.

“It’s number one hundred twenty-two!” she rasped.

“It’s a hundred twenty-two,” Potts repeated emotionlessly.

“Yes! and the book’s only supposed to have one hundred twenty pages.”

Ms. Rates slumped back in her chair.

Mr. Potts bent forward, turned the page over and said, “Did it ever dawn on you that this might be an error? Did you check the other numbers?”

“Yes,” Ms. Rates answered quietly.

Mr. Potts began turning pages quickly, checking the numbers, moving from the last page to the first. The closer he got to the front of the book, the more agitated he became. At page one he decided that he must have missed a number and went from beginning to end, slowly.  “A hundred twenty-two pages,” he murmured when finished.

“Somebody’s going to get sacked,” Ms. Rates guessed.

“Not me,” Potts assured her, “I didn’t design it.”

The two nervously notified their supervisor, who checked the book and called Henry Mason the vice-president for marketing, who checked it and called a meeting of his staff, which included Ms. Rates and Mr. Potts.

Mr. Mason and his staff discussed the problem, and as Mr. Mason said, “If there is one thing we have to base our decision on, it is the fact that the board of accountants made clear that this atlas is to have no more than one hundred twenty pages. Two pages have to go.”

The staff looked at one another.

“The question is,” said Mr. Mason, “which two.”

Waiting for a decision from their leader, the staff looked at Mr. Mason.

“Well?” Mason asked. “What’s your recommendation?” He scanned the frightened faces. ”Ms. Duncan?”

Ms. Duncan’s eyes moved back and forth as she glanced at her colleagues.

“Yes?” Mason asked reasonably.

“I—I don’t know.”

“Who,” Mason asked, “has the leadership to make a suggestion?” He paused. “Remember, everyone’s job is on the line.”

“Why don’t we combine some of the countries?” someone suggested.

“Good thinking,” Mason said.

But it was decided that that would prove impracticable. So many pages would have to be shifted that the cost overrun would be enormous. And that, Mason knew, would get them all fired.

“What about removing some country?” someone suggested.

“Good God,” someone else said, “can you imagine what that might mean for foreign sales? Besides, the world is so internationally oriented now that plenty of people would notice and we’d lose all credibility.”

The group reluctantly agreed with this analysis.

“That pretty much leaves the United States,” someone observed.

The logic of the suggestion was noted.

“So we cut out one or two of the states,” Ms. Rates said.

“How do the rest of you feel about that?” asked Mason.

“I don’t like it, but what choice do we have?” someone asked.

There was a murmur of agreement.

“How many of you agree with that?” Mason asked. “Let’s see a show of hands.”

Everyone looked at one another. A few began tentatively raising their hands, at which others began raising theirs. Soon everyone’s hand was in the air.

“All right,” Mason said. “We’ve reached a consensus. Now we need to decide which one or ones.”

“Well,” said Ms. Rates, “it’s got to be unpopulated, whichever it is.”

“Yup,” someone said.

“One of the western states,” a voice added.

Most of Grand Tally’s employees had never been west of Pennsylvania, and despite the fact that they published a map of every state in the union, had no idea of what any of them looked like, let alone anything about their population or manufacturing or agricultural base. Moreover, they did not care. They were, to the core, hardline New Yorkers.

“South Dakota,” someone suggested.

“What’s that?” someone else joked.

“South Dakota’s got Mount Rushmore,” Mr. Mason said. “Too many dweebs driving out there to see the carved heads. Can’t do it.”

“North Dakota then,” someone offered. “Possibility,” Mason said.

“No one lives there,” Rates added.

“How about Wyoming?”

“Look for a western state that covers two pages.”

Five employees scanned the pages of the proofs.

“North Dakota.”


“South Dakota.”

“We said no to South Dakota.”

“I’d say Montana.”

“Sounds good to me,” someone said.

“It’s unpopulated, no one knows anything about it, no one cares.”

“Let’s take a vote,” said Mr. Mason. “All in favor of eliminating Montana, raise their hands.”

Everyone raised a hand. And so it was decided that Montana would be eliminated from the forthcoming Grand Tally U.S. & World Atlas.

“I’ve got one question,” said Mr. Potts. “Do we tell Mr. Driggs?”

“I’ll send a memo to Mr. Driggs telling him that we made an adjustment,” said Mr.Mason.

That memo did not state that anything had been omitted, merely that two excess pages had been cut. Nor did it mention that in a moment of panic Mr. Mason, supported by a number of sub-accountants, had ordered the U.S. map redrawn to omit Montana. Mr. Driggs did not ask what had been cut. And that was that.

Two months later the Grand Tally U.S. & World Atlas was selling in every gas station across the United States.

Grand Tally is available from your local bookstore and on Amazon (print and ebook). Don’t be the last on your block to own a copy.

Shakespeare or Shakespere? A Case for Reasonable Doubt

Who wrote Shakespeare? I do not believe it was the man from Stratford. The Stratford native, whose name on contemporary documents was twice spelled Shakspere, was a businessman whose effigy in the Stratford church depicted a man with his hands resting on a sack. I say “depicted” because that is not what the “restored” effigy shows. The “restored” effigy, created in 1748-49, depicts a man holding a quill pen in one hand and a sheet of paper in the other. But the earliest record of the original effigy is a sketch made in 1649 showing a man with both hands resting on a sack.

An effigy shows what a man was, what he did. The Stratford effigy sketch does not depict a writer but a merchant, a businessman. Are his hands resting on a sack of grain, or wool?

Once the Shakespeare legend was developed, it was necessary for the city of Stratford to “restore” the monument to reflect the legend, and the Stratford tourist industry was launched.

The First Folio

Those who believe that the Stratford businessman was the author of all the plays in the First Folio are called “Stratfordians,” and those of us who doubt his authorship naturally call ourselves “Anti-Stratfordians.” I like another term for the believers, “bardolators,” for the reason that I do not believe that one man wrote all the plays. (Making the case for multiple authorship involves stylistic analysis too complex for this essay.)

In the 19th century an American woman, Delia Bacon, opened the authorship question, arguing for the theory of multiple authorship. She was called “mad,” but she got the authorship question notoriety and was in part responsible for Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Henry and William James to doubt the orthodox attribution.

Whitman wrote that either “one of the ‘wolfish earls'” or some “descendent and knower” of the feudal barons had written the works. And Twain wrote, “So far as anybody actually knows and can prove, Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon never wrote a play in his life.”

The known facts of Shakspere’s life are so few that they fill less than two sheets, so his “biographies” are essentially histories of Elizabethan and Jacobean times filled with, “Shakespeare must have known . . .” or “Surely Shakespeare saw . . .” In other words, the “biographies” are heavily salted with conjectures. Twain noted of Shakspere that, “He is a Brontosaur: nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster of Paris.”

For those who are unaware that the authorship of the plays was ever in question, look at a few more points:

Of the six times that Shakspere’s name is affixed to legal documents, only two of the signatures are spelled alike.

Shakspere’s parents were illiterate and his two daughters were illiterate, although one could at least sign her name (or someone perhaps signed it for her). Parents and daughter made their marks. As Sir Derek Jacobi said, we’re to believe that the family line is “illiterate, illiterate, great writer, illiterate, illiterate.”

John Ward was vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon from 1662 until his death in 1681. Shakspere’s older daughter, Judith, was alive in the first year of Ward’s appointment and Ward’s brother, in a letter, urged Ward to see her. In his diary Ward notes what locals have told him of William Shakspere. From the diary it is clear that Ward believes that Shakspere wrote plays, for he questions, “Whether Dr. Heylin does well, in reckoning up the dramatick poets which have been famous in England, to omit Shakespeare.”

But what he was told of Shakspere suggests that while Ward believed the Stratford man to be a poet, the neighbors did not. “I have heard that Mr. Shakspeare was a natural wit, without any art at all; hee frequented the plays all his younger time, but in his elder days lived at Stratford, and supplied the stage with two plays every year, and for itt had an allowance so large, that hee spent att the rate of 1,000 l a-year, as I have heard . . .” He was “without art,” meaning “schooling,” and was given an allowance for delivering (not writing) two plays a year. In other words, he was a front or middleman for the author(s).

The Original Effigy

Playwrights wrote for multiple theaters. Phillip Henslowe, an owner of several Elizabethan playhouses, kept minute records of his payments to playwrights. He had no share in the Globe, and no record book for the Globe exists, so far as we know. Thus we will never know if payments were ever made to William Shakspere for Globe performances. But Henslowe’s account book lists performances of Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, Henry VI: Part 1, and Henry V but, unlike other plays that listed authors’ names, no writer is credited for these five plays. For those of us who think it most likely that Shakspere was a front man for other authors, one of whom may have been Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, this omission is a telling fact.

The books and articles that have appeared on the authorship question now amount to a sub-minor industry; many are quite imaginative. Recent entries include Robin William’s Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? (which proposes that Mary Sidney and her literary circle were the authors) and The Truth Will Out, written by Brenda James and William Rubinstein, which claims Sir Henry Neville wielded the pen.

But the award for most imaginative detection on the question goes to Dr. Douglas M. Baker and his book, The True Authorship. The doctor’s book blurb reads in part: “Dr. Baker, an authority on the paranormal for forty years, has used methods of occult research and investigation to unlock the mysteries surrounding the authorship of the so-called Shakespearean Plays and The Sonnets.” Dr. Baker, the blurb continues, “has done extensive scientific research into those hinterlands of the mind which one might call psi-semantics.”

Declaration of Reasonable Doubt

The web hosts numerous sites that question Shakspere’s authorship and offer a variety of possible candidates. The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition does not emphatically assert that William Shakspere was not the author of the First Folio, but has issued a declaration of reasonable doubt. The declaration states, “We make no claim, in signing this declaration, to know exactly what happened, who wrote the works, nor even that Mr. Shakspere definitely did not . . .  [Why] is it even necessary to say that there is room for doubt? There clearly is doubt, as a matter of empirical fact — reasonable doubt, expressed by very credible people. Reasonable people may differ about whether a preponderance of the evidence supports Mr. Shakspere, but it is simply not credible for anyone to claim, in 2007, that there is no room for doubt about the author.”

Those who agree may sign the declaration and to date 3,588 persons, including myself, have joined a list that includes the eminent actors Sir Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance, and Michael York.

Doubt About Will, as the coalition calls its website, not only assembles previously known items that point against Shakspere as author, but offers one I had not heard before. On its homepage the coalition has posted a video, “The Impossible Doublet,” which examines the doublet worn by the figure engraved on the cover of the First Folio. Purportedly a portrait of William Shakespeare, the sitter’s doublet is an impossibility, a fact I never noticed until watching the video. Impossible Doublet shows that the left front of the doublet is in fact the right back, and points to the engraving’s other absurdities.

The Restored Effigy

“By clothing the figure in the ridiculous and nonsensical garment,” the video’s narrator tells us, “the publishers [of the First Folio] were most likely indicating that the person ostensibly depicted, Shakspere of Stratford, was not the true author of the plays that followed.”

The site contains a list of past doubters in addition to those I have already mentioned, names that include Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin, John Galsworthy, Mortimer J. Adler, Sir John Gielgud, and others.

One of the website’s pleasing offerings is a video discussion between Rylance and Jacobi on the authorship question. Both agree that Shakspere did not write the plays, but Jacobi thinks several authors contributed to the canon, while Rylance thinks it the work of a single mind.

In 2013 the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition challenged the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to a mock trial over the Trust’s claim that Shakspere’s authorship was “beyond doubt.” The coalition even offered the trust a £40,000 donation if it could substantiate its claim but the trust has not taken up the challenge. And why should it? It couldn’t not possibly win, and as the owner and manager of five Stratford properties, including Shakspere’s presumed birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s cottage, the trust stands to lose a great deal of global tourism.

I fully agree with the other signers of the declaration that “…that the identity of William Shakespeare should, henceforth, be regarded in academia as a legitimate issue for research and publication, and an appropriate topic for instruction and discussion in classrooms.”



Doubt About Will

Robert Wolf
Free River Press
American Mosaic Radio with Robert Wolf


Stein, Anderson and Hemingway: Part Two

Sherwood Anderson had published Winesburg, Ohio by the time he introduced himself to Gertrude Stein in Paris in 1921. Stein, who had published only small editions of two works, Three Lives and Tender Buttons, was known primarily to other writers.

Anderson’s praise of Stein’s work endeared him to her, especially because Anderson was a major figure in American prose and Stein was struggling to make her work known. She was, at that time, writing her more than 900-page tome, The Making of Americans and collecting smaller pieces into what became Geography and Plays, published in 1922. Stein’s editor suggested that she ask Anderson to write an introduction to that book, which he did.

In return, Stein wrote a tribute to him in 1922, “Idem the Same: A Valentine to Sherwood Anderson.” You can hear Stein read it at:

The year before, 1921, young Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley Richardson, visited Stein and Toklas. Anderson had provided Hemingway with an introduction, not only to Stein but to Ezra Pound and others in the émigré community.

Hemingway came to Paris with experience as a journalist, which gave him the basis for his craft. As a young reporter for The Kansas City Star, he knew its style-sheet, which began: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.” Hemingway said that, “Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I’ve never forgotten them.”

Ezra Pound became one of his mentors. In a letter to Lewis Galantiere, Hemingway wrote that Pound is “teaching me to write, and I’m teaching him to box.” What Pound undoubtedly taught him were the principles of a style of writing he called Imagism—a lean, spare style that dispenses with adjectives and adverbs and any other word not absolutely necessary to a direct presentation of the subject.

At the same time, Hemingway was getting advice from Stein, who was not fond of Pound. (He had broken one of her chairs by sitting on it.) In Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, Carlos Baker described a conversation in which Stein, shortly after first meeting Hemingway, offered him criticism of one of his works-in-progress. According to Baker, “. . . she did not care for the novel. ‘There is a great deal of description in this,’ she said, ‘and not particularly good description. Begin over again and concentrate.’ Ernest picked up his ears.”

Later, in Spain, Hemingway wrote Stein and Toklas “. . . I’m trying to do the country like Cé́zanne and having a hell of a time and sometimes getting it a little bit . . . but isn’t writing a hard job though? It used to be easy before I met you. I certainly was bad, gosh, I’m awfully bad now but it’s a different kind of bad.”

Years later, in A Moveable Feast , Hemingway wrote that Stein “had . . . discovered many truths about rhythms and the uses of words in repetition that were valid and valuable . . . . But she disliked the drudgery of revision and the obligation to make her writing intelligible . . .”
Of The Making of Americans, Hemingway wrote, “This book began magnificently, went on very well for a long way with great stretches of great brilliance, and then went on endlessly in repetitions that a more conscientious and less lazy writer would have put in the waste basket.” Stein began The Making of Americans in 1902 or 1903 (opinions differ), and completed it in 1911. Whether or not it ranks in quality alongside Joyce’s Ulysses and Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, it is, like them, a significant modernist experiment. Hemingway proofread the manuscript and arranged for its publication in the transatlantic review in 1924.

The Making of Americans is not an obscure work. Consider its third and fourth paragraphs: “It has always seemed to me a rare privilege, this, of being an American, a real American, one whose tradition it has taken scarcely sixty years to create. We need only realize our parents, remember our grandparents and know ourselves and our history is complete.” “The old people in the new world, the new people made out of the old, that is the story that I mean to tell, for that is what really is and what I really know.”

Stein was a writer of many styles, and the language of The Making of Americans has no similarity to her experiments in pure sound, such as “Idem the Same.” As noted in part one, Stein’s earliest sound experiment, Tender Buttons, inspired Anderson to begin his own, unpublished experiments. His explorations, together with the prose of Three Lives, opened something within Anderson that found fit expression for his sensibility.

Each of the seminal works of the three writers—Three Lives, Tender Buttons, Winesburg, Oho, and In Our Time—has its distinctive rhythm and style. What the books have in common is their authors’ deliberate choice to work with a limited vocabulary. With their simple words, critic Edmund Wilson wrote, the three writers could convey “profound emotions and complex states of mind.”

Hemingway biographer Carlos Baker wrote that in1925, when Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and Christian Gauss discussed their respective influences, “Hemingway named Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio as his first pattern.”

Baker also reported that in 1935 Hemingway listed sixteen books that he would rather read for the first time than receive one million dollars annually. Of the sixteen, only two books were American—Winesburg, Ohio and Huckleberry Finn.

When In Our Time was published, the first edition came with a blurb from Anderson on the dust jacket. Hemingway bristled. He did not want the association. At least two reviewers found similarities between the writing of the two men. Hemingway’s story, “My Old Man,” one wrote, was clearly influenced by Anderson’s racetrack stories. “By this time,” Baker wrote, “Ernest was sick of being compared to Anderson.”

An interesting distinction between the two writers lies in Hemingway’s treatment of a theme Anderson handled in Winesburg—that of a woman who gives herself to a man. “Up in Michigan” is a very early story and written from a woman’s point of view, something Hemingway never again attempted.

The man takes the woman for a walk. They sit and he touches her under her dress; she tells him to stop. “She was frightened but she wanted it. She had to have it but it frightened her.” He does not stop and he hurts her. Afterwards, he falls asleep and she works out from under him and kisses him on the cheek. When he does not respond, she cries. “She was cold and miserable and everything felt gone.” Then: “Liz took off her coat and leaned over and covered him with it. She tucked it around him neatly and carefully.”

Like all early Hemingway it is written in an almost clinical manner. We don’t care about Liz, because she is not fully alive. This is partly due to Hemingway’s youth, and partly a result of his artistic vision, which at the time focused on the essential exterior of things. But most of all it is because Hemingway has no sympathy for the woman.

For whom did Hemingway have sympathy? In The Pound Era, Hugh Kenner quotes Pound as saying, “ . . . Hem . . .never knew one human being from another . . . and never much cared.” Anderson, on the contrary, had a deep interest in people, in what they thought and felt. One of the early stories in Winesburg contains an episode that I believe formed the germ of “Up in Michigan.”

In “Mother,” a young woman seeks out the company of traveling salesmen and goes for walks with them. “She did not blame the men who walked with her and later she did not blame Tom Willard. It was always the same, beginning with kisses and ending, after strange wild emotions, with peace and then sobbing repentance. When she sobbed she put her hand upon the face of the man and had always the same thought. Even though he were large and bearded she thought he had become suddenly a little boy. She wondered why he did not sob also.”

Wanting to distance himself from Anderson, Hemingway wrote The Torrents of Spring, a parody of Anderson’s style and vision. Anderson, mind you, had gotten Hemingway a contract for In Our Time with his publisher, Boni and Liverwright. To break his contract, which included future works, and to further distance himself from Anderson, Hemingway offered the firm The Torrents of Spring. The firm naturally declined the book and the contract was severed.

Stein responded by breaking with Hemingway. In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein wrote: “Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson are very funny on the subject of Hemingway. The last time that Sherwood was in Paris they often talked about him. Hemingway had been formed by the two of them and they were both a little proud and a little ashamed of the work of their minds.”

But with characteristic charity, Anderson never replied to Hemingway in kind. After his death in 1941, Anderson’s friends and fellow writers contributed essays to Homage to Sherwood Anderson. Stein contributed a piece in which she wrote, “Yes undoubtedly, Sherwood Anderson had a sweetness, and sweetness is rare. Once or twice somebody is sweet, but everything in Sherwood was made of sweetness.”

Theodore Dreiser wrote, “And so sometimes the things he wrote . . . had the value of a poetic prayer for the happiness and the well being of everything and everybody . . .”

New York music critic Paul Rosenfeld wrote, “… through the Chicagoan’s personality and his work a beautiful, extraordinarily humanizing force was active in American life.”

Anderson’s empathy and understanding of what lay beneath the surface in others (qualities he said he developed in the army) allowed him insight into people. Hemingway acknowledged this empathy in A Moveable Feast when he wrote, “ . . . I liked some of his short stories very much. They were simply written and sometimes beautifully written and he knew the people he was writing about and cared deeply for them.”

In a letter Thomas Wolfe wrote to Anderson in 1937 he commented, “I think you are one of the most important writers of this century, that you ploughed another deep furrow in the American earth, revealed to us another beauty that we knew was there but that no one else had spoken. I think of you with Whitman and with Twain—that is, with men who have seen America with a poet’s vision and with a poetic vision of life, which to my mind is the only way ultimately it can be seen.”


Of the three writers, Stein is the fountainhead. Through the influence her earliest published writings had on Anderson and Hemingway, Stein indirectly influenced countless other writers.
Today Stein is lionized by contemporary poets for her nonsensical writings, which are called “hermetic” by those who want to enshrine her reputation as a master. But “hermetic” is a misnomer: “hermetic” indicates that which has inner meaning, and much of Stein’s work has none. Her experiments with sound and her unexpected juxtapositions of words, however, have made her a writer’s writer.

Stein and Anderson preserved their friendship through letters and rare visits until Anderson’s death in 1941. By that time, Anderson’s literary reputation had faded, as Hemingway’s continued to rise. The irony is that Anderson is the much more sincere and honest writer. After Hemingway’s first brilliant short story collection, his work slowly fossilized. Hemingway’s characters do not speak as real people; they talk like Hemingway characters. The writer who was so consumed with “getting things right,” including atmosphere, sights, sounds and smells, did not create living characters.

To repeat what his friend Pound said, “ . . . Hem . . .never knew one human being from another . . . and never much cared.”

From an early age Hemingway carried deep wounds within him— his father’s suicide and his own war injuries, which, added to his alcoholism, surely account for his frequent spiteful behavior and nihilism. The nihilism reached unfettered expression in an essay cum story, “A Natural History of the Dead,” published in his 1933 story collection, Winner Take Nothing. Reading Hemingway from the perspective of his nihilism and self-disgust, his suicide makes sense.

Anderson, by contrast, was, as Paul Rosenfeld wrote, a powerful humanizing force in America. Anderson is now known to the reading public exclusively for Winesburg, Ohio, but two of his other books, his novel Poor White and his memoir, A Storyteller’s Story, need to be read. Like Leaves of Grass and Huckleberry Finn, they are quintessential American works. His style is rooted in American speech and his overarching concern is with the American landscape.

His works are meditations on the transformation of the American character under the influence of the machine. He is not, as J.B. Priestley claimed, longing for a pre-industrial idyllic existence. Anderson had seen too much and lived too much to fall for that.

He, perhaps, was the first our of writers to make loneliness and the individual’s inability to connect with others a major theme in American literature, one that later became central with Thomas Wolfe. One wonders what course American culture might have taken had more writers had Anderson’s concerns and sensibility.

Stein, Anderson, and Hemingway: Part 1

Mention Gertrude Stein’s name to most people and they will reply with words like “obscure” and “silly.” Yet what people who make these associations do not know is that Gertrude Stein is the root of modernist American prose and her book Three Lives shaped many future styles. The sentences of Three Lives are unlike later sentences that Stein wrote. They have a seeming clumsiness, which is forceful. Their power influenced the works of Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway.

Stein’s Three Lives came first, then Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, then Hemingway’s In Our Time. Together these works form a triumvirate of early modernist American prose, almost a school of writing. While Stein’s work remained obscure for many years, her influence was carried by the writings of Anderson and Hemingway.

To put things in order, let’s begin with dates. Stein was born in 1874, Anderson in 1876, and Hemingway in 1899. Stein was a major influence on Anderson, and Anderson and Stein together influenced Hemingway. Hemingway had another great influence, the poet Ezra Pound. I’ll mention him later.

Stein had written two short conventional novels before she wrote Three Lives in 1909, when she was thirty-five.

Anderson published two novels in 1916 and 1917 before he published his finest work, Winesburg, Ohio in 1919. Hemingway’s In Our Time appeared in 1925.

Anderson was in his mid-thirties by the time he began writing and moved to Chicago, where he became friends with members of the Chicago Literary Renaissance. It was probably in Chicago where Anderson read Stein’s first two published works, Three Lives and Tender Buttons, and read them both while writing Winesburg, Ohio.

In 1921 Anderson, by then a famous writer, visited France briefly. At Sylvia Beach’s bookshop, Shakespeare & Co, Anderson told Beach his enthusiasm for Gertrude Stein and Beach wrote him an introduction. The relatively unknown Stein and Anderson became friends for life.

That same year, Anderson met twenty-three-year-old Ernest Hemingway at a party in Oak Park. Hemingway and his new bride were intending to live in Rome, but Anderson advised the aspiring writer to head for Paris and wrote him an introduction to Stein.

Stein had written Three Lives in Paris while living with her brother Leo at 27 Rue de Fleurus, famous for the salons Stein and Leo and later Stein and Alice Toklas held there.
In A Moveable Feast, Stein’s one-time star pupil, Hemingway, recorded that when they first met “she had published three stories [Three Lives] that were intelligible to anyone. One of these stories, “Melanctha,” was very good . . .”

Stein claimed that “Melanctha” was “the first definite step away from the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century in literature.” Most likely she made that claim because she knew the language of “Melanctha” and the other two stories made the great departure.

One aspect of that departure came from the restricted vocabulary Stein used to write Three Lives. From Stein, Anderson and Hemingway learned to use simple, Anglo-Saxon words. Hemingway later said, “The old, simple words are the best” and Sherwood Anderson said, “My own vocabulary was small. I had no Latin and no Greek, no French. When I wanted to arrive at anything like delicate shades of meaning in my writing I had to do it with my own very limited vocabulary.”

A part of the impetus for Stein’s break with traditional structure came from what non-artists would consider an unlikely source. Gertrude and Leo Stein were early collectors of modern European art, and their collection included works by Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Gris, Gauguin and Cézanne. Among their purchases was Cézanne’s portrait of his wife. In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (which is actually a memoir), Stein wrote: “It was an important purchase because in looking and looking at this picture Gertrude Stein wrote Three Lives. She had begun not long before as an exercise in literature to translate Flaubert’s Trois Contes and then she had this Cézanne and she looked at it and under its stimulus she wrote Three Lives.”

Stein claimed that before Flaubert and Cézanne writers and painters had one central idea or theme and all other parts of their work were subordinated to it. This changed when “Cézanne conceived the idea that in composition one thing was as important as another thing. Each part is as important as the whole, and it impressed me enormously.” Stein tried to convey this in her writing.

There is much to be said for this claim. The recurrence of words and phrases and ideas in each of the three stories—one of the hallmarks of Stein’s style—renders to the whole a certain flatness. In the same way, Cézanne’s compositions, built of patches of color (each of nearly equal importance) gives to his works an overall effect of two-dimensionality.

In “The Good Anna,” the first of the stories in Three Lives, the servant Anna is a frugal woman, and we are reminded of that throughout the story’s 65 pages. “Save and you will always have the money you have saved, was all she could know.” Mrs. Lehtmann, Anna’s friend, “was diffuse and careless in her ways. . .” and Stein reminds us of that too.

Repetition can come in subtle ways, through synonyms and images. Stein taught Hemingway the value of repetition and a reading of the stories of In Our Time, particularly “The Big, Two-Hearted River,” shows him using repetition in very subtle ways. As in the poetry of archaic peoples, repetition adds force and depth to lines and sentences.

Stein had grown up in a family that employed German immigrant servants and knew how they spoke. She used German constructions in “Lena,” the final story in Three Lives. By accustoming us to German constructions, she twists them further. It is this “twisting,” or using words in new combinations—”Herman was getting really strong to struggle” and “with that always scolding”—that gives added strength to the writing in Three Lives.

I have not read how Stein developed this penchant for unusual constructions, but I think she gives us the key in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. There she informs us that her favorite writers were the Elizabethans, in particular the pamphleteer and playwright Robert Greene. English in Elizabeth’s time was without set syntax. All of English was in upheaval: not even names were spelled consistently. Out of this cauldron modern English was born.

I think Gertrude Stein saw that the English of her time was growing moribund, set in its ways, and therefore losing vitality. I think that her transfer of Elizabethan constructions and rhetorical devices was a conscious attempt to revitalize the language. It was not an experiment that either Anderson or Hemingway picked up.

Three Lives prodded me into thinking about words in combination, about new uses of words, and of unusual ways to express thoughts that we often smother in phrases worn smooth into near meaninglessness. Her work had the same effect on Sherwood Anderson.

Tender Buttons was Stein’s first experimental work of the kind that stamped her reputation as a writer of gibberish. There is much of Stein’s work that I find incomprehensible and pretentious, but Tender Buttons is not one. The work has no meaning but for writers it has significance. It is divided into three sections, “Objects,” “Food,” and “Rooms,” and each consists of a collection of “descriptions.”

Consider, for example, a paragraph titled, “A Drawing.” “The meaning of this is entirely and best to say the mark, best to say it best to show sudden places, best to make bitter, best to make the length tall and nothing broader, anything between the half.”

When Anderson read Tender Buttons he was led to create his own arbitrary word combinations to see the effects of their interactions. In A Story Teller’s Story, Anderson wrote: “How significant words had become to me! How it [Tender Buttons] had excited me! Here was something purely experimental and dealing with words separated from sense—in the ordinary meaning of the word sense—an approach I was sure poets were often compelled to make. Was it an approach that would help me? I decided to try it.”

Anderson wrote hundreds of pages of word exercises in the manner of Tender Buttons, and threw them away. During the time he was making these experiments, Anderson visited the studio of a friend, the painter Felix Russman. Russman took Anderson into his studio to show him his paints. “He laid them out on a table before me . . . I shifted the little pans of color about, laid one color against another. . . Suddenly there flashed into my consciousness, for perhaps the first time in my life, the secret inner world of the painters . . . the words used by the tale-teller were as the colors used by the painter.”

Gods of the Modern World

Gods of the Modern World
“Gods of the Modern World” is one panel in a fresco, The Epic of American Civilization, painted by Jose Clemente Orozco for the Baker Library at Dartmouth. The panel is a critique of the modern university, violent and passionate. Skeletons robed in academic gowns stand facing us. In the foreground another skeleton lies in birthing position, legs spread and upraised, pregnant with books. Bending over this skeleton is another, a robed academic holding in its hands a baby skeleton with a mortarboard and tassel. Formaldehyde filled jars with baby skeletons fall alongside piles of black tomes.

The dead bring forth the dead: dead academics beget more dead academics and dead books, a self-perpetuating cycle.

The world is on fire, yet the living dead robed in academic gowns are unaware of it. Unaware and impotent, their backs are turned to the conflagration.

Orozco painted The Epic of American Civilization between 1932 and 1934, years in which Lewis Mumford was a “roving professor” at Dartmouth. The mural made a deep impression on Mumford, and in several of his books he reproduced some of its panels, including “Gods of the Modern World. ” Mumford’s interpretation of university teaching and scholarship matched the muralist’s.

Lewis Mumford and the Pubic Intellectual
Mumford remains an exception among American scholars. An intellectual who wrote on regionalism, city planning, architecture, technology, and American culture, Mumford never completed college. Yet he grew into the foremost American intellectual of the twentieth century. As a generalist, Mumford derided specialization and the narrowness it entailed. Mumford, furthermore, was not only a scholar, but in Ezra Pound’s phrase was one who put his “ideas into action.”

As a founding member of Regional Planning Association of America, Mumford collaborated with city planner Clarence Stein and architect Henry Wright (both fellow RPPA members) on the design of the planned development of Radburn, New Jersey. Earlier he had been researcher for Stein on several state sponsored housing projects. He argued publicly and passionately in print and in public forums on the need for the development of Garden Cities and for the regionalization of American economics and culture. No wonder Mumford scorned specialists.

Yale began the march toward academic specialization when it bestowed its first doctorate in 1861. Doctoral programs eventually grew into what Thorstein Veblen called “the PhD. octopus” and professional guilds followed. To earn a doctorate one had not only to specialize but produce an original piece of research. In the humanities, once the major writers and thinkers were raked over, the candidate had to discover a minor figure upon whom to devote years of study, research and writing. He became a specialist in a sub-sub-specialty of his field. The doctoral requirement for university teaching became one more bit of evidence that ours was a fragmenting society.

Within the seclusion of the university, and as a specialist, the academic often lacks the knowledge and imagination for effective social criticism and action. Thinkers of the caliber of Emerson, Ruskin, and William Morris helped guide and develop the culture of their times. Ruskin, besides making contributions to several fields, including worker’s’ education, was the spiritual father of the Arts and Crafts Movement, initiated by his disciple William Morris. Mumford was their successor, one of the last of what are called “public intellectuals.” Now as in the past century, anyone who boldly and competently advances into areas outside his specialty is open to attack by Orozco’s walking dead.

And so minds that might have served a useful function, perhaps teaching the liberal arts, made themselves illiberal and irrelevant. Worse, they shaped and continue to shape those young minds that aspire to academic positions into images of themselves. The pedantry, the obfuscation, the prolixity, and in many cases the arrogance continue.

Unity in the Seven Liberal Arts and the Doctrine of Ideas
With specialization Europe and America lost the intellectual unity that Western culture had in the Middle Ages. That unity was supplied not only by Christian doctrine, but by the liberal arts. These arts, inherited from classical Greece and Rome and codified in late Roman times, created an intellectual discipline out of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic or dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy).

For the purposes of this argument, I skip over the trivium to the quadrivium as the texts chosen for the four mathematical arts created a unified vision of the cosmos. The texts derived from the teachings of the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras and were adopted by Plato and subsequently passed on through his Academy. Pythagoras taught that number was the essence of all things and that the world—because it was ordered through number—was a cosmos.

The Pythagorean texts of the quadrivium developed in the student a qualitative vision of the universe. Such a vision is radically opposed to the mechanistic and quantitative interpretation that developed in the Renaissance and which governs the world-view of Mass Man. While it does connect the whole and its parts through number and mathematical analysis, the quantitative world- view emphases difference, the essential atomic nature of all things. By contrast, the qualitative world of Plato and the Pythagoreans is relational, with its parts united by ratio and proportion and by analogy.

For the medievals the arts of the quadrivium became an aid to understanding the works of God and the harmony of all within creation. For the masters of the quadrivium the mathematical arts were a ladder leading the seeker to an apprehension of God the Maker.

Arithmetic, the basic study of the quadrivium, taught ratio and proportion, and the theory of numbers. Geometry, the next study, was taught through Euclid’s Elements. Euclid had been a student at Plato’s Academy and his definitions of point, line, and plane make clear the ideal basis of his work. Euclid, like Boethius and Nicomachus—two significant transmitters of Pythagorean thought—was a Pythagorean and Platonist.
Music as understood by Plato and the Pythagoreans was not a study of sound per se, but a study of the harmonic relationships between musical intervals (the octave, fifth, third, etc.). Johannes Kepler brought together the current astronomical data of his time in his treatise Harmonices Mundi, which attempted to demonstrate the ancient Pythagorean dream of the music of the spheres. Thus understood, music was inextricably at one with astronomy, the study of invariant motions. The study of invariance became, for the philosopher, the last step to the apprehension of the Ideas. Music, Plato declared, was the highest form of philosophy and led to an apprehension of The Good.

Many of the Church Fathers of the second and third centuries, including Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Eusebius, were Platonists and embraced the doctrine of Ideas. St. Augustine (354-430), deeply influenced by Plato, acknowledged the existence of Plato’s Ideas, but held that they existed not outside but within the divine intelligence.

Subsequent to Augustine, the teachers of the monasteries and cathedral schools were Platonists. Through these schools the seven liberal arts were preserved into the High Middle Ages. The cathedral schools, reflecting Plato’s teaching, emphasized the quadrivium over the trivium.

Without a study of the quadrivium, there would have been no Chartres, or Notre Dame, or Amiens. The architects of the cathedrals were masters of the quadrivium, using the golden section and musical consonances for their architectural grammar. As they saw it, these ratios and proportions were those subsisting with the divine intelligence, and thus the cathedrals became an instantiation of divine harmony.

From Unite to Multiplicity
The thirteenth century was the point of greatest cultural unity within Western culture. After that, unity descended into multiplicity, to echo Henry Adams. The splintering of thought and society accelerated until now we seem to have reached the maximum of dissolution before absolute anarchy. Academic specialization was a necessary outcome of our loss of intellectual unity.

Briefly, my version of the descent is this: Until the early fourteenth century, Plato’s doctrine of Ideas was the dominant theory of the nature of reality, a doctrine the medievals called Realism. Realism was not challenged until William of Ockam (c. 1287 – 1347) first propounded the theory of universals. Ockham’s doctrine of the nature of ideas, called Nominalism, denied the existence of Ideas and contended that only individuals exist. Thus there is no Idea of Man but only individual men; nor any Idea of Whiteness, only instances of whiteness.

It was but a small step from nominalism to empiricism, the philosophy that holds that sense perception is our sole source for knowledge. George Berkley contended that empiricism led to atheism, and time has shown Berkley to be correct: the cry of the college-educated atheist is, “I believe in science.”

Empiricism was one of the roots of philosophical materialism, which surely is the underlying, driving force of Western culture, despite the numbers of contemporary Fundamentalists in all three monotheistic religions. For practical purposes, God is dead. Western Man centuries ago lost his common notions, including a belief in God or divinity, and without common notions, no civilization can long endure.

Without common notions there can be no effective resistance to the ever-increasing mechanization of man and society. Certainly the academic specialist, Orozco’s walking dead—a product of Western fragmentation—can offer no resistance. But then, who can?

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