At Oxford University, England, 7th June, 1926…

…American writer Gertrude Stein, 52, is delivering her lecture entitled ‘Composition as Explanation.’ She’s a bit nervous.

Last year, when the Cambridge University Literary Society first asked her to come speak, as she wrote later,

quite completely upset at the very idea [she] quite promptly answered no. Immediately came a letter from Edith Sitwell saying that the no must be changed to yes. That it was of the first importance that Gertrude Stein should deliver this address and that moreover Oxford was waiting for the yes to be given to Cambridge to ask her to do the same at Oxford. There was very evidently nothing to do but to say yes and so Gertrude Stein said yes.’

Back in January, Gertrude had drafted the lecture in a few hours while waiting for the mechanics to fix her Ford, called “Godiva” because it had arrived naked. Then she’d read the lecture to her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 49, and to friends. And had them read it back to her.

Gertrude and Alice planned only a short trip to England from their home in Paris, but they did enjoy the dinner party that Sitwell, 38, gave last week in their honor. They’d met writer Virginia Woolf, 44, and were hopeful that she would agree to publish the lecture through the Hogarth Press that she ran with her husband, Leonard, 45.

Despite her initial apprehension, Gertrude is a big hit. Alice remembers later,

One of the men was so moved that he confided to me as we went out that the lecture had been his greatest experience since he had read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.’

Composition as Explanation by Gertrude Stein, published by the Hogarth Press, 1927

Composition as Explanation by Gertrude Stein, published by the Hogarth Press, 1927

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

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