Born February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, PA; died of cancer July 27, 1946, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France; daughter of Daniel and Amelia (Keyser) Stein. Education: Radcliffe College, Harvard University, B.A., 1897; attended Johns Hopkins Medical School, 1897-1901.
Poet, short story writer, and novelist.
Medal of recognition from French government for services during World War II.
Three Lives: Stories of the Good Anna, Melanctha, and the Gentle Lena, Grafton Press, 1909, reprinted, St. Martin's Press (Boston, MA), 2000, published in Three Lives & Tender Buttons, introduction by Diana Souhami, Signet (New York, NY), 2003.
Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia, privately printed, 1912.
Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms, Claire Marie, 1914, reprinted, Dover (Mineola, NY), 1997.
Geography and Plays, Four Seas (Boston, MA), 1922, reprinted, Dover (Mineola, NY), 1999.
The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress, Contact Editions (Paris, France), 1925, published as The Making of Americans: The Hersland Family, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1934, reprinted under original title, Dalkey Archive Press (Normal, IL), 1995.
Composition as Explanation, Hogarth (London, England), 1926.
Useful Knowledge, Payson & Clarke, 1928.
An Acquaintance with Description, Seizin Press (London, England), 1929.
Lucy Church, Amiably, Imprimerie "Union," 1930, reprinted, Dalkey Archive Press (Normal, IL), 2000.
How to Write (originally titled Grammar, Paragraphs, Sentences, Vocabulary, Etcetera), Plain Edition (Paris, France), 1931, Something Else Press (Barton, VT), 1973.
Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded Friendship Faded, Plain Edition (Paris, France), 1931.
Operas and Plays, Plain Edition (Paris, France), 1932.
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1933.
Matisse, Picasso, and Gertrude Stein, Plain Edition (Paris, France), 1933, expanded as Matisse, Picasso, and Gertrude Stein, with Two Shorter Stories, Something Else Press (Barton, VT), 1972.
Portraits and Prayers, Random House (New York, NY), 1934.
Lectures in America, Random House (New York, NY), 1935.
Narration, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1935.
The Geographical History of America; or, The Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind, Random House (New York, NY), 1936, reprinted, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1995.
Everybody's Autobiography, Random House (New York, NY), 1937, reprinted, Cooper Square Publishers (New York, NY), 1971.
Picasso, Floury, 1938, English translation by Alice B. Toklas, Scribner (New York, NY), 1939.
The World . . . Is Round, W. R. Scott, 1939.
Paris France, Scribner (New York, NY), 1940.
What Are Masterpieces?, Conference Press, 1940.
Ida, a Novel, Random House (New York, NY), 1941.
Wars I Have Seen, Random House (New York, NY), 1945.
Brewsie and Willie, Random House (New York, NY), 1946.
In Savoy; or, Yes Is for a Very Young Man: A Play of the Resistance in France, Pushkin Press (London, England), 1946.
Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein, edited by Carl Van Vechten, Random House (New York, NY), 1946.
The Gertrude Stein First Reader & Three Plays, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1948.
Blood on the Dining-Room Floor, Banyan Press (New York, NY), 1948, reprinted, Creative Arts (Berkeley, CA), 1982.
Things as They Are: A Novel in Three Parts, Banyan Press (New York, NY), 1950.
The Yale Edition of the Unpublished Writings of Gertrude Stein, edited by Carl Van Vechten, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), Volume 1: Two: Gertrude Stein and Her Brother, and Other Early Portraits, 1906-12, 1951, Volume 2: Mrs. Reynolds and Five Earlier Novelettes, 1952, Volume 3: Bee Time Vine, and Other Pieces, 1913-1927, 1953, Volume 4: As Fine as Melanctha, 1914-1930, 1954, Volume 5: Painted Lace, and Other Pieces, 1914-1937, 1955, Volume 6: Stanzas in Meditation, and Other Poems, 1929-1933, 1956, reprinted, Sun & Moon Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1994, Volume 7: Alphabets and Birthdays, 1957, reprinted as To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays, Green Integer, 2001, Volume 8: A Novel of Thank You, 1958, reprinted, Dalkey Archive Press (Normal, IL), 1994.
Selected Writings, edited by Carl Van Vechten, Modern Library (New York, NY), 1962.
Gertrude Stein's America, edited by Gilbert A. Harrison, R. B. Luce (Washington, DC), 1965.
Writings and Lectures 1911-1945, edited by Patricia Meyerowitz, Owen, 1967.
Gertrude Stein on Picasso, edited by Edward Burns, Liveright (New York, NY)/Museum of Modern Art, 1970.
Selected Operas and Plays of Gertrude Stein, edited by John Malcolm Brinnin, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1970, reprinted, 1993.
Fernhurst, Q.E.D., and Other Early Writings, Liveright (New York, NY), 1971.
Look at Me Now and Here I Am; Writings and Lectures 1909-45, edited by Patricia Meyerowitz, Penguin (New York, NY), 1971.
The Previously Uncollected Writings of Gertrude Stein, edited by Robert Bartlett Haas, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), Volume 1: Reflection on the Atomic Bomb, 1973, Volume 2: How Writing Is Written, 1974.
Dear Sammy: Letters from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, edited by Samuel M. Steward, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1977.
Geography and Plays, introduction by Cyrena N. Pondrom, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1993.
Mirrors of Friendship: The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, edited by Edward M. Burns, Ulla E. Dydo, and William Rice, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1996.
A History of Having a Great Many Times Not Continued to Be Friends: The Correspondence between Mabel Dodge and Gertrude Stein, 1911-1934, edited by Patricia R. Everett, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1996.
Writings, 1903-1932, Library of America (New York, NY), 1998.
Writings, 1932-1946, Library of America (New York, NY), 1998.
Operas and Plays, Barrytown (Barrytown, NY), 1998.
Baby Precious Always Shines: Selected Love Notes, edited by Kay Turner, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Correspondance de René Crevel à Gertrude Stein, edited by Jean-Michel Devésa, L'Harmattan (Paris, France), 2000.
The Gertrude Stein Reader: The Great American Pioneer of Avant-garde Letters, edited by Richard Kostelanetz, Cooper Square Press (New York, NY), 2002.
LIBRETTOS; MUSIC BY VIRGIL THOMSON
Four Saints in Three Acts; An Opera to Be Sung (produced in Hartford, CT, 1934; produced as an avant-garde opera, 1996), Random House (New York, NY), 1934.
Capital, Capitals; For Four Men and a Piano, [New York, NY], 1947.
The Mother of Us All (produced at Columbia University, 1947), Music Press, 1947.
Preciosilla; For Voice and Piano, G. Schirmer, 1948.
Contributor to The Collectors: Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone; with a Portrait by Gertrude Stein, by Barbara Pollack, Bobbs-Merrill, 1962.
"Gertrude Stein, who lived and wrote as though she knew she would be legendary, is more than that now: she is an icon," observed Bobby Ellen Kimbel in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. From the time she moved to France in 1903 until her death in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1946, Stein was a central figure in the Parisian art world. An advocate of the avant garde, she helped shape an artistic movement that demanded a novel form of expression and a conscious break with the past. The salon at 27 rue de Fleurus, the home she shared with Alice B. Toklas, her lifelong companion and secretary, became a gathering place for the "new moderns," as the talented young artists supporting this movement came to be called. Among those whose careers she helped launch were painters Henri Matisse, Juan Gris, and Pablo Picasso. What these creators achieved in the visual arts, Stein attempted in her writing. A bold experimenter and self-proclaimed genius, she rejected the linear, time-oriented writing characteristic of the nineteenth century for a spatial, process-oriented, specifically twentieth-century literature. The results were dense poems and fictions, often devoid of plot or dialogue, which yielded memorable phrases ("Rose is a rose is a rose") but were not commercially successful books. In fact, her only bestseller, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, a memoir of Stein's life written in the person of Toklas, is a standard narrative, conventionally composed.Though commercial publishers slighted her experimental writings and critics dismissed them as incomprehensible, Stein's theories did interest some of the most talented writers of the day. During the years between World War I and World War II, a steady stream of expatriate American and English writers, whom Stein dubbed "the Lost Generation," found their way to her soirees. Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Sherwood Anderson were among those exposed to her literary quest for what she called an "exact description of inner and outer reality." Whether or not Stein influenced these and other major modern writers—including James Joyce, whose masterpiece of modernist writing, Ulysses, was composed after his exposure to Stein—remains an issue of some contention. Critics do agree, however, that whatever her influence, her own work, and particularly her experimental writing, is largely neglected. As Edmund Wilson noted in Axel's Castle: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930, "Most of us balk at her soporific rigmaroles, her echolaliac incantations, her half-witted-sounding catalogues of numbers; most of us read her less and less. Yet, remembering especially her early work, we are still always aware of her presence in the background of contemporary literature."
If Stein's importance as a literary figure has largely been relegated to a secondary role, her influence as a personality should not be underestimated. She was an imposing figure, possessed of a remarkable self-confidence and a commanding manner. When couples came to visit her salon, Stein typically entertained the men, while shuttling the wives off to sit with Toklas. Writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, James R. Mellow suggested that Stein's unconventional lifestyle and "her openness to vanguard trends may have been encouraged by her erratic family life."
A Bohemian Lifestyle
Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, in 1874, Stein moved frequently and was exposed to three different languages before mastering one. When she was six months old, her parents took her and her two older brothers, Michael and Leo, abroad for a five-year European sojourn. Upon their return, they settled in Oakland, California, where Stein grew up. At age eighteen she followed her brother Leo to Baltimore, and while he attended Harvard, she enrolled in the Harvard Annex, renamed Radcliffe College before she graduated. At this time Stein's primary interest was the study of psychology under
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noted psychologist William James. With his encouragement, she published two research papers in the Harvard Psychological Review and enrolled in the Johns Hopkins Medical School. After failing several courses, Stein quit the program without earning a degree. Instead she followed Leo, first to London, and then to Paris, where he had settled early in 1903 to pursue a career as an artist. "Paris was the place," Stein is quoted in Gilbert A. Harrison's Gertrude Stein's America, "that suited us who were to create the twentieth century art and literature."
As soon as she arrived, Stein submerged herself in the bohemian community of the avant garde, described by her brother Leo as an "atmosphere of propaganda." With guidance from her eldest brother, Michael, an art collector who lived just a few blocks away, Stein began to amass a modern art collection of her own. She also, at age twenty-nine, dedicated herself in earnest to her writing.
Stein published her first—and some say her best—book in 1909. Three Lives is comprised of three short tales, each of which investigates the essential nature of its main character. Of these, "Melanctha," the portrait of a young mulatto girl who suffers an unhappy affair with a black doctor, has been particularly singled out for praise. A reworking of an auto-biographical story Stein wrote about an unhappy lesbian affair, the story "attempts to trace the curve of a passion, its rise, its climax, its collapse, with all the shifts and modulations between dissension and reconciliation along the way," wrote Mark Schorer in The World We Imagine. Mellow commended it as "one of the earliest and most sensitive treatments of Negro experience," attributing much of its success to "the racy, almost vernacular style of the dialogue."
The dialogue and other facets of the story reflect the influence of Stein's psychological training under James. "The identity of her characters as it is revealed in unconscious habits and rhythms of speech, the classification of all possible character types, and the problem of laying out as a continuous present knowledge that had accumulated over a period of time"—all are Jamesian questions that surface in the tale, according to Meredith Yearsley in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Since few, if any, writers had ever isolated these themes in this particular manner, the work remains significant. "Both for historical reasons and for intrinsic merit, 'Melanctha' must be ranked as one of the three or four thoroughly original short stories" produced during the twentieth century, Oscar Cargill concluded in his Intellectual America.
Produces Challenging Works of Literature
As she developed her craft, Stein became more experimental in her writing. Since her works were not published in the order in which they were composed, it is difficult to chart the progression of her experiments, but critics marked The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress— written between 1906 and1908 and published in 1925—as a milestone. A nine-hundred-page novel without dialogue or action, the book held no commercial interest and went unpublished for seventeen years. It began as a chronicle of a representative family and evolved into a history of the entire human race, reflecting both Stein's interest in psychology and her obsession with the process of experience. Not trusting narration to convey the complexity of human behavior, Stein employed description to achieve what she called "a continuous present." She compared the technique to a motion picture camera, which freezes action into separate frames. Though no two frames are exactly alike, when viewed in sequence they present a flowing continuity.
Katherine Anne Porter, in a critique of The Making of Americans published in The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings of Katherine Anne Porter, compared the experience of reading Stein's book to walking into "a great spiral, a slow, ever-widening, unmeasured spiral unrolling itself horizontally. The people in this world appear to be motionless at every stage of their progress, each one is simultaneously being born, arriving at all ages and dying. You perceive that it is a world without mobility, everything takes place, has taken place, will take place; therefore nothing takes place, all at once." Porter maintained that such writing was not based upon moral or intellectual judgments, but simply upon Stein's observations of "acts, words, appearances giving her view; limited, personal in the extreme, prejudiced without qualification, based on assumptions founded in the void of pure unreason." In his I Hear America, Vernon Loggins described Stein's language as "thought in the nude—not thought dressed up in the clothes of time-worn rhetoric." Mark Schorer also noted her process-oriented approach: "Her model now is Picasso in his cubist phase and her ambition a literary plasticity divorced from narrative sequence and consequence and hence from literary meaning. She was trying to transform literature from a temporal into a purely spatial art, to use words for their own sake alone." Stein carried this technique even further in Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms. Published at her own expense, the book contains passages of automatic writing and is configured as a series of paragraphs about objects. Devoid of logic, narration, and conventional grammar, it resembles a verbal collage. "Tender Buttons is to writing . . . exactly, what cubism is to art," wrote
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W. G. Rogers in When This You See Remember Me: Gertrude Stein in Person. "Both book and picture appeared in, belong to, can't be removed from our time. That particular quality in them which is usually ridiculed, the disparate, the dispersed, the getting onto a horse and riding off in all directions, the atomization of their respective materials, the distorted vision, all that was not imagined but rather drawn out of their unique age. If the twentieth century makes sense, so do Stein and Picasso." Despite its inaccessibility, Rogers called Tender Buttons "essential, for here is the kind of Stein that launched a thousand jibes; this represents the big break with the sort of books to which we had been accustomed, and once you have succumbed to it, you can take anything, you have become a Stein reader."
Stein explains the theory behind her techniques in Composition as Explanation. But even those critics who understood her approach were largely skeptical of her ability to reduce language to abstraction and still use it in a way that had meaning to anyone beyond herself. As Alfred Kazin noted in the Reporter, "she let the stream of her thoughts flow as if a book were only a receptacle for her mind. . . . But the trouble with these pure thinkers in art, criticism, and psychology is that the mind is always an instrument, not its own clear-cut subject matter." When Stein did embrace conventional subjects, as she did in her memoir, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, she was a resounding success.
Toklas, in Stein's Words
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas recounts Stein's experiences in the colorful art world of Paris between the world wars. It was written by Stein from Toklas's point of view, a technique that "enables Miss Stein to write about herself while pretending she is someone dearly devoted to herself," said New Outlook contributor Robert Cantwell. Notwithstanding the enormous egotism behind the endeavor, readers flocked to the publication, fascinated by the vivid portrait of a genuinely creative world. As Ralph Thompson noted in Current History, "The style is artful, consciously naive, at times pompous, but it is never boring or obscure, and is often highly amusing. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas should convince even the most skeptical that Miss Stein is gifted and has something to say." According to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Kimbel, "That the book was and still is the most widely read of all Stein's publications is ironic; for she regarded it as an inferior work, one sullied by her awareness of the audience for whom she was writing." Kimbel added, "Despite her reservations about the aesthetic purity of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, it is important because it demolishes the complaint by Leo Stein and others that she was incapable of writing coherent, conventional prose; because it is filled with lively, significant anecdotal material about her life and work; and because it is a witty, charming social chronicle, offering brief, penetrating characterizations of the famous, or the soon to be famous, in Paris's Left Bank community during the early years of the twentieth century."
In addition to writing books, Stein also contributed librettos to several operas by Virgil Thompson, notably Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All. The year after her autobiography appeared, Stein returned to the United States to celebrate the successful staging of Four Saints at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, and to conduct a lecture tour. Though she had been absent from the country for thirty years, Stein was treated royally and her return was front-page news in the major daily papers. She described her six-month visit in a second memoir, Everybody's Autobiography. Her tour completed, Stein returned to France where she remained for the rest of her life, though she moved from Paris to a village near the Swiss border during World War II. Many of her later writings took the war as a subject, notably Brewsie and Willie, which sought to capture the life of common American soldiers through their speech.
A History of Having a Great Many Times Not Continued to Be Friends: The Correspondence between Mabel Dodge and Gertrude Stein, 1911-1934 follows the relationship of two women, who met only a few times, through their letters. Stein and Dodge first met in Paris in 1911, and when Stein spent time with Dodge at her Italian villa, she was inspired to write Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia. New York Times Book Review contributor Julie Martin called this work "an impressionistic linking of vivid images suggesting the physical, emotional, and sexual goings-on at the villa, in particular Dodge's late-night trysts with her son's young tutor." Martin also noted that Dodge's memoirs hint at "some highly charged flirting" between Dodge and Stein. Dodge, a socialite and art connoisseur, married four times. In addition to Stein, she hosted Bernard Berenson in Europe, as well as Alfred Stieglitz, Lincoln Steffens, Carl Van Vechten, and her former lover John Reed, in New York. When she moved to Taos, New Mexico, her guests included psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and writers Thornton Wilder, Willa Cather, and Frieda and D. H. Lawrence. When Dodge moved to New York, she was instrumental in bringing modern art to the American public. She offered for sale at her 1913 exhibition an issue of the magazine Art and Decoration, which contained an article in which Dodge compared Stein's writing to Picasso's cubism. Some, including Dodge, speculated that their friendship cooled because of jealousy on the part of Toklas, but differences of opinion on how to promote Stein's writing in the United States may have had more to do with their deteriorating relationship. Their correspondence slowed, and Stein ignored Dodge's invitation to attend her marriage to Native American Tony Luhan, whose culture Dodge adopted after her move to Taos. The women's last contact was in 1934. Martin called the collected correspondence "a labour of love" and praised its "wonderful section of vintage photos of the main characters."
In her book Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein Brenda Wineapple explores the relationship between Gertrude and the brother with whom she was very close for much of her life. After his sister joined him in Paris, Leo's eye for art guided them in buying the collection for which Gertrude later took most of the credit. Wineapple suggests that the shy Leo was a source of support for the assertive Gertrude, who may have needed her brother more than has been supposed, and who may have drawn on his ideas in her work. Andrea Barnet wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "though it was probably not Ms. Wineapple's intention, Gertrude emerges as an insensitive self-promoter, an overbearing woman who seems to have had little compunction about cutting off friends or family when she no longer needed them. Leo comes off as far more sympathetic, an intense, slightly tragic figure who, hobbled by his own sensitivity, was forever reticent about reaching for the things he cared for the most."
Two collections of Stein's work were published as Gertrude Stein: Writings 1903-1932 and Gertrude Stein: Writings 1932-1946. "'America is my country and Paris is my hometown,' Stein used to say," noted Richard Howard in the New York Times Book Review, "and this great haul of her works in every imaginable genre (and some unimaginable) certainly constitutes the indemnification of an exile and the reward of a homecoming."
If you enjoy the works of Gertrude Stein
If you enjoy the works of Gertrude Stein, you may also want to check out the following books:
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, 1939.
Ezra Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 1948.
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, 1964.
In the 1980s, a cabinet in Yale University's Beinecke Library was unlocked, making public for the first time a collection of Stein's papers, including three hundred love notes exchanged between Stein and Toklas. Editor Kay Turner collected the best of these and published them as Baby Precious Always Shines: Selected Love Notes between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Most of the notes were written by Stein for Toklas, whom she called "Baby Precious," who in turn called Stein "Mr. Cuddle-Wuddle." The notes reveal nearly forty years of intimate poetry, declarations of affection, and details of their intimacy. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that "the collection makes a convincing case for Toklas's assertion that 'notes are a very beautiful form of literature,' personal, provocative, and tender."
The importance of Stein's contributions to philosophy and literature is still debated. Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Adrienne E. Hacker Daniels noted, "In her innovative uses of language Stein seems to have bridged the gap between conventionalism and experimentalism. A writer who strove to revitalize communication and rescue it from hackneyed clichés, she sought an instinctive use and understanding of language. For Stein language is the only tool capable of advancing social harmony and personal integrity and of negotiating the affiliation between thought and word." Remembered today largely as an interesting personality whose works are seldom read, Stein nonetheless has left her stamp upon modern literature. As John Ashbery wrote in ARTnews, "Her structures may be demolished; what remains is a sense of someone's having built."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Bay-Chang, Sarah, Mama Dada: Gertrude Stein's Avant-Garde Theater, Routledge, 2003.
Bloom, Harold, Gertrude Stein, Chelsea House, 1986.
Bridgman, Richard, Gertrude Stein in Pieces, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1971.
Brinnin, John Malcolm, The Third Rose: Gertrude Stein and Her World, 1959.
Caramallo, Charles, Henry James, Gertrude Stein, and the Biographical Act, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1996.
Cargill, Oscar, Intellectual America: Ideas on the March, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1941.
Carson, Luke, Consumption and Depression in Gertrude Stein, Louis Zukofsky, and Ezra Pound, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Concise Dictionary of Literary Biography, 1917-1929, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Dickie, Margaret, Stein, Bishop, and Rich: Lyrics of Love, War, and Peace, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1997.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 4: American Writers in Paris, 1920-1939, 1980, Volume 54: American Poets, 1880-1945, Third Series, 1987, Volume 86: American Short-Story Writers, 1910-1945, First Series, 1989, Volume 228: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, Second Series, 2000.
Dydo, Ulla E., and William Rice, Gertrude Stein: The Language That Rises: 1923-1934, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 2003.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Gay and Lesbian Biography, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Haight, Mary Ellen, Walks in Gertrude Stein's Paris, Gibbs Smith, 1988.
Hoffman, Michael J., Gertrude Stein, Twayne (New York, NY), 1976.
Kaufmann, Michael, Textual Bodies: Modernism, Post-modernism, and Print, Bucknell University Press (Lewisburg, PA), 1994.
Loggins, Vernon, I Hear America . . . Literature in the United States since 1900, Crowell (New York, NY), 1937.
McGill, Frank N., editor, Great Women Writers, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1994.
Mellow, James R., Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company, Owl Books, 2003.
Moore, George B., The Unfinished Aesthetic: Gertrude Stein and "The Making of Americans," Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1996.
Moore, George B., Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans: Repetition and the Emergence of Modernism, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1997.
Perelman, Bob, The Trouble with Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce, Stein, and Zukofsky, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1994.
Poetry Criticism, Volume 18, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Porter, Katherine Anne, The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings of Katherine Anne Porter, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1970.
Reid, Benjamin L., Art by Subtractions: A Dissenting Opinion on Gertrude Stein, 1958.
Riddel, Joseph N., The Turning Word: American Literary Modernism and Continental Theory, edited by Mark Bauerlein, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1996.
Rogers, W. G., When This You See Remember Me: Gertrude Stein in Person, Rinehart & Co. (New York, NY), 1948.
Reaves, Gerri, Mapping the Private Geography: Autobiography, Identity, and America, McFarland (Jefferson, NC), 2001.
Reference Guide to American Literature, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Russell, Paul, The Gay One Hundred, Citadel Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Schorer, Mark, The World We Imagine: Selected Essays, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1968.
Simon, Linda, Gertrude Stein Remembered, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1994.
Souhami, Diane, Gertrude and Alice, Pandora Press (New York, NY), 1991.
Stein, Gertrude, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1933.
Stein, Gertrude, Everybody's Autobiography, Random House (New York, NY), 1937.
Stein, Gertrude, Gertrude Stein's America, edited by Gilbert A. Harrison, R. B. Luce (Washington, DC), 1965.
Stein, Gertrude, From "The Making of Americans : Gleanings from the Book by Gertrude Stein, edited by Douglas Sorensen, Munklinde Vestergârd (Nambe, NM), 1994.
Stein, Gertrude, Mirrors of Friendship: The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, edited by Edward M. Burns, Ulla Dydo, and William Rice, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1996.
Stein, Gertrude, A History of Having a Great Many Times Not Continued to Be Friends: The Correspondence between Mabel Dodge and Gertrude Stein, 1911-1934, edited by Patricia Everett, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1996.
Stein, Leo, Appreciations: Painting, Poetry, and Prose, 1947.
Steiner, Wendy, Exact Resemblance to Exact Resemblance: The Literary Portraiture of Gertrude Stein, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1978.
Stendhal, Renate, editor, Gertrude Stein: In Words and Pictures: A Photobiography, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 1994.
Stewart, Allegra, Gertrude Stein and the Present, 1967.
Sutherland, Donald, Gertrude Stein: A Biography of Her Work, 1951.
Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1978, Volume 6, 1982, Volume 28, 1988, Volume 48, 1993.
Wagner-Martin, Linda, Favored Strangers: Gertrude Stein and Her Family, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1995.
Watson, Dana Cairns, Gertrude Stein and the Essence of What Happens, Vanderbilt University Press (Nashville, TN), 2005.
Watson, Steven, Prepare for Saints: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson, and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism, Random House (New York, NY), 1998.
Watts, Linda S., Rapture Untold: Gender, Mysticism, and the "Moment of Recognition" in Works by Gertrude Stein, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1996.
Weinstein, Norman, Gertrude Stein and the Literature of the Modern Consciousness, 1970.
Weiss, M. Lynn, Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright: The Poetics and Politics of Modernism, University Press of Mississippi, 1998.
Wickes, George, Americans in Paris, 1969.
Wilson, Edmund, Axel's Castle: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930, Scribner (New York, NY), 1931.
Wineapple, Brenda, Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein, Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.
American Literature, March, 1996, review of Last Operas and Plays, p. 292; June, 1997, review of Mirrors of Friendship: The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, p. 440; September, 1998, review of Writings, 1903-1932 and Writings, 1932-1946, p. 692.
ARTnews, February, 1971.
Biography, spring, 1999, review of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, p. 177.
Choice, April, 1997, review of Mirrors of Friendship, p. 1340.
Current History, January, 1934, Ralph Thompson, review of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
Harper's, June, 2000, "A Punt Is a Pass Is a Kick," p. 30.
Hudson Review, autumn, 1998, reviews of Writings, 1903-1932 and Writings, 1932-1946, p. 585.
Hungry Mind Review, winter, 1996, review of Mirrors of Friendship, p. 8.
Journal of American Studies, August, 1998, review of Mirrors of Friendship, p. 313.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1996, review of Mirrors of Friendship, p. 1520; September 15, 1999, review of Baby Precious Always Shines: Selected Love Notes between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, p. 1488; February 15, 2001, review of To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays, p. 214.
Library Journal, August, 1994, review of A Novel of Thank You, p. 141; September 15, 1995, review of Last Operas and Plays and The Geographical History of America, p. 58; December, 1995, review of The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress, p. 50; October 15, 1996, review of Mirrorsof Friendship, p. 59; March 15, 1998, review of Writings, 1903-1932 and Writings, 1932-1946, p. 100; January, 1999, review of Writings, 1903-1932 and Writings, 1932-1946, p. 168; April 1, 1999, review of Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms, p. 134; October 15, 1999, review of Baby Precious Always Shines, p. 72.
London Review of Books, October 19, 1995, review of Gertrude Stein: In Words and Pictures: A Photobiography, p. 23.
Mother Jones, July, 1995, review of The Geographical History of America, p. 72.
New Criterion, May, 1998, Donald Lyons, "The Sense of Gertrude Stein," p. 11.
New Outlook, October, 1933, Robert Cantwell, review of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
New Republic, June 8, 1998, review of Writings, 1903-1932 and Writings, 1932-1946, p. 26.
New Yorker, May 11, 1998, Claudi Roth Pierpont, "The Mother of Confusion: How Did Gertrude Stein Become the First True Voice of Modern Literature," pp. 80-89; June 2, 2003, Janet Malcolm, "Gertrude Stein's War," p. 59.
New York Times Book Review, June 2, 1996, Julie Martin, "Falling Out" and Andrea Barnet, "The Moderns"; January 12, 1997, review of The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, p. 26; December 7, 1997, review of Mirrors of Friendship, p. 72; May 3, 1998, Richard Howard, "There Is a Lot of Here Here."
Observer (London, England), March 9, 1997, review of Mirrors of Friendship, p. 18.
Opera News, January 6, 1996, p. 10.
Paris Review, fall, 1990, William Lundell, "Gertrude Stein: A Radio Interview," pp. 85-97.
People, February 12, 1996, p. 127.
Publishers Weekly, November 4, 1996, review of Mirrors of Friendship, p. 53; February 16, 1998, review of Writings, 1903-1932 and Writings, 1932-1946, p. 205; September 13, 1999, review of Baby Precious Always Shines, p. 67.
Reporter, February 18, 1960, Alfred Kazin, review of Composition as Explanation.
Sewanee Review, spring, 2002, Seymour L. Toll, "Gertrude Stein Comes Home," pp. 242-266.
Times Literary Supplement, February 2, 1996, review of The Making of Americans, p. 25.
Utne Reader, March, 1997, review of Mirrors of Friendship, p. 84.
Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 1999, review of Writings, 1903-1932 and Writings, 1932-1946, p. 20.
Washington Post Book World, January 21, 1996, review of The Making of Americans, p. 12; February 23, 1997, review of Mirrors of Friendship, p. 13.
Women's Review of Books, November, 1999, review of Baby Precious Always Shines, p. 6.
World Literature Today, winter, 1998, review of Mirrors of Friendship, p. 145.
Writer, October, 1995, p. 7.
Writer's Digest, February, 1996, p. 12.
Tender Buttons Web site,http://www.tenderbuttons.com/ (February 25, 2005).*
Born 13 February 1874, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; died 27 July 1946, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Daughter of Daniel and Amelia Keyser Stein; life partner Alice B. Toklas
Gertrude Stein was the last of seven children. Her father was an intense, restless, argumentative man who moved his family about Europe during her early years, before settling in Oakland, California. The death in 1888 of her mother, who came from a well-to-do German-Jewish family of artistic and mercantile accomplishment, plunged Stein into a painful, lonely adolescence. Her father's death three years later left her with a sense of release from firm restraint. Her principal companion as a child and until she was well into her thirties was her brother, Leo, a brilliant but erratic lifelong student of the arts.
In 1893 Stein enrolled in the Harvard Annex (renamed Radcliffe College the following year). She studied under Hugo Münsterberg in the Harvard Psychological Laboratory and with William James. Her college compositions, collected by Rosalind Miller, exhibit her passionate temperament and also her insecurity. She published a number of technical papers while at Harvard, including one with fellow student Leon Solomons, reporting their joint study of automatic responses. The behaviorist psychologist B. F. Skinner believes her writing style is in essence automatic writing and rooted in her undergraduate research experience.
At James's prompting, Stein went on to Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1897. There she completed two satisfactory years, but then became less disciplined in her work and did not receive her medical degree. She did research in neurology, lived in London and New York, and then joined Leo in Paris at 27, rue de Fleurus, the site of her now legendary salon.
Under Leo's guidance, she began to collect modern art. Her friendship with Picasso began in 1905; the following year, she sat for her portrait. In 1907 Alice B. Toklas arrived in Paris, and the two women soon established the love relationship that would endure for the remainder of their lives. In 1909 Toklas joined Stein at the rue de Fleurus and became a counter to Leo's vociferous disparagement of Stein's writing. Gertrude and Leo formally separated in 1913, with the women staying on at the rue de Fleurus.
Except for a visit to America in 1934 and 1935, Stein spent the rest of her life in Europe, mostly in France. Between 1916 and 1919, Stein and Toklas did war-relief work for the American Fund for French Wounded, and Stein was awarded the Médaille de la Reconnaissance in 1922 for this work. Following the war, Stein's studio became a haven for expatriate American writers and continued to be a showcase for abstract painters. In the 1930s, her reputation grew, especially with the extensive promotion of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933, reissued several times, most recently in 1993). She and Toklas spent much of World War II in the French countryside, where their fellow villagers protected them as Jews during the Nazi Occupation. Late in 1944, the two women returned to Paris and opened their apartment to American soldiers. Stein died in 1946, after an operation for cancer.
The range of her work is great, and her innovations in style make strict classifications difficult and misleading. She wrote poems, plays, novels, autobiography, theory, and criticism; and, in addition, she created new kinds of works, such as the "portraits."
Her first full-length work charts the dynamics of a lesbian love triangle. Q. E. D. was written in 1903 and published posthumously in 1950 as Things as They Are. Adele, the principal character, is modeled in Stein's own image, and the plot is patterned after her thwarted love affair at medical school. The novel is largely realistic, with an established set of characters and a sequential plot line. Stein is most concerned with the revelation of character through plot and believes character determines events. In this respect, she differs from contemporary naturalistic and realistic writers and their concern with the effects of deterministic forces external to the individual. She introduces a notion essential to her theory of character, the notion of "personal time," by which she means the integral patterning of response and event transcending any single response of the individual to experience, and which is unique to that individual.
Written between 1903 and 1911 but not published until 1925 (reprinted 1995), The Making of Americans; or, the History of a Family's Progress is Stein's most voluminous and possibly most accomplished prose work. Her original intention was to write a history of every American "who ever can or is or was or will be living," but her goal changed in the course of writing the novel. It begins in the realistic mode, with attention to delineation of time, place, and character, but swiftly becomes an autobiographical record in which she meditates on partially transformed aspects of her past and the movement of her consciousness at the moment of composition. Stein seeks to express the "bottom nature"—that rhythmic movement of consciousness that is what one essentially is, that makes up one's identity. As a consequence, the work becomes increasingly abstract, for narrative is abandoned and associative patterning determines the ordering of word and phrase and sentence.
Three Lives (1909, 1990) contains three stories of lower-class women. The heroines of "The Good Anna" and "The Gentle Lena" are lightly sketched, flat characters. "Melanctha," the most accomplished work of Three Lives, represents a great change and advance in Stein's style. Ostensibly, "Melanctha" concerns the relationship between a young mulatto woman and a black doctor; the fairly sympathetic portrayal of black characters is remarkable for the time. The work also concerns the same love triangle Stein had written of earlier. Now the focus is on Jeff Campbell who shares the cerebral, bourgeois quality of Stein's alter ego Adele in Q. E. D.; Melanctha, a vibrant, sensual woman corresponds to Adele's beloved. Stein later contended the detailed and complex characterization was the result of writing in the spirit of a Cézanne portrait, for she accords substantial attention to each aspect of her characters' composition. She was praised for using sentence forms that reflect her characters' mode of dealing with reality. For example, compound declarative sentences, replete with participial modifiers, represent Campbell's habitual recoiling from experience into endless rumination.
During the years from 1908 to 1913, Stein wrote one-to three-page prose "portraits" of her friends and acquaintances. The portraits were published in a variety of places: Alfred Stieglitz published "Picasso" and "Matisse" in Camera Work (1912); many were included in Portraits and Prayers (1934). In far shorter works than "Melanctha," Stein continues her study of how sentence forms can express character. The portraits have two prominent stylistic features: they contain repeated phrases and clauses and are lyrical. Repetition illustrates a character's essential rhythm and thus portrays the essential self.
The portraits are helpful in charting the increasing abstraction of Stein's style, the change from the minimal narrative and direct characterization of Three Lives to the hermetic style of Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms (1914, 1991). Instead of portraying the character of others, in the latter she meditates on her own individual mode of perceiving and reacting to experience. Virtually without referents and narrative, Tender Buttons is uni-fied by a single consciousness. In each of three parts ("Objects," "Food," and "Rooms"), Stein meditates on some element—a thing, a foodstuff, her role in society. It is, as Weinstein puts it, "a master score of phenomenology and psychology, naiveté and wisdom, nonsense and sense."
Stein's early plays, some of which are included in Geography and Plays (1922), use conventional dramatic elements in an idiosyncratic way to call attention to their mere conventionality. "Counting Her Dresses," for example, contains numerous "parts" and "acts" randomly assigned; most have one line, only one has three. Yet the subject is fairly accessible: the eccentricities, frailties, and vanities of women who identify with their outward appearance.
Composition as Explanation (1926) builds on the substance of talks Stein addressed to the literary societies of Oxford and Cambridge about her own work and that of other avant-garde writers and artists. The central concepts are the nature of composition, the necessary ugliness of masterpieces, and the continuous present.
By "composition," she means both the world as a set of phenomena perceived in any moment of time and the expression of this perception in a work of art. The artist creates an impression of what is seen in her time, but because her realization is far more sensitive and acute than that of others, her work is termed ugly by contemporaries. The greater the masterpiece, the more surely it will be judged ugly. Only in the future will the validity and beauty of such a work be established. The artist is, then, very much in and of her time, while her public lags behind. Such a theory served Stein's own minimal reputation in 1926.
Operas and Plays (1932) contains works spanning the years 1913 to 1931, including Stein's best-known opera, Four Saints in Three Acts (1927), for which Virgil Thomson composed the music. It deals with the condition of being a saint—of being constant in faith, of sustaining internal balance, of knowing one's identity clearly and truly. Like Stein's other dramatic pieces, it treats dramatic conventions in an unconventional manner. There are not four saints, but many; there are not three acts, but many; there is no identifiable setting, no external plot development. The setting is a state of mind, the plot a meditation on being. The religious significance of many lines has been explicated by critics, but the religiosity is not doctrinal.
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is Stein's most popular work and also her most stylistically accessible. By writing as if she were Toklas, she distances herself from her material and creates her own legend, and she takes advantage of a certain latitude with the truth allowed by the semifictional mode that results from her innovative use of narrative voice. It remains unclear to what degree Toklas herself contributed to the work's composition and editing. Stein recounts with sympathy and wit Toklas's life in San Francisco and arrival in Paris in 1907, relates her own early years (not necessarily accurately), and then treats the women's lives in Paris. The years before World War II are recalled with delight; the war and its aftermath as if in shadow. Her treatment of fellow artists is frequently severe and vituperative. It prompted the "Testimony Against Gertrude Stein" published by Eugene and Marie Jolas (in Transition in 1935) and signed by Braque, Matisse, and others who contend Stein understood very little of what was going on around her.
Lectures in America (1935) is Stein's theoretical explanation and justification of her work. It is fairly straightforward, highly egocentric, and thoroughly charming. Her assessment of her place in the history of literature must be looked at in the light of her intense sense of self-importance, but the lectures are significant because in them she sets up the critical framework (relating her writing to the goals of cubist painters) that is the most frequent means of explaining her style.
The Geographical History of America; or, The Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind (1936) is Stein's formal treatise on the nature and operation of consciousness. She distinguishes between the two major aspects of consciousness: human nature and human mind. Human nature is the agent of individual perception; it is bound to the sensible world and considers the concepts it creates to be reality. From human nature arise notions of past and future time that limit one's self-awareness. "What is the use of being a little boy if you are growing up to be a man," she writes, and by this she means that notions of time and identity limit the individual by diverting attention from the experience of the present. Human mind, for Stein, takes as its province abstract thought and has knowledge of the rhythm that underlies and organizes all experience, independent of individual perception. The artist who is aware of human nature—and there are few such besides herself, Stein believes—creates the finest work.
Everybody's Autobiography (1937, 1993) was intended to capitalize on the interest in Stein's work that The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and her 1934-35 visit to America had generated. It recounts her experiences as a visitor to America after an absence of 30 years. The general subjects are the American character, the American landscape, people she met there, and the production of Four Saints in Three Acts. Throughout, her overriding concern is with who she is. She seems to have suffered a substantial identity crisis when she finally achieved an audience and is here moving back inside herself to separate out the essential Stein from the public Stein
In The World Is Round (1939), Stein puts the traditional fairytale motif of individuation to her own use in a story for children. She recounts the experiences of two children, Rose and Willie, who seem to be projections of dual aspects of one self. The final union of Rose and Willie in marriage seems to represent knowledgeable self-acceptance gained through experience. The story may also be Stein's treatment of partners—sister and brother, woman and lover—which were essential to her own developing sense of identity. The tone of the work is quite different from her other work: it is wistful, even sad, although there are humorous moments.
Wars I Have Seen (1945), begun in 1942, is a journal of living in an occupied land and owes much to her friend Mildred Aldrich's work On the Edge of the War Zone (1917), written in similar circumstances during World War I. The subject matter is highly accessible, despite the lengthy sentences and absence of section headings. Of particular interest is Stein's almost exclusive focus on domestic affairs and her acceptance of the Vichy regime. Her placid attitude may be the result of her age—she was then seventy—her consistently conservative political views, and her lifelong need to bring events within the spectrum of her personal philosophy, often at the expense of the truth.
Brewsie and Willie (1946), Stein's last novel, demonstrates her sure ear for dialect and slang. Brewsie and Willie are polar characters. Brewsie is a thoughtful, restrained young man absorbed in the meaning of events. Stein identifies with his views in an addendum to the book. Willie is unconcerned with issues, loud, boisterous, and critical of others' seriousness. Their portraits are intended to represent American types and Stein's contention that Americans had become too rich and too self-satisfied. Although Stein rarely concerned herself with politics, she was reactionary for her time: a 19th-century rugged individualist at sea in the technological 20th century.
Stein's 43-year career was as prolific as it was long. It is however, her lot to be remembered primarily for her support and encouragement of other artists, and neglected for her own accomplishments as a writer. Undoubtedly, Stein's patronage of abstract painters encouraged and supported Picasso, Matisse, and others in their work. Her friendship with and close reading of such writers as Ernest Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson clearly affected the direction of their writing. Her own work was read by American and European writers, and the simplicity and purity of her language was well appreciated by a number of them. Stein's salon was a site of intellectual ferment at a time when Americans and Europeans were forging an artistic community in Paris. Still, Stein was accomplished as a writer herself, and it is time that increased critical attention is paid her and the measure of her innovative work made.
Useful Knowledge (1928). Lucy Church Amiably (1930). How to Write (1931, 1995). Matisse, Picasso, and Gertrude Stein, with Two Shorter Stories (1933). Narration (1935). Picasso (1938). Paris, France (1940, 1996). Ida: A Novel (1941). Four in America (1947). Blood on the Dining Room Floor (1948). The Gertrude Stein Reader and Three Plays (1948). Last Operas and Plays (1949). The Unpublished Works of Gertrude Stein (8 vols., 1951-58). A Novel of Thank You (1958, 1994). Gertrude Stein: Writings and Lectures, 1909-1945 (1967). Gertrude Stein on Picasso (edited by E. Burns, 1970). Fernhurst, Q. E. D., and Other Early Writings (1971). Sherwood Anderson/Gertrude Stein: Correspondence and Personal Essays (1972). A Book Concluding with As a Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story (1973). Reflections on the Atomic Bomb (1973). How Writing Is Done (1974). In Savoy; or, "Yes" Is for Yes for a Very Young Man (1977; produced, 1949). Really Reading Gertrude Stein: A Selected Anthology with Essays by Judy Grahn (1989). A Stein Reader (1993). Stanzas in Meditation (1994). The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder (1996). History, or Messages from History (1997). Writings, 1903-1932 (1998). Writings, 1932-1946 (1998). Baby Precious Always Shines: Selected Love Notes Between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (1999).
The papers of Gertrude Stein are housed in several locations, including the the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley; Beinecke Library of Yale University; and the Humanities Research Library of the University of Texas at Austin.
Alfrey, S., The Sublime of Intense Sociability: Emily Dickinson, H. D., and Gertrude Stein (1999). Berry, E. E., Curved Thought and Textual Wandering: Gertrude Stein's Postmodernism (1992). Bloom, H., American Women Fiction Writers, Volume Three, 1900-1960 (1998). Bowers, J. P., Gertrude Stein (1993). Bridgman, R., Gertrude Stein in Pieces (1970). Brinnin, J. M., The Third Rose: Gertrude Stein and Her World (1959). Gallup, D., ed., The Flowers of Friendship: Letters Written to Gertrude Stein (1953). Galvin, M. E., Queer Poetics: Five Modernist Women Writers (1999). Gygax, F., Gender and Genre in Gertrude Stein (1998). Hobhouse, J., Everybody Who Was Anybody: A Biography of Gertrude Stein (1975). Hoffman, F., Gertrude Stein (University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers, 1961). Hoffman, M., The Development of Abstractionism in the Writings of Gertrude Stein (1965). Hoffman, M., Gertrude Stein (1976). Klaich, D., Woman + Woman: Attitudes Towards Lesbianism (1974). Knapp, B. L., Gertrude Stein (1990). Kostelanetz, R., Gertrude Stein Advanced: An Anthology of Criticism (1991). Marren, S. M., "Passing for American: Establishing American Identity in the Work of James Weldon Johnson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nella Larsen and Gertrude Stein" (thesis, 1995). Mellow, J. R., Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein & Company (1974). Miller, R., Gertrude Stein: Form and Intelligibility (1949). Parini, J., ed., The Norton Book of American Autobiography (1999). Quartermain, P., Disjunctive Poetics: From Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukofsky to Susan Howe (1992). Riddel, J. N., The Turning Word: American Literary Modernism and Continental Theory (1996). Ruddick, L. C., Reading Gertrude Stein: Body, Text, Gnosis (1990). Simon, L., Gertrude Stein Remembered (1995). Souhami, D., Gertrude and Alice (1999). Sprigge, E., Gertrude Stein: Her Life and Work (1957). Stewart, A., Gertrude Stein and the Present (1950). Sutherland, D., Gertrude Stein: A Biography of Her Work (1951). Toklas, A. B.,Staying on Alone: Letters of Alice B. Toklas (1973). Toklas, A. B., What Is Remembered (1963). Watson, S., Prepare for Saints: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson, and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism (1998). Wilson, R. A., Gertrude Stein: A Bibliography (1994). Wineapple, B., Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein (1997 1996).
Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). Poetry Criticism (1997).
American Literature (1973, 1996). American Scholar (1998). Ascent (Autumn 1958). Biography (Spring 1999). College Literature (June 1996). Forum for Modern Language Studies (1996). Massachusetts Review (Fall 1997). Midstream: A Monthly Jewish Review (June 1996). Modern Fiction Studies (1996). NYRB (8 April 1971). South Dakota Review (Fall 1997).
UPDATED BY NELSON RHODES
BORN: 1874, Pennsylvania
DIED: 1946, France
GENRE: Poetry, drama, fiction, nonfiction
Three Lives (1909)
Tender Buttons (1914)
Geography and Plays (1922)
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933)
The Mother of Us All (1947)
A controversial figure during her lifetime, Stein is now regarded as a major literary modernist and one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. Working against the naturalistic conventions of nineteenth-century fiction, she developed an abstract manner of
expression that was a counterpart in language to the work of the postimpressionists and cubists in the visual arts. Stein wrote prolifically in many genres, composing novels, poetry, plays, and literary portraits. Her radical approach to these forms was admired and emulated by other writers of her era and has served as a key inspiration for such postmodernist writers as the French New Novelists.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Childhood in California The youngest daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, Stein spent most of her childhood in Oakland, California. Biographers describe her mother as a weak, ineffectual woman and her father as an irrational tyrant; a few have inferred that this family situation is the origin of Stein's lifelong aversion to patriarchal cultural values. Lacking a satisfactory relationship with her parents, she grew very close to her brother Leo.
The Influence of William James When Leo went to Harvard in 1892, Stein enrolled in the all-female Harvard Annex—soon to become Radcliffe College—the following year. Radcliffe, and in particular her favorite professor there, the psychologist William James, proved a decisive influence on her intellectual development. Many of James's teachings, including his theories of perception and personality types, would inspire her own theories of literary aesthetics.
Decision to Pursue Psychology With James's encouragement, Stein decided to become a psychologist and began medical studies at Johns Hopkins University as part of her training. In 1902, however, after several years of study, she grew disaffected with medicine and left the university without completing her degree. In the months that followed, Stein devoted herself to the study of literary classics. Inspired by her reading, particularly the works of Gustave Flaubert and Henry James, she began to write her first novels.
Violating Formal Conventions: The Modernist Movement In 1903, after travels in Europe and Africa, Stein and Leo settled in Paris, where they began to collect work by the new modernist painters and became personally acquainted with many of them, including Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. The Steins's apartment became a salon where numerous artists and literary figures, such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Marie Laurencin, and Max Jacob, met regularly. Stein particularly enjoyed the company of Picasso, who in 1906 painted a portrait of her that would become one of his best-known works, and she greatly admired his artistic style, as well as that of such other painters as Cézanne and Juan Gris, who experimented in their works with ways of conveying a more profound and truthful vision of reality than that allowed by the naturalistic techniques of the nineteenth century. This revolution in the visual arts encouraged Stein to formulate a literary aesthetic that would, similarly, violate existing formal conventions in order to allow the reader to experience language and ideas in provocative new ways.
A Lifelong Partnership with Alice B. Toklas Leo, however, who was not as enthusiastic about modernist painting, responded to his sister's work with scorn, causing her anxiety and self-doubt. Stein found a much more appreciative audience in her friend Alice B. Toklas, a young woman from California who was staying in Paris. In 1909 Stein invited Toklas to live with her, and the women developed a close and affectionate relationship that Stein referred to as a marriage; they remained together for the rest of their lives. Toklas was not only Stein's devoted friend and lover but a vital part of her literary work, helping her to prepare manuscripts and providing her with much-needed encouragement. Because commercial publishers initially rejected her work, Stein was forced to subsidize the printing of her first books. However, many of her distinguished and influential friends, most notably art patron Mabel Dodge, critic Carl Van Vechten, and poet Edith Sitwell, admired and promoted her writings, and by the outbreak of World War I she was regarded as a central figure in the modernist movement.
Volunteering in World War I Stein and Toklas were sent to Alsace to help provide relief for civilians during World War I. Prior to the war, Alsace was controlled by the German Empire but in 1918, after the Treaty of Versailles was signed, the region reverted to France. So dedicated to the volunteer effort were Stein and Toklas that they sold their last Matisse painting, the once controversial Woman with a Hat, in order to take the assignment. At the end of the war, the French recognized their services with the Médaille de la Réconnaissance Française.
Lectures at Oxford and Cambridge In 1925, after Stein's unsuccessful attempt to have Hogarth Press publish The Making of Americans, Edith Sitwell, realizing that Stein needed more publicity, arranged for Stein to lecture at Oxford and Cambridge in 1926. By 1930, Stein and Toklas were living a pleasantly domestic life of gardening, preserving, and baking cakes in their summer residence at Bilignin. Basket, the white poodle they had acquired in 1928, had made a dog lover of Stein. “I am I because my little dog knows me,” she would write in 1935: one's identity was the self that others knew.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Stein's famous contemporaries include:
Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961): American expatriate writer who prompted Stein to remark upon the “Lost Generation.”
Pablo Picasso (1881–1973): Famous Spanish artist responsible for cubism and a good friend of Stein.
Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946): One of the first to make photography a respectable art form, Stieglitz is also famous for his marriage to artist Georgia O'Keeffe.
Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918): French writer and friend of Stein; one of the founders of the surrealist movement.
William James (1842–1910): Brother of novelist Henry James; famous American philosopher, psychologist, and doctor; mentor to Gertrude Stein.
Death from Inoperable Cancer On July 19, 1946, Gertrude Stein collapsed on her way to stay at the country house of a friend. She was immediately rushed to the American Hospital at Neuilly, where she was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, but against medical discretion, she ordered the doctors to operate. On July 23 she made her will, then settled in to wait, heavily sedated and in considerable pain, for the operation, scheduled for July 27. She died on the operating table while still under anesthesia. “What is the answer?” she asked Toklas just before her death. Toklas remained silent. “In that case what is the question?” Stein added. Toklas herself died on March 7, 1967, and is buried next to Stein in Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Works in Literary Context
In her innovative uses of language Stein has bridged the gap between conventionalism and experimentalism. A writer who strove to revitalize communication and rescue it from hackneyed clichés, she sought an instinctive use and understanding of language. For Stein language was the only tool capable of advancing social harmony and personal integrity and of negotiating the affiliation between thought and word. Stein's writings were influenced by the work of psychologist William James and Gustave Flaubert, the paintings of Paul Cézanne, and her relationship with her life partner, Alice B. Toklas.
Redefining Rhythm and Rhyme In his introduction to Gertrude Stein's Four in America (1947), Thornton Wilder observed:
She knew that she was a difficult and an idiosyncratic author. She pursued her aims, however, with such conviction and intensity that occasionally she forgot that the results could be difficult to others. At such times the achievements she had made in writing, in “telling what she knew” (her most frequent formalization of the aim of writing) had to her the character of self-evident beauty and clarity. A friend, to whom she showed recently completed examples of her poetry, was frequently driven to reply sadly: “But you forget that I don't understand examples of your extreme styles.” To this she would reply with a mixture of bewilderment, distress, and exasperation: “But what's the difficulty? Just read the words on the paper. They're in English. Just read them. Be simple and you'll understand these things.”
Pieces such as the rhythmic and evocative “Susie Asado” (in Geography and Plays), Marjorie Perloff has pointed out, must be read as multiple interlocking and open-ended systems in which each element and system is as important as any other. In “Susie Asado” such systems include the sound patterns of flamenco-dance rhythms, the series of sensual suggestions in phrases such as “the wets,” the pun on “sweet tea” or “slips slips hers,” and the suggestion of a tea ceremony in a garden—” told tray,” “sash,” “rare bit of trees,” and the Japanese sound of the name Susie Asado.
Stein's radical approach to literature was admired and emulated by other writers of her era, including Ernest Hemingway, Thornton Wilder, and Sherwood Anderson and has served as a key inspiration for such postmodernist writers as the French New Novelists and William H. Gass.
Works in Critical Context
Always a writer's writer, Stein's influence is still growing. The persistent activity of her artistic vision makes her a major writer of this century, comparable in the magnitude of her perception and achievement to her contemporaries Ezra Pound and James Joyce. During Stein's lifetime, however, her innovative writing, often the butt of reviewers' parodies, received little recognition or understanding.
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas With The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein proved to her critics that she was capable of writing a relatively conventional, commercially successful work. While most reviewers were charmed by the autobiography's wit and engaging conversational style, not all were pleased. A group of Stein's friends from the art world, including Tristan Tzara and Henri Matisse, published “Testimony against Gertrude Stein,” in which they condemned the Autobiography as a shallow, distorted portrayal of their lives and work. “Miss Stein understood nothing of what went on around her,” protested painter Georges Braque. Stein nevertheless followed the popular success of the Autobiography with other memoirs.
Stanzas in Meditation “It came to Gertrude Stein,” critic Donald Sutherland points out, that “after all grammar and rhetoric are in themselves actualizations of ideas.” In Stanzas in Meditation, he adds, “Stein solved the problem of keeping ideas in their primary life, that is of making them events in a subjective continuum of writing … about ideas about writing.” Sutherland places the poem with Pound's Cantos and T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets in the “tradition of the long, rambling, discursive poem whose interest and energy are primarily in the movement of the poet's mind writing.”
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
Stein is noted most for her unusual use of language. In most of her works, she strives to alter a phrase's meaning with alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds), assonance (rhyme), or what at first seems like nonsense. Here are some other works that modify and distort language in order to achieve a certain effect on the reader or viewer:
The Cantos (1922), a poem by Ezra Pound. A long poem composed of Chinese characters and chaotic rhythms.
Naked Lunch (1959), a novel by William S. Burroughs. This novel consists of cut-up chapters that can be read in any order and that detail the protagonist's hallucinogenic journey to a place called Interzone.
Eraserhead (1977), a film directed by David Lynch. One of the first cult films, much of the dialogue consists of screaming and incomprehensible dream sequences.
Responses to Literature
- Read the poem “Susie Asado.” Can you find evidence of Japanese influence? Provide examples.
- Why do you think most of Stein's plays are called “landscape plays”?
- Using your library and/or the Internet, research the cubist and surrealist art movements. What are the main characteristics of each? Do you think Stein's early work reflects more of a cubist style or a surrealist style? Why?
- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is essentially Stein's own autobiography, written from the point of view of her partner. How does she describe herself as a character in her own memoir? Why do you think she chose to write the book from the point of view of Toklas instead of herself?
De Koven, Marianne. A Different Language: Gertrude Stein's Experimental Writing. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983.
Hoffman, Michael. The Development of Abstractionism in the Writings of Gertrude Stein. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1965.
Luhan, Mabel Dodge. European Experiences. Volume 2 of Intimate Memories. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1935.
Toklas, Alice B. What Is Remembered. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964.
Gass, William H. “Gertrude Stein: Her Escape from Protective Language.” Accent 18 (Autumn 1958): 233–44.
Perloff, Marjorie. “Poetry as Word-System: The Art of Gertrude Stein.” American Poetry Review 8 (September/October 1979): 33–43.
Williams, William Carlos. “The Work of Gertrude Stein.” Pagany 1 (Winter 1930).
Nationality: American. Born: Allegheny, Pennsylvania, 3 February 1874; as a child lived in Vienna, Paris, and Oakland, California. Education: Schools in Oakland and San Francisco; Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachussetts, 1893-97; studied philosophy under William James, B.A. (Harvard University), 1897; studied medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore, 1897-1901. Career: Lived in Paris from 1903, with Alice B. Toklas from 1908; center of a circle of artists, including Picasso, Matisse, and Braque, and of writers, including Hemingway, q.v., and Fitzgerald, q.v.; lived in Mallorca, 1914-16; worked with American Fund for French Wounded, 1917-18; founder, Plain Edition, Paris, 1930-33; lectured in the U.S., 1934-35. Died: 27 July 1946.
Writings and Lectures 1911-1945 (selection), edited by PatriciaMeyerowitz. 1967; as Look at Me Now and Here I Am, 1971.
Selected Operas and Plays, edited by John Malcolm Brinnin. 1970.
The Yale Stein: Selections, edited by Richard Kostelanetz. 1980.
A Stein Reader. 1993.
Writings, 1903-1932. 1998.
Writings, 1932-1946. 1998.
Three Lives: Stories of the Good Anna, Melanctha, and the Gentle Lena. 1909.
Mrs. Reynolds, and Five Earlier Novelettes, edited by Carl VanVechten. 1952.
The Making of Americans, Being a History of a Family's Progress. 1925.
A Book Concluding with As a Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story. 1926.
Lucy Church Amiably. 1931.
Ida: A Novel. 1941.
Brewsie and Willie. 1946.
Blood on the Dining Room Floor. 1948.
Things as They Are: A Novel in Three Parts. 1950.
A Novel of Thank You, edited by Carl Van Vechten. 1958.
Lifting Belly, edited by Rebecca Marks. 1989.
Geography and Plays. 1922.
A Village: Are You Ready Yet Not Yet. 1928.
Operas and Plays. 1932.
Four Saints in Three Acts, music by Virgil Thomson (produced1934). 1934.
A Wedding Bouquet: Ballet, music by Lord Berners (produced1936). 1936.
In Savoy; or, Yes Is for a Very Young Man (produced 1946). 1946.
The Mother of Us All, music by Virgil Thomson (produced1947). 1947.
Last Operas and Plays, edited by Carl Van Vechten. 1949.
In a Garden, music by Meyer Kupferman (produced 1951). 1951.
Lucretia Borgia. 1968.
D. Faustus Lights the Lights (produced 1984).
Operas and Plays. 1987.
Poetry and Prose Poems
Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms. 1914.
Have They Attacked Mary. He Giggled. 1917.
Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded Friendship Faded. 1931.
Two (Hitherto Unpublished) Poems. 1948.
Stanzas in Meditation and Other Poems (1929-1933), edited by Carl Van Vechten. 1956.
Portrait of Mabel Dodge. 1912.
Composition as Explanation. 1926.
Descriptions of Literature. 1926.
An Elucidation. 1927.
Useful Knowledge. 1928.
An Acquaintance with Description. 1929.
Dix Portraits. 1930.
How to Write. 1931.
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. 1933.
Matisse, Picasso, and Gertrude Stein, with Two Shorter Stories. 1933.
Portraits and Prayers. 1934.
Chicago Inscriptions. 1934.
Lectures in America. 1935.
Narration: Four Lectures. 1935.
The Geographical History of America; or, The Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind. 1936.
Everybody's Autobiography. 1937.
The World Is Round (for children). 1939.
Paris France. 1940.
What Are Masterpieces. 1940.
Petits poèmes pour un livre de lecture (for children). 1944; translated as The First Reader, and Three Plays, 1946.
Wars I Have Seen. 1945.
Selected Writings, edited by Carl Van Vechten. 1946.
Four in America. 1947.
Kisses Can. 1947.
Literally True. 1947.
Two: Stein and Her Brother and Other Early Portraits (1908-1912), edited by Carl Van Vechten. 1951.
Bee Time Vine and Other Pieces (1913-1927), edited by Carl VanVechten. 1953.
As Fine as Melanctha (1914-1930), edited by Carl Van Vechten. 1954.
Painted Lace and Other Pieces (1914-1937), edited by Carl VanVechten. 1955.
Absolutely Bob Brown; or, Bobbed Brown. 1955.
To Bobchen Haas. 1957.
Alphabets and Birthdays, edited by Carl Van Vechten. 1957.
On Our Way (letters). 1959.
Cultivated Motor Automatism, with Leon M. Solomons. 1969.
Stein on Picasso, edited by Edward Burns. 1970.
A Primer for the Gradual Understanding of Stein, edited by RobertBartlett Haas. 1971.
Fernhurst, Q.E.D., and Other Early Writings, edited by LeonKatz. 1971.
Reflection on the Atomic Bomb, edited by Robert Bartlett Haas. 1973.
How Writing Is Written, edited by Robert Bartlett Haas. 1974.
Dear Sammy: Letters from Stein to Alice B. Toklas, edited by Samuel M. Steward. 1977.
The Letters of Stein and Carl Van Vechten 1913-1946, edited by Edward Burns. 2 vols., 1986.
The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder. 1996.*
Stein: A Bibliography by Robert A. Wilson, 1974; Stein: An Annotated Critical Bibliography by Maureen R. Liston, 1979; Stein and Alice B. Toklas: A Reference Guide by Ray Lewis White, 1984; Gertrude Stein: A Bibliography by Robert A. Wilson, 1994.
Stein: Form and Intelligibility by Rosalind S. Miller, 1949; Stein: A Biography of Her Work by Donald Sutherland, 1951; The Flowers of Friendship (letters to Stein) edited by Donald Gallup, 1953; Stein: Her Life and Work by Elizabeth Sprigge, 1957; The Third Rose: Stein and Her World by John Malcolm Brinnin, 1959; Stein by Frederick J. Hoffman, 1961; What Is Remembered by Alice B. Toklas, 1963, and Staying On Alone: Letters of Alice B. Toklas edited by Edward Burns, 1973; The Development of Abstractionism in the Writings of Stein, 1965, and Stein, 1976, both by Michael J. Hoffman; Stein and the Present by Allegra Stewart, 1967; Stein and the Literature of Modern Consciousness by Norman Weinstein, 1970; Stein in Pieces by Richard Bridgman, 1970; Stein: A Biography by Howard Greenfield, 1973; Charmed Circle by James Mellow, 1974; Stein: A Composite Portrait edited by Linda Simon, 1974; Everybody Who Was Anybody: A Biography of Stein by Janet Hobhouse, 1975; Exact Resemblance to Exact Resemblance: The Literary Portraiture of Stein by Wendy Steiner, 1978; Stein: Autobiography and the Problem of Narration by Shirley C. Neuman, 1979, and Stein and the Making of Literature by Neuman and Ira B. Nadel, 1988; A Different Language: Stein's Experimental Writing by Marianne DeKoven, 1983; The Structure of Obscurity: Stein, Language and Cubism by Randa Dubnick, 1984; Stein's Theatre of the Absolute by Betsy Alayne Ryan, 1984; The Making of a Modernist: Stein from Three Lives to Tender Buttons by Jayne L. Walker, 1984; Stein edited by Harold Bloom, 1986; The Public Is Invited to Dance: Representation, the Body and Dialogue in Stein by Harriet Scott Shessman, 1989; Stein Advanced: An Anthology of Criticism edited by Richard Kostelanetz, 1990; Gertrude and Alice by Diana Souhami, 1992; Gertrude Stein by Jane Palatini Bowers, 1993; Favored Strangers: Gertrude Stein and Her Family by Linda Wagner-Martin, 1995; Henry James, Gertrude Stein and the Biographical Act by Charles Caramello, 1996; Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans: Repetition and the Emergence of Modernism by George B. Moore, 1997; Gender and Genre in Gertrude Stein by Franziska Gygax, 1998.* * *
Gertrude Stein's writing defies classification by genre because of its variety as well as its experimental nature. Her short fiction, however, offers an attractive if unbalanced introduction to her work, beginning with Q.E.D., a quasi-autobiographical novella written in 1903. It is remarkable for its sexual candor, particularly so as the work of a young American female at the turn of the century. Here Gertrude Stein explores human behavior through three women locked in an emotional vise, as their disparate characters attempt to manipulate each other both sexually and intellectually. Adele is gauche, cerebral, and bourgeois; Mabel is experienced, passionate, and aristocratic. Their combat for the beautiful but passive Helen leads to the book's stalemate, borne alternately of lesbian alliances and frustrations. Q.E.D. bears little resemblance to anything Stein wrote afterward. Her work progressed from startling discovery to startling discovery in form, although the content remained largely if not exclusively autobiographical.
Two years later she had completed Three Lives, a trio of naturalist novellas. The prose in "The Good Anna" is fairly conventional, although this German servant's spoken idiom infects the narrative with attenuated locutions. "The Gentle Lena" combines the stumbling speech of a second German domestic with a touching narrative of failure more successfully. "Melanctha," the best known and most often reprinted of the stories, indicates Stein's movement toward what she later called a "prolonged present," delaying the narrative until it had been transformed into a "continuous present." A similar but far more convoluted and repetitive prose identifies Stein's other early work, until about 1912.
After Three Lives she wrote a long, dense, largely plotless novel of paragraph-long and sometimes page-long sentences, The Making of Americans, between 1906 and 1911; but she began to experiment during that time with word portraits of people she knew, constructing them of accretive variations in similarly protracted sentences. These resulted occasionally in biographies thinly disguised as short fiction. "Orta or One Dancing," for example, is Isadora Duncan who, Stein wrote in Two, "was one dancing in being one being that one being the one dancing then." "Miss Furr and Miss Skeene" are Maud Hunt Squire and Ethel Mars, Paris acquaintances whose private life together, wrote Stein in Geography and Plays, consists—in perhaps the first use of the euphemism in print—of "being gay, they were gay every day, they were regular, they were gay, they were gay the same length of time every day, they were gay, they were quite regularly gay." "Ada" is Alice B. Toklas, who became at the time of these compositions Stein's secretary, companion, lover, and alter-ego in a symbiotic relationship that lasted until death; indeed, in "Ada," "someone was then the other one" (Geography and Plays).
That observation continued to inform Stein's writing for the next 25 years, during which she devoted herself to a series of experimental pieces in a variety of forms, notably plays (although they are not conventionally stageable), dialogues, and poems to celebrate the major joys and minor disruptions in her apparently happy marriage. She interrupted these often erotic compositions—all rich in the word-play and puns that characterized much of her writing—with two novels, the hermetic A Novel of Thank You and Lucy Church Amiably, accurately described on the title page as "A Novel of Romantic Beauty and Nature and which Looks Like an Engraving." Simultaneously, she began to formulate her theories about grammar and rhetoric in a series of elliptical essays and meditations.
Then, in 1933, Stein's engaging memoirs were published as The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, written in the acerbic voice of the eponymous subject, forgoing Stein's garrulousness for Toklas's pith. The best-seller success of this curious but accessible work gave Stein both readers and royalties for the first time; afterward she divided her energies about equally between what she called "identity" writing for an audience and "entity" writing for herself. Nearly all of her subsequent fiction fell in the latter category, beginning with Blood on the Dining Room Floor, a brief, unsolved murder mystery nearly as impenetrable as most of the erotic apostrophes to Toklas that had preceded it.
During a 1934-35 American lecture tour Stein synthesized her ideas about narrative forms in a seminar at the University of Chicago. Published as Narration, her lectures contended that conventional narrative was no longer appropriate in the modern world, and she modified somewhat her earlier assertions about the emotional life of paragraphs rather than of sentences. She had found greater strength in the balance of the latter, she believed, and she used several examples, from popular road signs to the Old Testament, to prove her point. These considerations brought her to a revised definition of literature: "The telling of anything but in telling that thing where is the audience…. Undoubtedly that audience has to be there for the purpose of recognition as the telling is proceeding to be written and that audience must be at one with the writing."
Other short fiction that did not entirely adhere to this declaration followed. The World Is Round, written in 1939, is about a little girl named Rose who climbs a mountain with a chair, despite perilous adventures and artistic endeavors along the way. En route, for example, Rose carves Stein's quintessential observation, written many years before, around a tree trunk so that it meets itself to make a ring: "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." Here, then, are aspiration, execution fraught with dangers, and achievement—autobiography disguised as a children's story.
Stein's novel Ida followed in 1941, arguably her most successful short fiction and an excellent example of the kind of narrative she had referred to in Narration as "permanently good reading." Ida's amorous history begins when her twin Ida-Ida disappears at birth, at the end of the first paragraph. Ida then reinvents her and, when she disappears again, absorbs the twin's personality into her own. Here Stein imaginatively rather than theoretically toys with the difference between "identity" and "entity." Ida's ensuing liaisons include a quartet of husbands before she ends up in Washington, D.C., as a celebrated hostess who has brief flings. All of these romances are spun with Stein's familiar rhyming and verbal games along Ida's erratic route; but no plot summary can impart the pleasures of Ida, for they lie as much in form as in content.
Stein's final work was another short novel, Brewsie and Willie, in 1946, about American servicemen in Paris after the war. She wrote it almost entirely in dialogue, slangy, colloquial, often passionate, but recreated through her own unique and insistent voice, like no other in American literature. Although Stein is not usually identified as a writer of fiction, much of what she did write in the genre offers an unusually accessible avenue into her often bewildering work.
See the essay on "Melanctha."
American writer Gertrude Stein was a powerful literary force in the early part of the twentieth century. Although the ultimate value of her writing was a matter of debate, it greatly affected the work of a generation of American writers.
Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, on February 3, 1874, the youngest of five children of Daniel and Amelia Stein, her wealthy German-Jewish-American parents. As a child, she lived in Vienna, Austria, and Paris, France, but grew up mainly in Oakland, and San Francisco, California. Living in these different countries, she learned to speak German, French, and English fluently. She also learned music and dance. Her early formal education was spotty, but she was a dedicated reader and had a strong interest in art. When Stein was fourteen her mother died, followed by her father just three years later. With the family splintered, Stein, along with one sister, moved to Baltimore, Maryland, to live with her aunt.
With only a year of high school, Stein managed to be admitted in 1893 to Radcliffe College, in Massachusetts, where she specialized in psychology (the study of the mind) and became a favorite of psychologist and philosopher (one who seeks wisdom about humans and their place in the universe) William James (1842–1910). He discovered her great capacity for automatic writing, in which the conscious waking mind is suspended and the unconscious sleeping mind takes over. The emphasis of the primitive mind at the expense of the sophisticated mind was to become an important part in Stein's theory and is demonstrated in most of her writing.
Moves to France
Stein did not take a degree at Radcliffe or Johns Hopkins University, in Maryland, where she studied medicine for four years. In 1903 she went to Paris, France, and took up residence on the Left Bank (a famous neighborhood in Paris) with her brother Leo. In 1907 she met Alice B. Toklas (1877–1967), a wealthy young San Franciscan who became her lifelong companion and secretary, running the household, typing manuscripts, and screening visitors. France became their permanent home.
During Stein's early Paris years she established herself as a champion of the avant-garde painters, or artists that strive for new methods and techniques within their art. With her inherited wealth she supported young artists and knew virtually all of the important painters, including Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), who did a famous portrait of her, Henri Matisse (1869–1954), Juan Gris (1887–1927), Andrée Derain (1880–1954), and Georges Braque (1882–1963). Her brother Leo became a famous art critic, but their relationship, which had been extremely close, fell apart in 1912 because of a disagreement over his marriage.
Stein's first two books, Three Lives (1909) and Tender Buttons (1915), stirred considerable interest among a limited but sophisticated audience, and her home became an informal meeting place visited by many creative people, including American composer Virgil Thomson (1896–1969), British writers Ford Madox Ford (1873–1939), Lytton Strachey (1880–1932), and Edith Sitwell (1887–1964), and American writers Ezra Pound (1885–1972), Elliot Paul (1891–1958), Sherwood Anderson (1876–1941), F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), and Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961). It was to Hemingway that Stein characterized the disenchanted expatriate veterans (those living overseas) as a "lost generation."
A woman with deep black eyes and a supremely self-assured manner, Stein was frequently intimidating, impatient with disagreement, and oftentimes pushed people away. The unique style of her writing appealed primarily to a small audience, but her reputation as a patron of the arts was lifelong.
Stein's 1934 visit to the United States for the opening of her opera Four Saints in Three Acts, with music by Virgil Thomson, started an enormously successful university lecture tour. During the German occupation of France (the time during World War II when German forces took over large portions of France), both Stein and Toklas lived briefly in Culoz, France, returning to Paris in 1944. Stein's reactions to World War II (1939–45; a war in which American-led British, French, Soviet, and American forces battled those led by Germany) were recorded in Paris, France (1940) and Wars I Have Seen (1945), and her interest in the soldiers was reflected in the conversations of Brewsie and Willie (1946), which was published a week before her death, on July 27, 1946, in Neuilly, France.
Stein's first book, Three Lives, her most realistic work, foreshadowed her more abstract (conceptual and not easily expressed by conventional methods) writings and demonstrated a number of influences including, Gustave Flaubert's (1821–1880) Trois contes, and automatic writing. "Melanctha," the best of the three novellas (written pieces that are shorter than a novel but longer than a short story) that made up the book, was an especially tender treatment of an impulsive, flirting African American woman whose relations with men were recorded in a informal, deliberately repetitious style intended to capture the immediacy of consciousness. Stein wanted to give literature the plastic freedom that painting has, and Tender Buttons was a striking attempt at verbal "portraits" in the manner of the cubist painters, an early twentieth-century movement that emphasized the use of geometric shapes.
Stein's The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress (1925) gave character analysis within a family chronicle, although it was chiefly concerned with the servants and only very little with the family members. In the 1930s and 1940s she concentrated on memoirs (an account of personal experience), aesthetic theory, plays, and art criticism. How to Write (1931) and The Geographical History of America: The Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind (1936) explained the theoretical basis of her literary practice.
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), written as if by Toklas, was an autobiography of Stein. Unexpectedly readable and charming, it became a best-seller. Critic F. W. Dupee called it "one of the best memoirs in American literature." A sequel, Everybody's Autobiography (1937), described Stein's visit to America, and Portraits and Prayers (1934) was a collection of verbal pictures of her Paris circle.
Stein's libretto (opera) for Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) was a study of the attraction of opposites—the self-disciplined and the compassionate. Picasso (1939) was an inconsistent, witty, sometimes illuminating study of the development of the great painter's art. Her three wartime books and In Savoy; Or Yes Is for a Very Young Man: A Play of the Resistance in France (1946) showed unexpected social concern.
After Stein's death, there were numerous publications of the works she left behind. Some of the more notable are The Previously Uncollected Writings of Gertrude Stein and Dear Sammy: Letters from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. These works were released in 1974 and 1977 respectively. In 1996 Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts was remade into an avant-garde opera.
For More Information
Simon, Linda. Gertrude Stein Remembered. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.
Souhami, Diana. Gertrude and Alice. San Francisco: Pandora, 1992.
Wineapple, Brenda. Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1996.
American writer Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) was a powerful literary force in the period around World War I. Although the ultimate value of her writing was a matter of debate, in its time it profoundly affected the work of a generation of American writers.
Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, on February 3, 1874, the youngest of five children of affluent German-Jewish-American parents. As a child, she lived in Vienna and Paris but grew up mainly in Oakland and San Francisco, California. Her early formal education was spotty, but she was an avid reader and had a strong interest in art. With only a year of high school, she managed to be admitted in 1893 to Radcliffe College, where she specialized in psychology and became a favorite of William James. He discovered her great capacity for automatic writing, in which the conscious mind is suspended and the unconscious directly evoked. The exaltation of the primitive mind at the expense of the sophisticated mind was to become an important principle in Stein's esthetic theory and is manifest in most of her writing.
Stein did not take a degree at Radcliffe or at Johns Hopkins, where she studied medicine for 4 years. In 1903 she went to Paris and took up residence on the Left Bank with her brother Leo. In 1907 she met Alice B. Toklas, a wealthy young San Franciscan who became her lifelong companion and secretary, running the household, typing manuscripts, and screening visitors. France became their permanent home.
In her early Paris years Stein established herself as a champion of the painting avant-garde. With her inherited wealth she patronized young artists and knew virtually all of the important painters, including Pablo Picasso, who did a famous portrait of her, Henri Matisse, Juan Gris, André Derain, and Georges Braque. Her brother Leo became a famous art critic, but their relationship, which had been extremely close, became permanently estranged in 1912 because of a disagreement over his marriage.
Stein's first two books, Three Lives (1909) and Tender Buttons (1915), stirred considerable interest among a limited but sophisticated audience, and her home became an informal salon visited by many creative people, including American composer Virgil Thomson, British writers Ford Madox Ford, Lytton Strachey, and Edith Sitwell, and American writers Ezra Pound, Elliot Paul, Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. It was to Hemingway that Stein characterized the disenchanted expatriate veterans as a "lost generation."
A woman with deep black eyes and a supremely self-assured manner, Stein was frequently intimidating, impatient with disagreement, and prone to alienate associates. The stylistic innovations and peculiarities of her writing appealed primarily to a small coterie, but her prestige as a taste maker was lifelong.
Stein's 1934 visit to the United States for the opening of her opera Four Saints in Three Acts, with music by Virgil Thomson, culminated in an enormously successful university lecture tour. During the German occupation of France, both Stein and Toklas lived briefly in Culoz, returning to Paris in 1944. Stein's reactions to World War II were recorded in Paris, France (1940) and Wars I Have Seen (1945), and her interest in the soldiers was reflected in the idiomatic conversations of Brewsie and Willie (1946), which was published a week before her death, on July 27, 1946, in Neuilly.
Stein's first book, Three Lives, her most realistic work, foreshadowed her more abstract writings and evinced a number of influences: neoprimitivist painting, Flaubert's Trois contes, and automatic writing. "Melanctha," the best of the three novelettes that constituted the book, was an especially tender treatment of an impulsive, flirtatious African-American woman whose relations with men were recorded in a colloquial, deliberately repetitious style intended to capture the immediacy of consciousness; indeed, incremental repetition is the crucial element of Stein's style, which was perhaps most accurately called "subjective realism."
Stein wanted to give literature the plastic freedom that painting has, and Tender Buttons was a striking attempt at verbal "portraits" in the manner of the cubist painters. The denotative value of words was almost entirely abandoned; instead, words were used in a connotative, associative, and surrealistic way.
The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress (1925) gave character analysis within a family chronicle, although it was chiefly concerned with the servants and only marginally with the family members. In the 1930s and 1940s she concentrated on memoirs, esthetic theory, plays, and art criticism. How to Write (1931) and The Geographical History of America: The Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind (1936) explained the theoretical basis of her literary practice.
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), written as if by Toklas, was an autobiography of Stein. Unexpectedly intelligible and charming, it became a best seller. Critic F. W. Dupee called it "one of the best memoirs in American literature." A sequel, Everybody's Autobiography (1937), described Stein's visit to America, and Portraits and Prayers (1934) was a collection of verbal pictures of her Paris circle.
Stein's libretto for Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) was a study of the attraction of opposites—the ascetic and the compassionate. Similar to her nondramatic work in its surrealism and plotlessness, shored up by music and spectacle, it was better received than most of her writings. Picasso (1939) was an erratic, witty, sometimes illuminating study of the development of the great painter's art. Her three wartime books and In Savoy; or Yes Is for a Very Young Man: A Play of the Resistance in France (1946) showed unexpected social concern.
After Stein's death, there were numerous publications of the works she left behind. Some of the more notable are The Previously Uncollected Writings of Gertrude Steinand Dear Sammy: Letters from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. These works were released in 1974 and 1977 respectively. In 1996 Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts was remade into an avant-garde opera.
Stein remains a controversial figure. The closest to a definitive study was Richard Bridgman, Gertrude Stein in Pieces (1970). The most adulatory study was William G. Rogers, When This You See, Remember Me: Gertrude Stein in Person (1948); and the most damaging books were by her brother, Leo Stein, Appreciations: Painting, Poetry and Prose (1947), and by Benjamin L. Reid, Art by Subtraction: A Dissenting Opinion on Gertrude Stein (1958). The best studies were in Edmund Wilson, Axel's Castle (1931); Donald Sutherland's sympathetic and judicious critical work, Gertrude Stein: A Biography of Her Work (1951); John Malcolm Brinnin's biography, The Third Rose: Gertrude Stein and Her World (1959); Allegra Stewart, Gertrude Stein and the Present (1967); and Norman Weinstein's scholarly Gertrude Stein and the Literature of the Modern Consciousness (1970). Stein was discussed in George Wickes, Americans in Paris (1969). Information regarding the new opera based on Stein's work can be read about in Time (March 11, 1996). □
STEIN, GERTRUDE (1874–1946), U.S. author, critic, and patron of modern art and literature. Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, into a wealthy German Jewish family, Gertrude Stein spent her childhood in Vienna and Paris and was fluent as a child in various languages including German and French. In 1879, the family moved to Oakland, California. Stein studied psychology at Radcliffe College under William James and started but never completed a medical course at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. In 1902, she joined her brother Leo in Europe. Eventually she and Leo settled in Paris, where Stein immersed herself in the bohemian life of the literary and artistic avant-garde. Stein studied the art of the new painters and collected the as yet unknown works of Picasso, Braque, and Matisse. Picasso's portrait of her is one of his best-known early works. Her apartment, at 27 rue de Fleurus, which she first shared with Leo and later with her lifetime companion, Alice B. Toklas, was covered from floor to ceiling with paintings by the "new moderns." Stein also began to write, attempting to accomplish a linguistic and stylistic revolution akin to the visual revolution attempted by her artist friends. By the 1920s her apartment had become a center of artistic life and a place of pilgrimage for the aspiring expatriate American writers she dubbed "the Lost Generation," including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
Stein's first original work, Three Lives (1909), the story of three working-class women, included "Melanctha," a study of the consciousness of an American mulatto girl involved in an unhappy affair with a black doctor. "Melanctha" made a great impression on the practitioners of the "new writing," with its use of vernacular black English and stylistic experimentation, attracting many to her salon. Her later works moved toward ever greater experimentation, with Stein rejecting realistic, linear narratives for linguistic free play, playing with words both for their sound and rhythm and for their subconscious associations. At first she had to pay for the publication of her work, yet she could also write lucidly and engagingly, and her reputation grew. Even at its height, attitudes toward her swung between adulation and scorn; nonetheless, her own circle regarded her as a great writer, and she had a powerful impact on later modernist and postmodern writers. In Tender Buttons (1914), a series of "portraits" of inanimate objects, she tried to establish a type of abstract writing which some critics called "cubist," others "primitivistic." It was terse, sometimes childlike, and often repetitive. Her most quoted line, "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose" (Geography and Plays, 1922), is indicative of the absurd linguistic play at the heart of much of her work. While many of her most experimental books were not appreciated in her lifetime, including her 1,000 page semi-autobiographical The Making of Americans (1925), a plot-less exploration of the assimilation of American immigrants, her most conventional work, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), was widely read. This autobiographical work, ostensibly written by her secretary and companion, told the history of her salon and of her relationship with the new literature and art.
Her later work included experimental plays, poems, novels, and criticism. She made sweeping generalizations about the character of nations and peoples, and the relationship of American and European cultures (The Geographical History of America: the Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind, 1936). She used orthodox prose effectively and even nostalgically in Paris, France (1940); but Four Saints in Three Acts, produced as an "opera" with music by Virgil Thomson in 1934, proved amusing but largely unintelligible. Her World War ii experiences in Belignin, in the south of France, where she remained in safety and comparative seclusion, were described in two entertaining books, Wars I Have Seen (1945) and Brewsie and Willie (1946). On the liberation of Paris, she returned there and continued her sponsorship of new writing.
Many of Gertrude Stein's unpublished manuscripts were deposited in the Yale Library. Among those published after her death are Four in America (1947), Two: Gertrude Stein and Her Brother, and Other Early Portraits, 1908 – 12 (1951), and Mrs. Reynolds (1952), an experimental novel. Gertrude Stein's brother leo stein (1872–1947) was a painter and art critic, who made Cézanne his chief interest in life. He wrote Appreciation: Painting, Poetry and Prose (1947) and his letters and papers, edited by Edmund Fuller, appeared as Journey into the Self in 1950.
A. Stewart, Gertrude Stein and the Present (1967); F.J. Hoffman, Gertrude Stein (1961); Dupee, in Commentary, 33 (1962), 519–23; R. Bridgemen, Gertrude Stein in Pieces (1941). add. bibliography: J. Mellow, Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company (1974).
[Frederick J. Hoffman /
Craig Svonkin (2nd ed.)]