Skip to main content
Select Source:

Ida

Ida

Folk rock group

For the Record…

Selected discography

Sources

After the college-pop explosion of the late 1980s and grunge’s assault on radio pop in the early 1990s, indie rock needed a bit of a well-deserved rest. Bands such as Low, Codeine, June of 44, and Ida began quietly popping up, making themselves heard with ultra-soft vocals and the subtlest of tones and textures. They concentrated heavily on melody and form, preferring sparse minimalism to anything extreme or harsh. Home recording, or at least four-track recording, was the norm for many of these bands, and shifting lineups with open-door policies was more than common.

Consisting of Elizabeth Mitchell, a kindergarten teacher, and Dan Littleton, a bakery employee, Ida formed in 1992. Although unnamed at the time, the duo began writing timid pop songs together in their Brooklyn apartment. Mitchell had previously played music with her Brown College roomate, Lisa Loeb. Both Littleton and Mitchell contributed vocals and music to Loeb’s breakout hit single, “Stay (I Miss You).”

On a trip to California, they met Mitchell’s friend’s grandmother, Ida Machado Schaffer, a 92-year-old artist and clairvoyant who spent many of her later years traveling. Mitchell and Littleton were so taken with Schaffer’s stories, which often blurred the lines between truth and fiction, that they decided to name their band in her honor, hoping that her sense of adventure and storytelling would rub off on the young couple.

Soon after their official formation, friend Rick Lassiter started playing bass with the duo and they recorded their first demo tape, Songs from the Ranch, followed up by a handful of shows in 1993. Along with their own haunting, original compositions, the band found they had a knack for full-on rock covers, especially enjoying Prince and post-punkers the Buzzcocks and Gang of Four.

Through a series of friendly passes, Littleton’s friend Jenny Toomey of indie popsters Liquorice and Tsunami heard the band’s demo and offered to put out an Ida full-length on her new Simple Machines label. Quickly taking her up on the offer, the trio put together Tales of Brave Ida in Brooklyn in the spring of 1994. However, Lassiter implemented the band’s first lineup change and moved to North Carolina shortly thereafter. Littleton’s brother Michael, a drummer and multi-instrumentalist, stepped in for Ida’s first tour opening for Tsunami, and he ended up joining in on a full-time basis.

Things slowed down for the band the following year was as Dan went on tour with Toomey and Liquorice. Ida did, however, find time to record / Know about You, and in the spring of 1996 they assembled a new touring group that included Codeine’s Steve Immerwahr on bass and Elaine Ahn on cello. But it was the fall of that year that saw Ida’s most notable lineup change when Karla Schickele of Beekeeper was asked to join as a permanent bass player.

By 1997 a violinist with the lucky name of Ida Pearle joined the band, and while touring they recorded Ten Small Paces, also for Simple Machines. In addition, that year saw the release of three split singles with the bands Secret Stars, Portastatic, and Schickele’s former project with her brother Matthew, Beekeeper.

With the threat of Simple Machines’ closing looming large, Ida rethought their strategy, and when an offer came from Capitol that year, they signed with the promise of full tour support and a more than ample recording budget. “As a label, Simple Machines stayed true to their foundational principles from beginning to end. They shut down the label when it stopped being fun and fulfilling and when they wanted to do other things with their lives, not because the label was failing or they didn’t love the music. They ended on a high note,” Dan Littleton told Popshots.

They continued their rigorous tour schedule throughout 1998, opening up for Low and, for a short time, for Sunny Day Real Estate. During a Detroit stop on that tour, Mitchell and Littleton recorded a children’s record with Warren Defever of His Name Is Alive. The album, recorded in Defever’s basement studio in Livonia, Michigan, includes a few Woody Guthrie and Carter Family tunes. This recording session would eventually be released on the couple’s own Last Affair label as You Are My Flower.

In late 1998, Ida finally began work on their Capitol full-length record with Trina Shoemaker, engineer/

For the Record…

Members include Elaine Ahn, cello; Steve Immerwahr, bass; Rick Lassiter, bass; Daniel Littleton (married Elizabeth Mitchell, 1999; children: Storey), guitar, vocals; Michael “Miggy” Littleton, drums; Elizabeth Mitchell (married Daniel Littleton, 1999; children: Storey), guitar, vocals; Ida Pearle, violin; Karla Schickele, bass, vocals.

Group formed in Brooklyn, NY, 1992; released Tales of Brave Ida, Simple Machines, 1995; signed with Capitol, 1997; released Will You Find Me, Tiger Style, 2000; released The Braille Night, Tiger Style, 2001.

Addresses: Record company—Tiger Style Records, 401 Broadway, 26th Floor, New York, NY 10013, phone: (212) 777-8056, fax: (212) 777-8059, website: http://www.tigerstylerecords.com. Website—Ida Official Website: http://www.idamusic.com. E-mail[email protected]

producer for Kristin Hersh and Sheryl Crow. Unfortunately, the major label deal didn’t sit well with Ida as numerous changes at Capitol imposed stricter guidelines on the conditions of their record. The band tried for six months to break the contract and eventually won the ownership of the master tapes. Realizing that they had recorded enough material for two discs, they separated the recordings into two albums, Will You Find Me and The Braille Night

In 2001 Littleton told Popshots, “I was always skeptical of Capitol, even when things looked pretty good. I’m not saying that I didn’t have hopes or expectations, I was just skeptical. I was the least convinced of all of us about signing at that time. I always knew that we would be independent again, and I always believed that we could survive anything.”

Fortunately, though, the experience didn’t leave them completely jaded. “We didn’t experience the kind of surveillance that a lot of bands on major labels do. We made the recordings we wanted to make. I know more about working in a studio than I ever thought I would, we got almost two full length records paid for, we paid everyone who played or worked on the recordings, and we own our master tapes,” he indicated in the same interview. After all was said and done with Capitol, Michael Littleton left the band in 1999.

Despite adding Lassiter back into the lineup, the 1999 tour was the sparsest-sounding one yet. Many shows on this tour benefited Low Power Radio, a grassroots collective that aimed to protect independent radio from being taken under by the legal powers of commercial radio lobbyists. As well as touring with Defever and his One Hundred Years band, Ida did an experimental set of shows playing backup to avant-garde cinema such as the films of Stan Brakhage.

The new millennium brought even more changes for Ida, and they signed on with another indie label, Tiger Style Records. Finally, Will You Find Me, the record that they made on Capitol’s dime, was given a proper release and received much critical acclaim. As per usual, the band toured incessantly with His Name Is Alive, Low, and Shannon Wright that year. During the tour, they finished the last touches of The Braille Night, which would see a release in 2001. And, as luck would have it, the following road outing saw the return of Michael Littleton on drums.

Other than 2002’s remix disc on Defever’s Time Stereo label entitled Shhh, Ida decidedly took a back seat to the band’s many side projects. Schickele split off temporarily to pursue her solo career under the k. moniker, releasing New Problems and 2002’s Goldfish. And along with recording, she opened a record store in Brooklyn with Matthew Littleton.

Elizabeth Mitchell and Dan Littleton, married in 1999, also found their hands full with the birth of their daughter in 2001. And having taken on the parenting role with full commitment, they also continued to play You Are My Flower shows for kids. Their side project, Nanang Tatang, released Muki in August of 2003 on Tiger Style Records.

Selected discography

7-inch records

“It’s Not AlrightAThank You,” Simple Machines, 1995.

“Post Prom Disorder,” Tree, 1996.

“Truxton Park,” Winslow, 1997.

“Shrug,” Trashheap, 1997.

“Maybelle/Wait ’til Then,” Simple Machines, 1997.

“Poor Dumb Bird,” Simple Machines, 1997.

Albums

Tales of Brave Ida, Simple Machines, 1995.

I Know about You, Simple Machines, 1996.

Ten Small Paces, Simple Machines, 1997.

You Are My Flower, Last Affair, 1999.

Will You Find Me, Tiger Style, 2000.

The Braille Night, Tiger Style, 2001.

Shhh, Time Stereo, 2002.

Sources

“Ida,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (June 12, 2003).

Ida Official Website, http://www.idamusic.com (June 14, 2003).

“Interview with Dan Littleton,” Popshots, http://www.popshots.org/dialogues/ida3.html (September 9, 2003).

Simple Machines Records, http://www.simplemachines.net (June 14, 2003).

“Simple Pleasures,” Brown Alumni Magazine,http://www.brownmagazine.org/storydetail.cfm?ID=2049 (October 21, 2003).

Additional information was obtained from Tiger Style publicity materials, 2003.

Ken Taylor

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ida." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ida." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ida

"Ida." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ida

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Ida

Ida (d. c.559), king of Bernicia (c.547–c.559). Founder of the Bernician royal house from whom all subsequent Bernician and, after the reign of Oswui, Northumbrian kings with genealogies surviving claimed descent. One written tradition records that his grandfather Oesa was the first of the family to come to Britain. Bede believed that Ida came to the throne in 547 and ruled twelve years. His calculation appears to have been made by working backwards through a regnal list, but it is not certain that all the early Bernician kings ruled concurrently or have had their regnal years recorded accurately. In Northumbrian tradition Ida is associated with the conquest of the area around Bamburgh.

Barbara Yorke

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ida." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ida." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ida

"Ida." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ida

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Iḍā

Iḍā (Skt.).
1. Sacrificial food or libation in Hinduism. After the Flood, of which Manu was the only survivor, he collected from the waters butter, milk, whey, and curds, together called iḍā, which were then personified as his daughter (Śatapata Brāhmaṇa 1. 8. 1. 1 ff.) She asked Manu to allow her to assist at the sacrifices, since when she has been the mediator of benefits accruing through sacrifices.

2. One of the channels of subtle energy (nāḍī) in the Hindu understanding of the body.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Iḍā." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Iḍā." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ida

"Iḍā." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ida

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Ida

Ida a mountain in central Crete, the highest peak in the island associated in classical times with the god Zeus, who is said in some legends to have been born in a cave there.

Ida was also the name of a range of mountains in southern Phrygia where Paris of Troy was exposed as a child, in an attempt to avert the destruction he was prophesied to bring on Troy; he was brought up by shepherds there.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ida." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ida." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ida

"Ida." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ida

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Ida

Ida A solar system asteroid (No. 243), measuring 58 × 23 km; approximate mass 1017 kg; rotational period 4.633 hours; orbital period 4.84 years. Images of Ida from Galileo, taken on 23 August 1993, showed it has a small satellite, later named Dactyl.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ida." A Dictionary of Earth Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ida." A Dictionary of Earth Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ida

"Ida." A Dictionary of Earth Sciences. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ida

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Ida

Ida (ē´dä), city (1990 pop. 91,859), Nagano prefecture, central Honshu, Japan, on the Tenryu River. It is an agricultural market and railway junction.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ida." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ida." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ida

"Ida." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ida

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Ida

Idabidder, consider, Jiddah, kidder, whydah •bewilder, builder, guilder, Hilda, Matilda, St Kilda, Tilda, tilde •Belinda, Cabinda, cinder, Clarinda, Dorinda, hinder, Kinder, Linda, Lucinda, Melinda, tinder •Drogheda • shipbuilder • bodybuilder •coachbuilder • boatbuilder • Candida •spina bifida •calendar, calender •Phillida • cylinder • Phasmida •Andromeda • Mérida • Florida •Cressida • lavender • provender •chider, cider, divider, eider, glider, Guider, Haida, hider, Ida, insider, Oneida, outsider, provider, rider, Ryder, Saida, slider, spider, strider, stridor •Wilder •binder, blinder, finder, grinder, kinda, minder, ringbinder, winder •Fassbinder • spellbinder • highbinder •bookbinder • pathfinder •rangefinder • viewfinder • backslider •paraglider • childminder • outrider •joyrider • roughrider • ringsider •Tynesider • sidewinder

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ida." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ida." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ida-1

"Ida." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ida-1

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

IDA

IDA Industrial Diamond Association
• International Development Association
• Irish Dental Association
• Islamic Democratic Association
• Chem. isotope dilution analysis

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"IDA." The Oxford Dictionary of Abbreviations. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"IDA." The Oxford Dictionary of Abbreviations. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ida-0

"IDA." The Oxford Dictionary of Abbreviations. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ida-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Ida

Ida

GERTRUDE STEIN
1941

INTRODUCTION
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY
PLOT SUMMARY
CHARACTERS
THEMES
STYLE
HISTORICAL CONTEXT
CRITICAL OVERVIEW
CRITICISM
SOURCES
FURTHER READING

INTRODUCTION

A good way to read Gertrude Stein's 1941 novel Ida is aloud. The prose is musical, its rhythm is sing-song and comparable to children's stories. Its lilt carries the reader along even though there is no conventional plot development, conflicts, or resolutions, and little actually seems to happen.

Usually a novel tells a story, developing a narrative of events connected to each other by cause and effect. One thing leads to another; tensions are created; tensions are resolved. As characters act and react to events and to each other, their human characteristics and concerns are revealed. These characters and their concerns, if the author is skillful, become important to the reader. The most common responses to a story are: What is going to happen next? and Why? Indeed, a story usually shows how the past has led to the present, how the present becomes the future, how the characters direct events, and how events direct them.

In Ida Stein sabotages the novel, destroying the tensions that make a reader keep reading to find out what happens next. She eliminates cause and effect from the narrative. What happens in Ida is not, fundamentally, a story with a plot (a sequence of events moved forward by cause and effect), but is instead a musical flow of words tracing perception and consciousness.

Ida uses, in distorted form, many incidents from Stein's life, her quests for love, her

achievement of fame, her artistic focus on the consciousness of her own perception. Ida is the story of a lonely woman whose parents die soon after her birth. The title character, Ida, becomes well known for her beauty, but she is not genuinely known by anyone. Thus, the novel traces Ida's attempts to find a true companion.

In Ida Stein does not attempt to present the psychology of her protagonist's actions, reactions, and interactions, as most novelists would. Instead, thoughts, observations, feelings, dreams, and apparently actual occurrences are treated with the same tone, as if they are not distinguishable from each other. Perception, as it occurs spontaneously, independent of knowledge of what is actually happening, guides Stein's narration. Reading Ida is like sitting on a bus overhearing a conversation between two strangers. They talk about things with which one is unfamiliar, as one looks around, taking in the surroundings, and being aware, at the same time, of one's own thoughts reveries, and associations.

A somewhat more recent printing of Ida is available in Gertrude Stein: Writings, 1932-1946, edited by Catherine R. Stimpson and Harriet Chessman, and published by the Library of America in 1998.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

The youngest of five children, Gertrude Stein was born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Her parents, Daniel and Amelia Stein, of German-Jewish descent, were financially successful and determined to raise their children to be educated, cultured adults. When Stein was less than a year old, Daniel took the family to Vienna in order to establish a branch of the family banking business there. When Daniel returned to the United States on business, Amelia moved the children to Paris.

In 1878, Daniel brought the family to Baltimore. The next year, they settled in Oakland, California. Daniel was stern; the children lived in fear of him. In 1888, Amelia died, and Daniel died in 1891. The eldest son, Mike, who worked for a cable car company in San Francisco, saved the family from poverty after discovering the debts their father had left. Mike sold a plan for consolidating all the cable lines to one of the chief cable car operators. Then he sent Stein and her sister Bertha to live with relatives in Baltimore.

In the fall of 1893, Stein was admitted to Harvard's women's college, Radcliffe. She received her degree in 1898 and published a paper on "Character in its Relation to Attention" that May in The Psychological Review. In 1897, before receiving her degree from Radcliffe, Stein entered Johns Hopkins to study medicine. After four years she left, bored, and disgusted by the condescension with which women in the program were treated. While in medical school, Stein traveled during the summers, to San Francisco, where she fell in love with May Bookstaver, a recent graduate of Bryn Mawr, who later jilted Stein for another woman. She also traveled throughout Europe with her brother Leo. In 1904, Stein became a permanent resident of Paris, where her brothers Michael and Leo already lived.

Before the First World War, she and Leo used some of the fortune Michael accumulated to buy some of the great paintings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The paintings were still affordable at the time. Stein became friendly with Pablo Picasso, who painted her portrait in 1906, and also with Henri Matisse. She established a salon where writers and painters gathered. In 1907, Stein met Alice B. Toklas, an American expatriate from San Francisco. They began what became a marriage that lasted until Stein's death in 1946. To the outer world, as protection against the penalties for being openly lesbian, Toklas was usually cast as Stein's housekeeper and secretary, which, in fact, she also was. During the First World War, Stein and Toklas served the American, French, and British forces as ambulance drivers. After the war, their salon attracted such writers as Ezra Pound, Thornton Wilder, T. S. Eliot, and Ernest Hemingway, and Stein coined the term "the lost generation" to describe the war-wizened writers who gathered round her and were mostly American expatriates.

Stein had begun writing a novel about her family, The Making of Americans in 1903. That year, too, she wrote Q.E.D., a novel about her relationship with Bookstaver. In 1905, Stein began writing Three Lives, which was published in 1909. Stein was paid 600 dollars by her publisher, and the book garnered mostly favorable reviews despite its radical departure from conventional style and narrative. By 1913, Gertrude and Leo, who had been nearly inseparable at one time, had become so alienated from each other (partly because of her lesbianism and his insecurity about his talents as a painter) that they divided their possessions and he moved to Italy. From then on, they never again saw each other or spoke with each other. In 1914, Stein published Tender Buttons, a long prose poem with a buried lesbian subtext.

In 1932, pressed for money, Stein wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, a book about herself masquerading as Toklas's autobiography. Far easier to read than her previous writings, it became a bestseller and Random House became her publisher, bringing her work into the literary and commercial mainstream. Following this, Stein was invited in 1934 to tour the United States. She lectured and gave newspaper and radio interviews across the country. Ida, was published by Random House in 1941 following her tour.

Stein and Toklas return to Paris in early 1936. Threats of a looming German attack were apparent, and many of Stein's friends and family advised her to return to the United States. Stein remained dubious about the threat, though the Nazis did indeed invade France during World War II. Nevertheless, despite being a Jew and a lesbian, Stein survived the Nazi occupation of France, in large measure because she enjoyed the protection of Bernard Fay, a scholar of American history with whom she became close in 1926. Fay was an official in the pro-Nazi Vichy government and was incarcerated by the Allies after the war for working with the Nazis. Stein and Toklas worked to have him released, but Stein's major efforts once World War II had ended involved playing host to American servicemen in her salon in Paris and giving lectures to gatherings of American soldiers. Stein died on July 27, 1946 of stomach cancer in a hospital in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine and was interred that October in Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

PLOT SUMMARY

First Half: Part 1

Ida is the story of a woman variously called Ida, Ida-Ida, Winnie, and, once, Virginia. Although the novel seems to reflect Ida's inner consciousness, it is told not in the first person but by a narrator outside of the story. Ida is presented as a piece of data being examined, first as a child, then as a girl growing up, then as a woman and as a celebrity. The story begins with her birth and continues in a mostly linear fashion, stopping occasionally to loop back in time.

Ida is born despite her mother's effort to prevent her from being born. Soon after Ida's birth, her parents die (they "went off on a trip and never came back") and Ida goes to live with her great aunt. About Ida's parents, all the narrator says is that they were "sweet and gentle." Her aunt is not. Ida's life is a story of perceptions more than of actions: "She saw the moon and she saw the sun and she saw the grass and she saw the streets."

Even an event that might have some dramatic possibility is described only as a phenomenon of Ida's consciousness: "The first time she saw anything it frightened her." Juxtaposed with these accounts is an inventory of details about Ida, things that define her as a person. For instance, Tuesday is special to her, and although there is plenty to eat, she "always hesitated before eating." While actions and reactions are reported, the characters and the plot are not developed through the action.

When Ida is sixteen, her aunt apparently dies ("went away so she lost her great aunt"). Ida then gets a dog that has been blind since birth. Ida calls the dog Love and speaks to Love about her desire to have a twin and live in a big house. Next Ida meets a family of "little aunts," goes to church with them, where she cannot see them, but where she enjoys the warmth of the crowd. Outside the church, she sees the aunts again. She also sees a man and then another jump out from behind some trees. Ida tells the aunts to walk ahead so that she can protect them. Nothing further happens and she never sees either the men or the aunts again. The aunts are "the first and last friends she ever had," but no drama of friendship is described and Ida later seems to know many people.

Ida "gradually" gets older. She thinks about her parents, talks to her dog, moves from house to house, and is cared for by a number of undifferentiated people. After she wishes for a miracle, she sees a black dog and a white dog run away together during a summer snowstorm and she regards this as the miracle. Ida lives with her grandfather and has a new dog, Iris, though there is no mention of what happened to Love. When Ida looks through the gates of a public park, she sees a policeman looking at her, or perhaps he is looking at an old woman beside her, but perhaps the woman is not a woman. Ida cannot tell because the woman has so many clothes on. Ida also considers marriage, but is reluctant to change her name because she has endured so many other changes. Ida then sees a man carrying a sandwich board on his back advertising something and talking to a rich man. While walking in the park she sees a prostrate Arab man. Her dog approaches the man but does not bark or bother him. The man rises and, by signs, asks Ida for something to drink. She indicates she has nothing; the man goes away. Ida might have been frightened, the narrator says, implying she was not, had it been evening and had she been alone. Then the narrator notes that it is evening and Ida is alone. When the Arab walks away, Ida does not continue her walk but goes back in the direction from which she came. Perhaps this short section demonstrates one of Stein's techniques. She presents an image or series of images rather than an exploration or analysis of Ida's thoughts and feelings in regards to them.

Ida is not religious, and when she encounters people performing a religious ceremony she observes it, but leaves. Then she comes upon a group of people walking. She walks with them. "She kept on moving, sleeping or walking," suggesting that the narrative encompasses waking events, memories, dreams, day dreams, fantasies, desires, and reveries all presented without differentiation. The section concludes as Ida, at age eighteen, decides to have a twin, writes a letter to her twin telling her she is beautiful and that she must enter a beauty contest. Ida not only enters but also votes in the beauty contest and wins.

First Half: Part 2

After becoming a famous beauty queen, Ida is surprised to encounter a washerwoman who has a picture of Ida's dog Love. Ida snatches the picture from her and jumps into a car that has stopped and from which two women have emerged to see "what was happening." Ida tries to drive away but the women reenter the car, throw her out, and leave. Ida finds a package she thinks one of the women must have dropped. Later, on another day, Ida sees the washerwoman again. She also sees two women in a car, and in the car is Ida's dog Love. There is a farmer with several small women, and a young man. All these people look at each other and say nothing.

Ida writes a letter to her twin congratulating her on winning the beauty contest and gives her the name Winnie because she is a winner. Winnie becomes widely know to everyone, a celebrity just for being who she is. People go to see her and recognize her in public places. They do not notice Ida, even though Ida and Winnie are the same person. The celebrity Winnie is the public version of Ida. A man from Omaha follows her, and when he rings her bell, he only meets Ida. Though the narrative is unclear, he and Ida most likely make love, but afterwards, they part, and the man never returns, having seen Ida as Ida and not as Winnie. It appears soon after their encounter that Ida has had a miscarriage.

The narrative recounts encounters and flirtations Ida has with several men, most of them soldiers. Ida begins to think about marriage. She moves to Connecticut. As she is leaving Connecticut, Ida meets Sam Hamlin. She then goes to California. She stays with a woman named Eleanor Angel. Ida then meets and marries Frank Arthur. Frank and Ida part and she never sees him again. She becomes aware of the economic depression of the 1930s, seeing rallies for the unemployed, but she is not interested because she is not unemployed and "always had enough."

After her marriage to Frank ends (although there is no account of its ending, or of any other aspect of it) Ida lives with a cousin of her uncle, an old man who gilds picture frames. He has a son who runs a garage, quarrels with his partner over money, shoots his partner, and is sent to jail. Ida leaves her uncle, gets a dog named Claudine, and gives her away. People recognize Ida in the street, but she is lonely and again wishes for a sister or for sisters. Ida again thinks about marriage, but she decides not to marry or have children and to concentrate on her relationship to herself instead. She becomes a photographer in order to earn a living, but gives that up and decides to earn a living by talking. At one point, Ida sits on a hillside between two brothers, a painter and an engineer. They both leave her and Ida is overcome by the sense that she is entitled to anything she wants and is strong enough to help herself to anything she desires. Ida travels, meets people, parts from people, and moves to New Hampshire, where she marries.

First Half: Part 3

Ida's marriage does not last long. Her husband sighs a great deal and repeats her name. They travel throughout the United States, settling in Virginia and then in Ohio. Ida sees herself as resembling water. She travels more and looks at trees, particularly at what falls from trees. After traveling, she settles in Washington. Stein does not indicated whether they are in Washington state or Washington, D.C. Frederick, an army officer, meets her there.

First Half: Part 4

In Washington, Ida becomes the center of a circle of visitors. Frederick falls in love with her. They marry. Frederick is in the army and they move from Washington to Ohio, then to Texas. After a while she leaves him and Texas. Ida settles again in Washington. She meets many people, including a man from Minnesota. When she is leaning against a wall, Ida sees Andrew Hamilton. They begin to walk together. They get married and remain in Washington.

First Half: Part 5: Politics

While still in Washington, men visit Ida and leave her, often buying something unspecified from her, but there is a suggestion of sexual relations. In Washington, Ida is a celebrity. Sometimes she is married and sometimes she is not. One of the men who sometimes calls on her, Eugene Thomas, wants to marry her. But after he is nearly drowned in a flood in Connecticut, he does not return to Washington and does not marry her. Ida lives with Edith and William. Each of them has been previously married. They also have "a" mother, who is not living with them. The "a" for the two suggests that they are as much brother and sister as they are husband and wife. During this time, Gerald Seaton is interested in marrying Ida. Ida and Gerald get married and they move away from Washington.

First Half: Part 6

Ida lives contentedly with Gerald in a small apartment in Boston. Domesticity makes her unlike the person she was. They leave Boston and move away from the metropolitan bustle. Though Ida's marriage to Gerald is the most successful of her marriages thus far, by the end of the section Gerald has disappeared and Ida has met Andrew and married him. When Ida becomes "Andrew's Ida," she changes and becomes "more Ida."

Second Half: Part 1

The First Half of Ida portrays the protagonist as she seeks a sense of her own completeness, mostly through her relationships with men. The Second Half of the novel is concerned with Ida in her maturity, depicting her as having achieved the completeness she once sought. Ida first appears walking along a wide road in bright moonlight. In the moonlight, a white dog that is with her seems gray. By thinking about the changed color of the dog, Ida realizes that context affects perception. Nothing is absolute in itself; instead, things attain their meaning in relation to the attributes of the things that surround them. This provides a key to understanding Ida. The book recasts how stories are told, and thus it challenges the conventions of perception.

In the moonlight Ida not only turns over these thoughts about context, she becomes frightened by the brightness of the moonlight itself. In the first half of the book, Ida has mostly been frightened by men. Now she is frightened by another kind of power, by the reflected light of the sun as it is transmitted through the moon. The moonlight is an emblem of the writer's power to receive experience from the world and to reflect it back as fiction. Here, Stein is commenting about the power of art and the consciousness of the artist.

Following this episode, the narrative begins to resemble a fairy tale, offering a symbolic account of Ida's encounter with her talent and how she takes command of it. Stein seems to be alluding to her own assumption of authorship through Ida: When Ida goes home, it is cold and the fire is out in her room. There is a fire burning in the servant's room, but the servant is not present. Ida is angry and takes "every bit of lighted wood" and brings it "into her room." Obviously impossible, the fact that Ida can carry burning wood into her room signals that this is a symbolic narrative (like the heroic Greek demi-god Prometheus, she is stealing fire) and as it proceeds, readers are also shown that symbolic expression is unstable, like consciousness and perception, and can change. Ida stays at home and "Andrew's name changed to Ida and eight changed to four and sixteen changed to twenty-five." Andrew is unaccountably present or absent. Ida fills her days with walking and talking and particularly with listening. She listens to herself talk and she listens to Andrew. It is part of a writer's work to listen. Ida develops on her own without Andrew, forging a relation with Susan Little, which is described only symbolically: "she walked with Susan Little." This suggests a homosexual relationship, one that was taboo and could not be explicitly mentioned at the time when Stein was writing Ida.

The fullness of Ida's life is followed by a period when everybody goes away. Ida's response, alone, is to think "about her life with dogs." Nearly the rest of Part One narrates the stories about dogs that Ida tells herself. With lively precision Stein describes dogs playing tag and tells stories about dogs with unusual attention to detail and chronological sequence. Ida is diverting herself, and Stein is telling stories inside a novel that resists telling stories.

As the section began with moonlight, so Ida's reverie about dogs ends with a fantasy about Ida's connection to the moon. The moon is Ida's because the moon symbolizes the way an artist works. Part One of the Second Half then ends with a coda (or afterthought) on the death, caused by meningitis, of a young man at the age of twenty-six.

Second Half: Part 2

Almost married to Andrew, Ida dreams that he is a soldier. She is notified that he is dying. The food and the car intended for the wedding, Ida thinks, will do just as well for the funeral, but the clothes will not do. The dream ends. Ida is alive and so is Andrew. Buried in the dream is Ida's own ambivalence; she imagines Andrew dying but avoids a confrontation with the fantasy of his death by focusing instead on practical matters.

Second Half: Part 3

Ida is a girl. Frank—it is not clear if this is Frank Arthur or a different person named Frank—is teaching her to swim. Accidentally, Ida kicks his testicles. Frank goes under on account of the ensuing pain and, letting go of Ida, she goes under. The narrator comments that they did not drown but might have. The section ends by noting that Ida has never been much younger that she is now, signifying, perhaps, the unity or completeness of her persona despite the movement of time.

Second Half: Part 4

This section celebrates Ida's fulfillment and her power to live in the present. Ida's condition is narrated by two short anecdotes. In the first anecdote a soldier takes home cuttings from an apple tree, plants them and subsequently always has apples. In the same story another soldier brings back a shepherd dog from the war. It sires a line of shepherd dogs. Similarly, Ida experiences a continuing abundance established by something she has brought forth from her own struggles (her complete sense of self). The second anecdote tells of Ida's dislike for riding in trains. It ends with an explanation. Ida never got on the train after her first time because "she was always there." Being always there seems to imply feeling that wherever she is at a given moment is where she belongs.

Second Half: Part 5

A digression ensues concerning the conflict between the actual and the symbolic and about the role perception plays in determining the existence of anything. This conflict is represented by a fable Ida tells Andrew, which is ostensibly about luck, concerning a spider, a cuckoo, a goldfish, and dwarfs. When Ida finishes telling her story, in which each symbolic entity, goldfish, spider, dwarfs, and cuckoo, argues for its real existence, "Everybody in the room was quiet and Andrew was really excited and he looked at Ida and that was that." Ida is acclaimed as a storyteller and Andrew is excited by her success. This reaction is not typical of conventional gender roles at the time.

Second Half: Part 6

Ida, the narrator asserts, has luck on her side: she is settled with Andrew. She likes being with him. Together he and Ida form a sociable couple, and everyday becomes a Saturday. When Ida thinks about her good fortune, it seems to her to be the result of her ability to say "yes," to experience. This might indicate that Ida could not have become happy or whole if she had not lived through all that came before.

Second Half: Part 7

Experience, for Ida, however, is the experience of an uninterrupted present. Her difference from Andrew is symbolically represented by the metaphor of doors. Ida does not like doors. She likes rooms and being in rooms. She does not like going in and out of doors herself or when others do. Doors seem to be obstacles to Ida who likes, cultivates, and lives in an uninterrupted present. Although Andrew is steady and not moody, a husband who is always pleasant, he enters and exits through doors. Experience then, it seems, is more fragmented for him than for Ida. Certainly, Andrew is a more fragmented character than Ida. Ida, on the other hand "always did the same thing in the same way." In addition, all circumstances seem equal to her: "they said do you like the sunshine or the rain and Ida said she liked it best."

Second Half: Part 8

Ida concludes by celebrating the way Ida has become herself and her relationship with Andrew. Their union exists within the context of "yes." The section swells in the center: "something did happen and it excited everyone that it was something and it did happen." What that is, is not revealed, and this detail is not important. That it happened, however, is important. The events of the story suggest that what happened may have had something to do with Ida's fame. Stein, like Ida, had become an international celebrity after writing The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. There are also indications that the excitement is a result of Stein's acknowledging, even if only cryptically through the medium of her camouflaged prose, the possibility of a complete bond with women. Stein felt that the contempt shown to women as persons by men subverts women's perceptions of themselves and each other, limiting their ability to fully bond with others. However, Stein believed that sexual or romantic relationships were a means to subvert this constraint and achieve a complete bond. As the excitement tapers off, Ida becomes calm. She eats fine foods, rests, lives with Andrew contentedly. "They are there," the narrator says conclusively. "There" seems to indicate a condition of fulfillment rather than a place. Then the narrator thanks her characters, Ida and Andrew, and asks the reader to: "Thank them." Ida ends with the single word, "Yes." This signifies an expansive acceptance of perception, character, experience—the world, or life in general.

CHARACTERS

Eleanor Angel

Ida lives with Eleanor in California. Eleanor has found gold and other precious minerals on her property.

Frank Arthur

Frank Arthur is Ida's first husband. They are not married long. He is described as a man who is not surprised by experience.

Aunt

After the death of her parents, Ida lives with her great aunt, whom the narrator categorizes as not gentle, unlike the rest of Ida's family. There is a rumor indicating that she buried an aborted fetus under a pear tree after an affair with a soldier.

Blanchette

Blanchette is Ida's dog and Mary Rose's pup.

Chocolate

Chocolate is Ida's dog and Mary Rose's pup.

Claudine

Claudine is one of Ida's dogs.

Edith

For a time, Ida lives with Edith and her husband William in Washington. Edith has a son from a previous marriage and she speaks brusquely to William. She is also said to share a mother with William.

Frank

Ida kicks him, apparently accidentally, in the testicles as he is teaching her to swim. It is not clear whether he is the same Frank as Frank Arthur.

Frederick

Frederick meets Ida in Washington. He is a soldier. He falls in love with Ida and marries her. They move from Washington to Ohio, then to Texas. Ida leaves him in Texas.

Andrew Hamilton

Andrew is Ida's enduring husband. With him she becomes "more Ida." He embodies her ideal of what a husband ought to be (the means for her to realize herself). Andrew is also said to be like violets, flowers "that last the longest if you do not pick them." He is different from the other men in Ida's life. They did not last.

Andrew, although not active, is not quiet, either, or alone, and he is not sad. Occasionally, Andrew seems to become other people. Sometimes he is called William, not to be confused with Edith's husband William. Sometimes he seems to be sitting across from himself. Stein presents character, through Andrew, as the changing aspect of a person.

Sam Hamlin

Sam meets Ida when she is leaving Connecticut and tells her he would divorce his wife for her if he had a wife. He also tells her that he will not leave Connecticut.

Henry Henry

Henry is a man who visits Ida when she lives in Washington.

Ida

Ida is the protagonist. The novel traces the course of her life and depicts her character and development from someone who seeks her sense of self through others to someone who finds her sense of self from within. Early in her life, her parents die. She often wishes she had a twin and sometimes even thinks of herself as twins, giving herself several names. She becomes a beauty queen and a celebrity, and she has a number of friends and lovers. She marries several times, but it is only in her marriage to Andrew that she can become her full self rather than be consumed and diminished.

Ida-Ida

The name for Ida when she appears as a composite with her imaginary "twin."

Iris

Iris is another of Ida's dogs. Iris is sometimes blind and sometimes not blind.

Susan Little

Ida becomes close with Susan Little while she is married to Andrew. It is likely that they shared a homosexual relationship.

Love

Love is the name of one of Ida's dogs. He was born blind. The dog's name and handicap are a pun on the saying: Love is blind.

Man from Omaha

The man from Omaha follows Ida because she is famous. The man never returns, however, because he does not meet Winnie, he only meets the real Ida.

Mary Rose

She is a dog that Ida tells a story about. Chocolate, who is run over, and Blanchette are her pups.

Gerald Seaton

Ida marries Gerald before she marries Andrew. Ida likes Gerald and likes hearing him talk. Gerald sees Ida for who she is rather than as the person others have made of her. Nevertheless, their contact is shallow and Ida has "met." him once only. After that "they never met again." By "met," Stein might mean sexual intimacy, but more than likely, she means to indicate emotional intimacy; i.e., Ida and Gerald have only once connected deeply as people who reach into and know each other. Gerald and Ida live in domestic familiarity, but not with human intimacy.

Eugene Thomas

Although he wanted to marry Ida, Eugene nearly drowns in Connecticut while Ida is in Washington. He does not return for her.

Virginia

Virginia is the least referenced of Ida's many personalities.

William

Stein reports that he speaks in poetry, although none is included in the text. Ida lives with him and his wife Edith in Washington. William has a daughter from a previous marriage, likes gardening, and supposedly shares a mother with Edith.

Winnie

Winnie is the name Ida gives her twin after she wins a beauty contest. Winnie represents Ida as she sometimes appears to others.

THEMES

Celebrity

Towards the end of the first chapter, Ida advises her twin—the hidden part of herself that she is trying to liberate—to enter a beauty contest. Her twin, Ida-Ida, or Winnie, wins. Ida becomes a celebrity. This mirrors Stein herself, who attained celebrity status some six years before the publication of Ida with her book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. In Ida Stein explores the effect of celebrity. She is particularly intent to show that the person-as-celebrity is not an actual person. When a man introduces himself to Winnie, for example, he soon discovers that he is speaking with Ida. The real Ida is not the same person as the celebrity, Winnie, even if they are actually the same person. The man seems to be disappointed at his discovery.

Democracy

It may seem odd to assign to prose a term usually confined to politics and government. Nevertheless, the theme of democracy is implicit in Ida because of Stein's philosophy of perception and identity. Each perception, each observation, each event in Ida is narrated with the same emphasis, even when something is explored at a greater length than something else. Nothing takes priority over anything else. Stein gives equal importance to everything, and this reflects the egalitarian philosophy of democracy.

TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY

  • Stein's fame rests not only on her own work but on her role as the hostess of a Parisian salon in which many of the great painters, writers, and musicians of the early twentieth century gathered. Among them was Pablo Picasso, one of the most important painters of the twentieth century. His 1906 cubist portrait of Stein now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Explore Picasso's cubist period (reproductions of his work are available in books and on the Web), paying attention to the way Picasso decomposed the images he painted. Using some of these reproductions, prepare a twenty-minute presentation for your class, citing examples from Stein and Picasso, exploring the similarities between Picasso's cubism and Stein's prose in Ida.
  • Using Janet Flanner's Paris Was Yesterday, or other books you may find in the library or on the Internet, write an essay about the artistic, intellectual, and political life of Paris from the turn of the century up until the start of World War II.
  • Write a short story following the narrative conventions of sequence, coherence, and clarity. Then take your story and rewrite it in the manner of Ida. Read the second version of your story to your class and lead a discussion about it. Following this discussion, read your original version to the class.
  • Using the library and the Internet, research the nouveau roman or New Novel, as it came to be called. Introduce this literary style to your class in a short presentation, explaining what it is, why it came into being, what its debt might be to Stein's writing, and how it has influenced subsequent literary trends.

Feminism

Feminism as an idea or a social movement is not an explicit theme of Ida, but Ida is the work of a woman with a strong feminist consciousness. Indeed, Stein lived outside of conventional gender expectations her entire life. Ida bears the marks of a feminist sensibility and in certain instances, the narrative shifts personal pronouns, using she and he indiscriminately. Furthermore, Ida may be viewed as Stein's attempt to break

the accepted structure of novels (established mostly by men) by sabotaging the conventions that guide the way novels are written and read. In traditional novels, readers can rely on a center of meaning and reference, and this is not the case in Ida. Stein's narrative is designed to exist outside of ideas or world views and the authority they seem to confer. It is designed simply to record what its subject perceives, thinks, feels, remembers, or imagines. This occurs not through a centered first person narrative but through a third person narrator whose power is to perceive and observe but not to orient. Ida is a collection of data, and Ida is the hero of an "educational romance," a type of novel that shows the growth of its major character. Novels centered upon character growth are also refereed to as bildungsroman (though the term is conventionally used when discussing the growth of a young male character on his path to achieving manhood). Further contradicting conventional scripts, Ida achieves fame, and her husband Andrew exists in order to facilitate her accomplishments rather than vice versa.

Identity

It is tempting to talk about the "problem" of identity in Ida, especially considering how Ida and Winnie are and are not the same person. One should also consider that Ida's identity in great measure depends on perception. Ida exists according to her own perception of herself and according to other people's perceptions of her. Consequently she is both one person and also several people. But identity, even as fragmented as it is in Ida, is not treated in the novel as a problem. The variety of identities within one person is treated as a commonplace, as is the existence of varying perceptions. Every phenomenon is reported without being positioned, valued, or judged as "real" or as "imaginary." If one thinks of Ida as a canvas, one can imagine Stein simply including every detail on a flat surface without any perspective. Thus, the viewer's gaze (or the reader's attention) is not directed in any particular way.

STYLE

Incoherence

Incoherence in writing or in speaking is usually regarded as a fault rather than a device. It usually signifies, in literature or in life, a state of disease or derangement. Schizophrenics, drunkards, and people under great stress may be or seem to be incoherent. In Ida, Stein turns incoherence into a literary device; it becomes the way she tells the story. Stein typically strings together sentences in the book like so:

She liked apples. She was disappointed but she did not sigh. She got sunburned and she had a smile on her face. They asked her did she like it.

Taken as a unit, this adds up to incoherence. A reader might guess that these are sentences taken out of context and printed one after the other. Each sentence, sometimes even each word, seems to be a free floating unit. The essential fact about incoherence is that nothing has anything to do with anything else. Through incoherence, Stein conveys the fragmented nature of experience and highlights the present by conveying thoughts and experiences as they happen. Each moment is its own.

Additionally, incoherence may suggest that the words are actually codes, words substituted for other words that must be kept hidden. Posing as one unacknowledged part of herself, Virginia, Ida wonders what water is and then realizes that she herself is like water, perhaps because of the fluidity of her experience, perception, and identity. Married, Ida does not love "anybody in Ohio," not even her husband (he is, after all, "somebody" in Ohio). Perhaps, then, the word "apples" signifies women, not fruit.

Repetition

Throughout Ida Stein uses the incantatory device of repetition, repeating nouns, verbs, prepositions, phrases and language patterns. This device may be meant to provide a sense of unity and coherence to a world narrated in a way that simultaneously challenges coherence.

Selection: What Is Left Out and What Is Left In

Selection, although seldom evident, is one of the principle devices novelists use to compose stories, reveal characters, and move plots forward. Indeed, if selection is noticed, the very effect it is designed to achieve is essentially ruined. Novelists attempt to select material in order to create the illusion that the novel is an authentic, complete rendition of a particular segment of reality. But the apparent completeness the reader experiences is an illusion based as much upon the details that are left out of the story as the details that are included in the story. Ida's radical peculiarity is as much a consequence of what Stein has chosen to omit as what she has chosen to include. Connectives, sequence, cause and effect relations, and motivation are not part of the story. The story is built on the perception of a random flow of data. If anything, one could say that the selection exercised by Stein is directly opposed to conventional selection. Where most novelists would focus on sequence, cause and effect relations, and motivation, choosing to leave out most random data, Stein does just the opposite.

Stream of Consciousness

Most frequently associated with the novels Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake, both by James Joyce, stream of consciousness is a narrative technique that short circuits the usual narrative categories of past, present, waking, dreaming, thinking, feeling, or imagining, among others. Stream of consciousness indiscriminately relies on all of these modes without regard to the boundaries between them. This narrative form is prominent in Ida, and Stein seems to be telling Ida's story through Ida, but Ida is not the first person narrator.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Celebrity

The growth of mass media through radio and movies during the 1920s and 1930s brought about an increased awareness of celebrities. The massive enthusiasm for Charles Lindbergh when he flew nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 was unlike anything that had come before. Similarly, the interest aroused by Wallis Simpson, who became the Duchess of Windsor when King Edward VIII of England gave up his throne to marry her, was immense. Sales of undershirts were reported to plummet when the actor Clark Gable undressed for bed in the 1934 movie It Happened One Night—he was not wearing an undershirt in the scene. Political leaders, too, were not only political leaders but celebrities in their own right. Stein herself became a celebrity after the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Her subsequent reading and speaking tour of the United States was covered extensively by the press.

Freudianism

In 1900, Sigmund Freud published his revolutionary book, The Interpretation of Dreams. Beside the fundamental assertion that dreams are expressions of frustrated wishes, Freud's book introduced the idea that each person possesses an active unconscious that is mostly responsible for their emotions, desires, and behavior. Freud posited that this unconscious was subjugated (repressed) by the conscious because not all human emotions, desires, and behaviors are acceptable in human society. Following the book's publication, many writers attempted to write from this unconscious, using techniques like automatic writing (holding a pen in one hand and moving it across the page—writing without thinking), writing when in a trance, and generally trying to keep the censorious consciousness from blocking the emergence of deeper, repressed material. Ida clearly shows the influence of this school of writing and of this technique.

The Rise and Consolidation of Totalitarian States and Charismatic Leaders

Between the two world wars, Russia, Germany, Italy, and Japan arose as powerful, totalitarian states. It seems obvious to point out that the heads of state for each country were males, but it is worth noting when considering that Stein wrote Ida within an international context formed by male brutality. In Ida, Stein seems to be withdrawing from that world of masculine brutality, focusing instead on the inner world of a woman.

The Years between World War I and World War II

The twenty years between the end of World War I, in 1919, and the start of World War II, in 1939, were years marked by tremendous upheavals in politics, economics, sexuality, and art. Change was ubiquitous. The way people lived together, the way they described their experience, the way they saw the world, all were challenged and altered. During this period there was the success of the Russian Revolution, economic depressions in Europe, and the 1920s economic boom in the United States preceding the Depression of the 1930s. After the fall of the German monarchy, and after a brief period of faltering attempts at democracy, Germany reemerged as a fascist state more powerful, disciplined, and dangerous than its predecessor and its initial ally, Italy.

COMPARE & CONTRAST

  • 1930s: The advent and popularity of radio and the movies creates cultural awareness of national and international celebrities.

    Today: Media (now mostly in the form of television and the Internet) is even more ubiquitous, as is the corresponding focus on celebrities. Through the power, reach, and diversification of media, many people become famous not for their talents, beauty, or political power, but simply because they are objects of national and international gossip.

  • 1930s: Powerful nations and their governments are arming in preparation for major war while simultaneously attempting last ditch negotiations to prevent war. Contained, although savage, violence is also occurring in Ethiopia, Spain, and Czechoslovakia.

    Today: Conflicts between governments and rebel groups have resulted in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Somalia, and Lebanon. These conflicts threaten to expand into global war.

  • 1930s: Workers in industrialized nations struggle to establish unions and to secure a livable wage, humane working conditions, and a forty-hour work week.

    Today: Globalization, outsourcing, and technology create an underclass of cheap laborers without basic rights.

  • 1930s: Through Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, the U.S. government creates a number of programs and projects to establish social services and financial security for most Americans.

    Today: The U.S. government is attempting to reverse many of the social benefits of the New Deal, engineering the privatization of what were formally government responsibilities, including health care, education, retirement, and most recently, imprisonment.

In music, the dissonance of Igor Stravinsky and the atonal concision of Anton Von Webern replaced the emotionalism and melody of the nineteenth century. In painting, Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Henri Matisse changed the way artists saw the world, how they used the canvas, and even what painters were supposed to paint. Authors like James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, and Stein set about breaking down the way experience is recorded in literature, sabotaging the convention of orderly narrative sequence.

CRITICAL OVERVIEW

Clifton Fadiman admits in A Subtreasury of American Humor that upon reading Ida he had no idea what the book was about. He adds impishly, "I have a theory … that Miss Stein has set herself to solve, and has succeeded in solving, the most difficult problem in prose composition—to write something that will not arrest the attention in any way." Fadiman's response, although designed to be humorous, well represents the response of most readers approaching Ida and the work of Gertrude Stein in general.

What is at first baffling, often over the course of time and through the intervention of scholars and critics, can become less so. Writing more than thirty years later in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Michael J. Hoffman explains that "Like Matisse who wished to paint with the eyes of a child, Stein combines primitivistically simple diction with interlocking repetitions, as well as a humorous tone that mixes the pretense of seriousness with the fun of writing." Where Fadiman finds tedium, Bettina L. Knapp, writing in Gertrude Stein, finds "humor, banter, frolic, satire, as well as recognizable action … implicit in what might be identified as a heroine in Ida." Unlike Fadiman, Knapp characterizes Stein's prose, generally, as "discursive, meandering, and childlike." She calls Ida "a collective figure" incorporating "such fascinating ancient and modern women as Helen of Troy" (among others), and Stein as well.

Donald Sutherland, in Gertrude Stein: A Biography of her Work, asserts that "Ida is strictly speaking no novel at all but belongs to the tradition of the philosophical farce or romance which is probably at its purest in Voltaire's Candide." According to Sutherland, Ida is "the story of … a person who neither does anything nor is connected with anything but who by sheer force of existence in being there holds the public attention and becomes a legend." Sutherland sees Ida as a book of external inaccuracies that are "internally true." Ida herself, Sutherland maintains, "is a human mind. She has no personality … she exists and is in the present, like a legend or a masterpiece or the human mind, and that existence is all there is to her, though she is surrounded by everything else in perpetual happening."

In his 1959 book, The Third Rose: Gertrude Stein and Her World, John Malcolm Brinnin, attempts to explicate Stein's writing style. Stein, he argues, wrote as she did in order to "bring space into the vocabulary of an art whose aesthetic was concentrated in its manipulations of time." To do so, he continues, Stein "would follow the pictorial cubists, moving around an object to seize several subjective appearances, which, fused in a single image, reconstitute it in time." Brinnin warns that "works attempting to bring this new dimension to writing are, for all but those readers who no longer demand what literature has always offered, impossible to read."

Nevertheless, writing in Axel's Castle: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930, Edmund Wilson (writing ten years before Ida was published) pinpoints Stein's importance as an author. Indeed, his comments are often echoed today by contemporary critics. He observes:

Widely ridiculed and seldom enjoyed, [Stein] has yet played an important role … Most of us balk at her … half-witted-sounding catalogues of numbers; most of us read her less and less. Yet … we are still aware of her presence in the background of contemporary literature … eternally and placidly ruminating the gradual developments of the processes of being.

CRITICISM

Neil Heims

Heims is a writer and teacher living in Paris. In the following essay, he argues that Stein shifts the narrative focus in Ida away from telling a story to challenge the reader's basic expectations of, and approach to, reading a novel.

The story in Ida is shaped by the responses the mind makes to the data it perceives in its environment. Gertrude Stein is less interested in narrating a recognizable story in Ida than in portraying reality as it is experienced through stream of consciousness. But Stein also plays with language. In Ida the meaning or sense of language is often secondary to its sound. Consequently, words stripped of their meaning and context raise the reader's awareness of their interaction with words (either as conveyors of meaning or sound, or both). In Ida Stein represents the activity of consciousness and the phenomenon of perception. Through Ida Stein enables the reader to experience, in the act of reading, acts of pure perception and of consciousness freed from meaning.

Ida does not offer readers the opportunity or the pleasure, as most novels conventionally do, of meeting recognizable or intriguing characters, or of experiencing the details and the drama of the typical situations that drive a story, like growing up, or being in love, or following a profession, or fighting in a war, or raising children, or facing death. Nor does Stein, in Ida, organize a series of interconnecting events that form a sequentially unfolding and suspenseful narrative fueled by conflict. It may be unusual to describe a work in terms of what it is not. But the experience most readers will first have of Ida is a sense of everything that seems to be missing: story, plot, sequence, coherence, excitement, character development, suspense. Reading Ida can be something like the experience of repeatedly falling asleep during a movie and, during periods of being awake, seeing scenes that, consequently, make little sense; or, it is very much like quickly flipping through the channels on a television set, catching little more than brief phrases and images from each program.

The words in Ida, even as they seem to be signifying actual characters, events, things, and actions, are more particularly being assembled to represent themselves as linguistic elements with a shape, dimension, and contour that is independent of their meaning. Stein uses words in the same way painters use pigments, composers use notes, or sculptors use three-dimensional shapes. The art lies in the process of combining the building blocks (words, pigments, notes, shapes), and these can be combined to create a story, a recognizable image, a melody, or a recognizable object. However, they can also be combined to create a string of words, blotches of color, dissonance, or a shape without any recognizable form. Such art is usually referred to as abstract, and Stein was one of the first writers to experiment with abstraction in favor of creating a story that is a recognizable representation or imitation of something else. Stein, then, like the abstract painter or sculptor, seeks to create an aesthetic object that is not attached to meanings or morals.

WHAT DO I READ NEXT?

  • Nadja (1928), by the French surrealist André Breton, traces the career of a woman in Paris making her way through the city's bohemian underworld. Following the surrealist desire to confound the senses and upset the common order by using prose that does not follow the conventions of narrative and dramatic coherence, Nadja resembles Ida while providing a more concrete sense of person and place.
  • The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), despite the title, is a book written by Gertrude Stein about herself, told as if she were her companion, Alice B. Toklas, rather than herself. Notably, Stein wrote the book when she needed to make money, and this may explain why it is one of her most accessible works.
  • In a schematic or abstract way that retains sensations but purges those sensations of the events that caused them, Conrad Aiken's poem "The Room," published in 1930, is the poet's meditation, without specifically naming it, on his father's murder of his mother followed by his father's suicide.
  • Raymond Queneau's Zazie dans le métro (Zazie in the Subway; 1959) is a comic novel written in a disconnected, slapstick style. It was made into an absurdist movie by Louis Malle in 1960.
  • The Time of Our Singing (2003), by Richard Powers, uses many techniques pioneered by Stein, yet it also provides a strong narrative presence and a complex plot that spans several generations and integrates a number of social and racial cultures. This gives the book more of a conventional aspect than that of an experimental novel.
  • The Divided Self, published in 1960, by R. D. Laing, is a study of schizophrenia, treating the disease, in large part, as stemming from a skewed language system. The words of the schizophrenic speaker, Laing argues, are taken to be mystifying or "crazy" because the background they refer to, the situations from which their speech emerges, are hidden from their interlocutors.

The text of Ida is not a reliable indication of what reality conventionally is like or of how things ought to be. Where a story can be said to be two dimensional, the reader can be said to provide the third dimension. Ida (or any book, really) is only a collection of printed paper sitting on a shelf until it is being read. Then, it becomes something that provides meaning, sound, or images as it interacts with the consciousness of the reader, setting off associations in the reader's mind. These associations are, in a sense, what makes a book a story. In a conventional novel, most of the meaning is easily extracted; whereas in Ida, meaning is not so easily derived. For instance, if ten people were to look at a conventional painting portraying a horse, each of these ten people would likely report that they saw a horse in the painting. If ten people were to look at an abstract painting, each would likely report that they saw vastly different items in the painting.

In Ida Stein still references novelistic conventions to some degree. Indeed, the novel still revolves around a character and her experiences. Stein uses this conventional skeleton in order to outline the landscape of Ida's consciousness (or perhaps consciousness in general) and to provide a schematic diagram of the dynamics of perception:

She liked to talk and to sing songs and she liked to change places. Wherever she was she always liked to change places. Otherwise there was nothing to do all day. Of course she went to bed early but even so she always could say, what shall I do now, now what shall I do.

Read out loud, this passage is striking for its narrative rhythm. It sounds like a children's story: "She liked to talk and to sing songs and she liked to change places." The sentence is a sing-song compound of three simple sentences, simultaneously joined together and kept separate by the word "and." It has the fairy tale quality of the following example: "The prince was rich and the prince was handsome and the prince was lonely." In this sentence, although there is no stated connection between its three parts, there is an implicit connection. "Although," or "nevertheless" seems to be hinted at. "Although the prince was rich and handsome, still he was lonely." But in Stein's sentence, there is no such relationship. Stein is not saying "Because she liked to play and sing, she liked to change places," or "Although she liked to play and sing, etc." There is no reasonable connection between talking, singing, and changing places. These elements are related only by the rhetorical device of polysyndeton, the repetition of the word "and."

The sentences that follow, "Wherever she was she liked to change places. Otherwise there was nothing to do all day," in their apparent simplicity, actually reveal an important fact: experience is a function of alteration, of going from one place or thing to another. Even the most mundane day consists of a great deal of movement, beginning with getting out of bed.

The final sentence of the paragraph, "Of course she went to bed early but even so she always could say, what shall I do now, now what shall I do," abandons the compound simplicity of the preceding sentences. Now there is some relation between the parts of the sentences described! "Even so" going to sleep did not free her from the problem of "doing," of changing from place to place. But just as the reader may be trying to puzzle out a meaning, Stein changes the context (something Ida, she has just reported, likes to do). The sentence exists less as a narrative fact about Ida than as literary allusion (or a reference to something else). Stein first references Marcel Proust's, great work of exploration of consciousness, In Search of Lost Time. Its first volume, Swann's Way (published in French in 1912) begins with the words, in Scott Montcrieff's 1922 translation: "For a long time, I used to go to bed early." Then the last half of Stein's sentence echoes the desperate cry from T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land: "What shall I do now? What shall I do?" The cry is meant to express the barrenness of experience.

Stein's narrative technique in Ida is a formal assault upon the conventions of the novel and, by extension, upon the reader. Ida requires the reader to renounce long-held reading habits, most notably the expectation and the desire for a narrative to provide vicarious experience and suspense. The risk Stein takes as a writer, or, perhaps, the challenge she presents to the reader, is that Stein repeatedly takes the reader to the edge of boredom and confusion. Vicarious experience is nullified. Stein's writing is hypnotic, but not hypnotic in the sense of fascinating. It is hypnotic because meaning is replaced by resonance. Think of a musical experience where the drama of melody is replaced by the mesmerism of drone. Indeed, the emotions, the associations, the techniques that cause a novel to be exciting and compelling are cancelled out and are replaced by a steady sing-song rhythm. The novel's narrator, although not a character in the novel and nondescript, is nevertheless a strong unwavering presence. Despite the fact that the novel is narrated using the past tense, the lack of sequential chronology makes even past events seem as if they are removed from the continuum of time and the rule of cause and effect.

A novel like Ida, because of its obscurity and because of its unconventionality and experimental quality, may seem richer and more interesting when it is talked about than it does when it is read. Analysis may clarify some of its aspects. When a reader returns to it, however, even after getting a sense of its aesthetic resemblance to cubism or to the modernist narratives of authors like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, Ida still may seem opaque, confusing, and, consequently, not engaging. And "not engaging" may be the worst thing that can be said about a book. A narrative that does not engage the reader also does not captivate or dominate. However, it can liberate the reader from being a passive respondent seduced by vicarious excitement. It can give the reader an opportunity to engage the novel as all works of art must be engaged, in the imaginary space forged midway between the work of art and the person who beholds it; i.e., in an engaged experience of the text, actually reading without regard to the content of what is being read.

Source: Neil Heims, Critical Essay on Ida, in Novels for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2008.

Cynthia Secor

In the following excerpt, Secor suggests that Ida is a great American novel whose heroine can be classified among the great heroines of literature.

Ida is a novel about a woman, a woman whose presence excited comment. Critical allusions to the novel have for the most part limited themselves to Ida as a study of identity and entity, as a portrait of a publicity saint, as a study of the Duchess of Windsor, as a comment on the dilemma of Stein as a publicly celebrated author, and as the chronicling of her first real whore since Melanctha. All of these conceptions have merit, and they are compatible. Ida is not Gertrude Stein, and it is important to sense the variety of interests at play in the novel. As Stein says, "I like a thing simple but it must be simple through complication. Everything must come into your scheme, otherwise you cannot achieve real simplicity."

Closely related to Stein's intention to bring everything into her scheme is her gift for rendering significant that which is deemed ordinary. Ida is in most respects a very ordinary woman of her period. She is not really a whore, though she gets married rather more often than usual; she is not really a publicity saint, whatever Stein meant by that charming phrase, but she is one of those persons people do talk about. Ida is fundamentally a woman in search of marriage, a marriage in which she can become more herself. Ida moves from marriage to marriage, state to state, city to city, until she comes to rest in a relation that allows her to be herself more fully than has any previous relation or occupation. The relation is not enough, her resting is not enough, but then what ever is? Life continues. One is maturing, aging, slowing down. Ida and Andrew are together. For this their life we can thank them. It is of interest to us …

Ida is a woman, every woman, an American woman, a woman not defined by her relation to woman or man, but to herself. Ida is herself. She is in quest of herself, though quest is much too self-conscious a term for her travels. In her youth she says to a friend, "… I am never tired and I am never very fresh. I change all the time. I say to myself, Ida, and that startles me and then I sit still." Later she dreams:

… that now she was married, she was not Ida she was Virginia … She dreamed that she often longed for water. She dreamed that she said. When I close my eyes I see water and when I close my eyes I do see water.

What is water, said Virginia.

And then suddenly she said. Ida.

At both the conscious and the unconscious levels, Ida already experiences herself as complete. There is in this Bildungsroman no conventional maturation and no crises of identity. On the eve of her final marriage, to Andrew the first, there is the perception that she is "Andrew's Ida," "more that Ida she was Ida itself." But even this moment of "identity" is short-lived. Only briefly is her essential self, her "entity," heightened and augmented by a relational role, by being the focus of Andrew's romantic interest. Almost immediately Stein tells us that "Andrew had changed Ida to be more Ida." She is herself, now, more complete than ever for the experience of having seen and been seen. It is here that the first half of the novel culminates—with themes of entity and marriage firmly entwined.

The idea of marriage, so frequent a theme in the first half of the novel, is scarcely mentioned again, as in slow motion Stein proceeds in the second half to portray the gradual coming together of Ida and Andrew. Their coming together might be called marriage, but it is not Stein's purpose to explore the patriarchal institution of marriage. It is her purpose to explore the process through time of two persons bringing into step their characteristic rhythms … In traditional narratives and dramas focused on the female person, whether they be popular or serious literature, marriage is the proper culmination. Events and interactions may follow upon the marriage of the female person; but ritually and metaphorically the moment of completion for the female person, within patriarchal literature, whether written by women or men, is the moment of union with the male person, the taking of the hymen. We may decorate and elaborate the event with issues of dowry, morality, and whatnot, but the moment is relational. Her role, her identity, her entity, are one: she is the helpmate of her lord, the bearer of his progeny. Or worse, she is fallen, too many men making use of her. All of this is precisely what Stein is not saying. Stein is the harbinger of the articulate feminist literary community that is currently emerging, challenging all of the generic conventions that have sought to portray women as the other, the anonymous, the helpful. What can a heroine do? She can be herself, that's what she can do …

Stein's own experience as a lesbian gives her a critical distance that shapes her understanding of the struggle to be one's self. Her own identity is not shaped as she moves into relation with a man …

Her women thus come into the world complete, static, centered in their own space. They are not androgynous. There is in their lives no strenuous dialectic of gender. No man comes to provide for them the masculine qualities lacking in their own feminine natures. Their individual rhythms are distinct and complete from childhood …

It can be argued that Stein's entire effort to create the continuous present, intensely experienced for itself without reference to ideas, traditional syntax, and familiar metaphors, is her solution to the problem of having been born a female artist whose only tradition is a patriarchal one. Her method forces one to look slowly and carefully at what is in front of one, without explaining it in terms of ritual, myth, or other cultural artifacts. James Joyce is an archetypal patriarchal artist …

Within Joyce's tradition women do not exist as active figures, as embodiments of the Godhead, as definers of reality; they are vessels, handmaidens, and at their most exciting temptresses of gods and men. Stein, predictably, has no interest in excitement, except as an expression of the self.

Saturday, Ida.

Ida never said once upon a time. These words did not mean anything to Ida. This is what Ida said. Ida said yes, and then Ida said oh yes, and then Ida said, I said yes, and then Ida said, Yes.

Once when Ida was excited she said I know what it is I do, I do know that it is, yes.

That is what she said when she was excited.

Stein repeatedly rejects liveliness that she might embody life. Ida has life. Stein puts it succinctly:

But a continent can always be changed and so that is not why Ida and Woodward did not always meet.

Very likely Ida is not anxious nor is Woodward. Well said Ida, I have to have my life and Ida had her life and she has her life and she is having her life.

Stein's intense concentration on the present moment, her focus on the human mind composing an image of human nature, allows her to treat women as seriously as men have been treated in traditional literature. Hers is not a vision preempted by kings and ministers of state. Ida in her less literary way says all there is to be said on the subject of patriarchy in response to her first husband.

He met her on the road one day and he began to walk next to her and they managed to make their feet keep step. It was just like a walking marathon.

He began to talk. He said, All the world is crying about it all. They all want a king.

She looked at him and then she did not. Everybody might want a king but anybody did not want a queen.

Stein is clear enough. Yet even the best and most sympathetic of her critics have been loath to see her subject matter—when that subject matter is women—and to understand what it means that hers is a lesbian perspective. So good a critic as Donald Sutherland seems almost unaware of the metaphysical, erotic, even political content of Tender Buttons, and so fine a collaborator as Virgil Thomson finds "Patriarchal Poetry" hermetic. The first is a celebration of the domestic and sensual aspects of her relation with Toklas, and the latter is a brilliant and witty comment on the political nature of the traditional masculine literary establishment. Neither work is without meaning if one is interested in sharing with Stein her understanding of love, identity, and power. Both are good preparation for Ida, which asks her reader to look at a contemporary American woman moving from birth into her golden years, realizing as she goes the opportunities open to her. What do identity and entity mean for an American woman living in America in the twentieth century? The Stein of Everybody's Autobiography, Paris France, Wars I Have Seen, and Brewsie and Willie is a social commentator. No less the Stein of Ida.

It is impossible to read Ida with anything approaching a complete understanding of Stein's accomplishment without sensing her own acceptance of herself as a complete physical and intellectual human being and her understanding of just how pervasive and disfunctional is the patriarchal understanding of the human mind and human nature. She understands that marriage, romance, and the roles of husband and wife are patriarchal institutions. It is out of this understanding that she creates the marriage of Ida and Andrew. Their union, while not denying their individual natures, has them meet on a plane that is truly the function of the human mind and not human nature.

Slowly Ida knew everything about that. It was the first thing Ida had ever known really the first thing.

Andrew was there, and it was not very long, it was long but not very long before Ida often saw Andrew and Andrew saw her. He even came to see her.

It is Stein's genius to couch in the traditional setting of their courtship Ida's emergence as a more and more present person. Marriage is not the beginning of her real life as traditionalists would have it, nor the end of her real life as some would have it. This marriage is a deepening of her actual life. The same is true for Andrew …

Entitling her work Ida, A Novel, Stein signals that it is meant to be read as an example of the form. Novels in Stein's understanding focus on character, a subject of concern for her from her youth …

In writing Ida, Stein rises to the challenge of creating a character with sufficient life to count in the life of the reader. That is why she so prominently labels it a novel. It was her own endless ruminations about publicity, reputations, identity, and entity that led her to the form of narration that gives to Ida the life that in the twentieth century is commonly reserved for movie stars, famous artists, war generals, and psychotic killers. Ida is food for the imagination …

What the human mind of the writer must grasp completely and uniformly is that which is the essential rhythm of the character being seen, the rhythm that through all variations remains constant. Ida is seen as striving to cease to be alone. The activity is not conscious, it is constant.

Stein, so little interested in or influenced by her contemporaries Freud and Jung, comes, nonetheless, to define the novel as a dream. Her definition grows out of her own understanding of the time sense that is necessary for a serious writer: "You can have a historical time but for you the time does not exist and if you are writing about the present the time element must cease to exist … There should not be a sense of time but an existence suspended in time." The character at the center of the novel then must be both food for the imagination and an existence suspended in time. Ida accomplishes this end by using a mode of narration so concrete and spare that the reader comes to feel that she is dreaming through Ida's mind the dream that is Ida. The intention of the novel is surely to provide an extended portrait of a woman, a woman whose human mind is the subject. The prose must embody her perception of successive moments in time—each frame as complete and accurate as the successive frames of a strip of celluloid movie film. Each paragraph is a frame; viewed successively they provide a portrait over time of reality as Ida sees it. Stein is not meant to be present; she is the camera.

This mode of narration is a solution to the problem of identity and entity as literary subject matter. The totality of the novel is the entity of Ida, whereas the successive frames—sometimes vignettes or anecdotes as well as straightforward accounts of activity—record successive identities. Ida's memory of Frank, the Lurline Baths, and the wild onions is typical. The episode is neither gratuitous nor randomly placed. Ida is a distillation of all that is Ida, not a loosely ordered chronicle of her travels and loves. In each successive frame she repeats her essential self. The dreams, memories, and impressions recorded are the ones that impinge deeply on Ida, that sink deeply into her, as Wordsworth's stone into the lake. They are the scenes her perception sees and retains. The Lurline Baths episode confirms that the girl and the woman are the same person. Their anxiety is the same anxiety. When "Ida was also married to Andrew," she recalls the Lurline Baths in San Francisco and a youth named Frank teaching her to swim:

… he leaned over and he said kick he was holding her under the chin and he was standing beside her, it was not deep water, and he said kick and she did and he walked along beside her holding her chin, and he said kick and she kicked again and he was standing very close to her and she kicked hard and she kicked him. He let go her he called out Jesus Christ my balls and he went under and she went under they were neither of them drowned but they might have been.

The moment is recalled forcefully. She continues thinking: "Strangely enough she never thought about Frank, that was his name, Frank, she could not remember his other name, but once when she smelled wild onion she remembered going under and that neither were drowned." The incident is recalled because: "Any ball has to look like the moon. Ida just had to know what was going to be happening soon." Immediately after the incident is recalled, the narrative continues: "And now it was suddenly happening, well not suddenly but it was happening, Andrew was almost Andrew the first. It was not sudden." Her anxiety during the process of their coming together is the anxiety of her youth when during the process of being supported in the water she kicked her mentor unexpectedly and accidentally. It is just this anxiety that causes her so often throughout her life unexpectedly and seemingly without cause to pick up and leave. It is just this anxiety that the girl child experienced in her "nice family" that "did easily lose each other." It is the anxiety of the child who "the first time she saw anything it frightened her." It is the anxiety associated with romance as she becomes at once both more herself and less herself; it is the anxiety connected with sex and love. The presence of the episode does not argue for causation. The adult anxiety does not stem from the youthful event. It simply demonstrates that the adult woman coming together with the adult man is the same person who came into the world as Ida-Ida, held back by her mother, and who one more time "will get up suddenly once and leave but not just now."

A novel, then, is just like a dream. "And some dreams are just what any one would do only a little different always just a little different and that is what a novel is." Like a dream, a novel ends when there is no more interest in it. Ida's story ends with marriage. What more can happen? Ida's quest for entity within marriage is achieved. What can happen to Ida by virtue of marriage has happened, and any further exploration of entity would turn out to be another novel, a novel about aging: "If Ida goes on, does she go on even when she does not go on any more." Ida rests in her marriage …

In a … domestic, familiar fashion Andrew and Ida live ordinary lives "and Andrew is in, and they go in and that is where they are." They are as commonplace a couple as Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds. There is no more story to tell. The novel is over.

Clearly much of the force of this novel, that "complex force of femininity" which Woolf celebrates, comes from the fact that in creating the life of Ida, Stein does draw on her own past for emotional content. During the years preceding her writing the novel, she seems preoccupied with the relation of the child to the adult, ruminating on this theme in The Geographical History of America, Everybody's Autobiography, and What Are Masterpieces? In a wonderful turn on Wordsworth's idea that the boy is father to the man, Stein inquires: "What is the use of being a little boy if you are growing up to be a man." And she continues, in a sentence, wryly universalizing the discussion: "And yet everybody does so unless it is a little girl going to grow up to be a woman." What is the use of having been the youthful Gertrude involved with May Bookstaver and Leo Stein if she was to become the companion of Alice Toklas, to have lived so many places if she was to settle in Paris for most of her adult life?

Ida, then, which at the first reading seems so technically curious in the apparent break in tempo and focus between the first and second halves, reenacts the watershed in Stein's own life when after Three Lives and during The Making of Americans Alice arrived in her life. Her marriage to Alice was clearly the central emotional event in her own life. It both limited her options and freedom (Alice manipulated both her personal and her literary friendships, as Linda Simon notes), and it created the domestic and critical support that sustained her over the decades that marked the gradual recognition of her stature. This novel is not meant as fictionalized autobiography, but it does bring into conjunction the two themes which would surely have been prominent had Stein written the autobiography of Gertrude Stein—entity and marriage. Such careful critics as Richard Bridgman and Michael J. Hoffman have found the novel tedious with the departure of Winnie, but surely this is because they are focused on the theme of publicity rather than of marriage among Americans.

The rapid movement of Ida from place to place and from marriage to marriage is crucial to the portrait of her as a twentieth-century American woman. This restlessness and rootlessness, her lack of enduring connection with place or family, for Stein characterizes her as American …

It is this mobility, this gift for abstraction, which Ida embodies, that makes it possible for any American to know anything about men and women, and so to understand the coming together of Ida and Andrew as that of two persons, to be experienced directly, unmediated by traditional conceptions of husband and wife, identities that the traditional culture of an earlier century would have taken as reality.

As Stein's geographical history of Ida concludes, the curious two-part structure of the novel takes on meaning. It is a curious blending of picaresque and epithalamium. Ida has traveled and now she rests much as Leopold Bloom [from Ulysses by James Joyce] does, but with the difference that her geography is meant to be literal geography, states crossed and recrossed, not mythical regions. In turn Ida and Andrew's motion is meant to be the stately and joyous rhythm of the epithalamium, not to recall it.

Poetry and prose is not interesting.
What is necessary now is not form but
    content.
That is why in this epoch a woman does the
    literary thinking.
Kindly learn everything please.

The novel as Stein writes it understands these forms and their origins in patriarchal culture. And it is her genius as a critic and a writer that she creates for Ida a contemporaneous vehicle suited to her reality. "Ida did not get married so that never again would she be alone." At first Ida experiences reality by herself, then upon maturity in the company of another person. Stein's own marriage with Toklas was by the writing of Ida in its fourth decade, and it had given her to understand well the nature of marriage, the spaces within it, its mythology, rituals, and processes. Gertrude in relation to Alice became over the years both more Gertrude and less Gertrude. In the beginning before she met Alice she was Gertrude. In the end she was Gertrude.

The thrice rewritten novel rewards the labor Stein put into it. The Ida-Ida of the first page is a cypher, an abstraction, whereas the Ida of the final page is a fully seen person. Through the successive relations—Love, Winnie, the three men she loved, and Andrew—that mark her passage from place to place, Ida gains intensity, density, and finally luminosity. At the novel's end the abandoned child of nineteenth-century fiction has emerged as a woman of common substance, at once fragile and majestic, complete in herself, and in enduring balance with another of her kind. When all is said and done, she rests before us an aging woman. "Not too much not too much Ida … And not enough Ida." Stein intends Ida to join the invisible choir of those who have gone before—Moll Flanders, Dorothea Brooke, Madame Bovary, and Isabel Archer.

Source: Cynthia Secor, "Ida, A Great American Novel," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 24, No. 1, Spring 1978, pp. 96-107.

SOURCES

Brinnin, John Malcolm, The Third Rose: Gertrude Stein and Her World, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1959, pp. 140-41.

Eliot, T. S., "The Waste Land," in T. S. Eliot: The Complete Poems and Plays, Harcourt Brace, 1958, p. 41.

Fadiman, Clifton, "Getting Gertie's Ida," in A Subtreasury of American Humor, edited by E. B. and Katherine S. White, Modern Library, 1941, pp. 544-45.

Hoffman, Michael J., "Gertrude Stein," in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 28, edited by Dennis Poupard, Gale Research, 1988, p. 334, reprinted from Twayne Publishers, 1976.

Knapp, Bettina L., Gertrude Stein, Frederick Ungar/Continuum, 1990, p. 166.

Proust, Marcel, "Swann's Way," in Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 1, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Henry Holt, 1922.

Stein, Gertrude, Ida, in Gertrude Stein: Writings 1932-1946, Library of America, 1998, pp. 611-705.

Sutherland, Donald, Gertrude Stein: A Biography of Her Work, Greenwood Press, 1951, pp. 154-55, 159.

Wagner-Martin, Linda, "Favored Strangers": Gertrude Stein and Her Family, Rutgers University Press, 1995.

Wilson, Edmund, "Gertrude Stein," in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 28, edited by Dedria Bryfonski and Phyllis Carmel Mendelson, Gale Research, 1978, p. 252, reprinted from Axel's Castle: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1931.

FURTHER READING

Flanner, Janet, Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939, Viking Press, 1972.

This is a collection of essays, published in 1972, though most of them were first written for the New Yorker under the name "Genet" between 1925 and 1939. The articles document the life and culture of the city and especially its bohemian population, and they also describe the milieu that Stein inhabited.

Forster, E. M., Aspects of the Novel, Harcourt Brace, 1927.

Forster is one of the major early twentieth-century English novelists. In this book, drawn from lectures delivered in 1927 at Cambridge University, Forster explores the nature of the novel as a form.

Gallup, Donald C., ed., The Flowers of Friendship: Letters Written to Gertrude Stein, Alfred A. Knopf, 1953.

This collection of letters written to Stein by friends provides an insightful view of her life.

Mellow, James R., Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein & Company, Phaidon Press, 1974.

Mellow correlates the events of Stein's daily life with her writings.

Wineapple, Brenda, Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1996.

This study of Stein and Leo Stein explores not only their relationship but the bohemian world of Paris in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ida." Novels for Students. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ida." Novels for Students. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/ida

"Ida." Novels for Students. . Retrieved September 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/ida

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.