Biography of Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein was an American writer, poet and art collector who spent most of her life in France.
Gertrude Stein, the youngest of a family of five children, was born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (merged with Pittsburgh in 1907)to upper-class German Jewish parents, Daniel and Amelia Stein. Her father was a railroad executive whose investments in streetcar lines and real estate made the family wealthy.
When Gertrude was three years old she and her family moved to Vienna and then Paris. They returned to America in 1878, settling in Oakland, California, where Stein attended First Hebrew Congregation of Oakland's Sabbath school.
Her mother died in 1888, and her father in 1891. Michael, her eldest brother, took over the family business holdings. He arranged for Gertrude, and another sister, Bertha, to live with their mother's family in Baltimore after the deaths of their parents. In 1892, she lived with her uncle David Bachrach.
In Baltimore, Stein met Claribel Cone and Etta Cone, who held Saturday evening salons which she would later emulate in Paris. The Cones shared an appreciation for art and conversation about it, and modeled a domestic division of labor that Stein would replicate in her relationship with Alice B. Toklas.
Stein attended Radcliffe College from 1893 to 1897, and was a student of psychologist William James. With James's supervision, Stein and another student, Leon Mendez Solomons, performed experiments on Normal Motor Automatism, a phenomenon hypothesized to occur in people when their attention is divided between two simultaneous intelligent activities, like writing and speaking.
These experiments yielded examples of writing that appeared to represent "stream of consciousness," a psychological theory often attributed to James, which became a term used to describe the style of modernist authors Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. In 1934, behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner interpreted Stein's difficult poem Tender Buttons as an example of "normal motor automatism". In a letter Stein wrote during the 1930s, she explained that she never accepted the theory of automatic writing: "there can be automatic movements, but not automatic writing. Writing for the normal person is too complicated an activity to be indulged in automatically."
At Radcliffe, she began a lifelong friendship with Mabel Foote Weeks, whose correspondence traces much of the progression of Stein's life. In 1897, Stein spent the summer in Woods Hole, Massachusetts studying embryology at the Marine Biological Laboratory, succeeded by two years at Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1901, she left Johns Hopkins without obtaining a degree.
In 1903, Stein moved to Paris, where she spent the rest of her life. From 1903 to 1914 she lived there with her brother Leo Stein, an art critic. It was during this period that she became well-known.
Much of Gertrude Stein's fame derives from a private modern art gallery she assembled, from 1904 to 1913, with her brother Leo Stein. Carl Van Vechten (music critic for the New York Times and then drama critic for the New York Press), and Henry McBride (art critic for the New York Sun), did much to increase Stein's fame in the USA. Both had wide-circulation newspaper article series in which they frequently exposed Gertrude's name to the public.
Of the art collection at 27 Rue de Fleurus, McBride commented: "in proportion to its size and quality ... [it is] just about the most potent of any that I have ever heard of in history." McBride also made the observation that Gertrude "collected geniuses rather than masterpieces. She recognized them a long way off."The collection soon had a worldwide reputation.
Leo Stein's acquaintances and study of modern art eventually resulted in the famous Stein art collections. Bernard Berenson hosted Gertrude and Leo in his English country house in 1902, and suggested they visit Paul Cézanne and Ambroise Vollard's art gallery.
The joint collection of Gertrude and Leo Stein began in late 1904, when Michael Stein announced that their trust account had accumulated a balance of 8,000 francs. They spent this at Vollard's Gallery, buying Gauguin's Sunflowers and Three Tahitians, Cézanne's Bathers, and two Renoirs.
The art collection increased and the walls at Rue de Fleurus were rearranged continuously to make way for new acquisitions. In "the first half of 1905" the Steins acquired Cézanne's Portrait of Mme Cézanne and Delacroix's Perseus and Andromeda. Shortly after the opening of the Paris Autumn Salon of 1905 (on October 18, 1905), the Steins acquired Matisse's Woman with a Hat and Picasso's Young Girl with Basket of Flowers.
By early 1906, Leo and Gertrude Stein's studio had many paintings by Henri Manguin, Pierre Bonnard, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Honoré Daumier, Henri Matisse, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Their collection was representative of two famous art exhibitions that took place during their residence together in Paris, and to which they contributed, either by lending their art, or by patronizing the featured artists. The Steins' elder brother, Michael, and sister-in-law Sarah (Sally) acquired a large number of Henri Matisse paintings; Gertrude's friends from Baltimore, Claribel and Etta Cone, collected similarly, eventually donating their art collection, virtually intact, to the Baltimore Museum of Art
While numerous artists visited the Stein salon, many of these artists were not represented among the paintings on the walls at 27 Rue de Fleurus. Where Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso's works dominated Leo and Gertrude's collection, the collection of Michael and Sarah Stein emphasized Matisse.
Contemporaries of Leo and Gertrude, Matisse and Picasso became part of their social circle, and were a part of the early Saturday evenings at 27 Rue de Fleurus. Gertrude attributed the beginnings of the Saturday evening salons to Matisse, as “[m]ore and more frequently, people began visiting to see the Matisse paintings-- and the Cézannes: "Matisse brought people, everybody brought somebody, and they came at any time and it began to be a nuisance, and it was in this way that Saturday evenings began."
Among Picasso's acquaintances who frequented the Saturday evenings were: Fernande Olivier (Picasso's mistress), Georges Braque (artist), André Derain (artist), Max Jacob (poet), Guillaume Apollinaire (poet), Marie Laurencin (Apollinaire's mistress and an artist in her own right), Henri Rousseau (painter), and Joseph Stella.
In April 1914 Leo relocated to Settignano, Italy, near Florence, and the art collection was divided. The division of the Steins' art collection was described in a letter by Leo:
“The Cézanne apples have a unique importance to me that nothing can replace. The Picasso landscape is not important in any such sense. We are, as it seems to me on the whole, both so well off now that we needn't repine. The Cézanne's had to be divided. I am willing to leave you the Picasso oeuvre, as you left me the Renoir, and you can have everything except that. I want to keep the few drawings that I have. This leaves no string for me, it is financially equable either way for estimates are only rough & ready methods, & I'm afraid you'll have to look upon the loss of the apples as an act of God. I have been anxious above all things that each should have in reason all that he wanted, and just as I was glad that Renoir was sufficiently indifferent to you so that you were ready to give them up, so I am glad that Pablo is sufficiently indifferent to me that I am willing to let you have all you want of it."
The Steins' holdings were dispersed eventually, by various methods and for various reasons.
After Stein's and Leo's households separated in 1914, she continued to collect examples of Picasso's art which had turned to Cubism. At her death, Gertrude's remaining collection emphasized the artwork of Picasso and Juan Gris, having sold most of her other pictures.
While living in Paris, Gertrude began writing for publication. Her earliest writings were mainly retellings of her college experiences. Her first critically acclaimed publication was Three Lives. In 1911, Mildred Aldrich introduced Gertrude to Mabel Dodge Luhan and they began a short-lived but fruitful friendship during which a wealthy Mabel Dodge promoted Gertrude's legend in the United States.
Mabel was enthusiastic about Gertrude's sprawling publication The Makings of Americans and, at a time when Gertrude had much difficulty selling her writing to publishers, privately published 300 copies of Portrait of Mabel Dodge at Villa Curonia,] a copy of which was valued at $25,000 in 2007. Dodge was also involved in the publicity and planning of the 69th Armory Show in 1913, "the first avant-garde art exhibition in America."
In addition, she wrote the first critical analysis of Gertrude's writing to appear in America, in "Speculations, or Post-Impressionists in Prose", published in a special March 1913 publication of Arts and Decoration. Foreshadowing Gertrude's later critical reception, Mabel wrote in "Speculations":
“In Gertrude Stein's writing every word lives and, apart from concept, it is so exquisitely rhythmical and cadenced that if we read it aloud and receive it as pure sound, it is like a kind of sensuous music. Just as one may stop, for once, in a way, before a canvas of Picasso, and, letting one's reason sleep for an instant, may exclaim: "It is a fine pattern!" so, listening to Gertrude Steins' words and forgetting to try to understand what they mean, one submits to their gradual charm.”
Mabel attributed the end of their friendship to an exchange in the autumn of 1912 when, during lunch, Gertrude sent her "such a good strong look over the table that it seemed to cut across the air to me in a band of electrified steel-- a smile traveling across on it-- powerful-- Heavens!".Alice interpreted the look as a flirtation and left the room, prompting Gertrude to follow, and when Gertrude returned, she said, "[Alice] doesn't want to come lunch ... She feels the heat today." The salon, and the people that came to visit it, provided the inspiration for The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
Q.E.D. (Not published until after her death)
Gertrude completed Q.E.D. (Quod Erat Demonstrandum) on October 24, 1903. This piece is discussed more completely later in this article at Lesbian relationships.
Fernhurst (written 1904)
In 1904 Stein began this fictional account of a scandalous three-person romantic affair involving a dean (M. Carey Thomas) and a faculty member (Mary Gwinn) from Bryn Mawr College and a Harvard graduate (Alfred Hodder). Mellow asserts that Fernhurst "is a decidedly minor and awkward piece of writing.". It includes some commentary that Gertrude mentioned in her autobiography when she discussed the "fateful twenty-ninth year" during which:
“ All the forces that have been engaged through the years of childhood, adolescence and youth in confused and ferocious combat range themselves in ordered ranks (and during which) the straight and narrow gateway of maturity, and life which was all uproar and confusion narrows down to form and purpose, and we exchange a great dim possibility for a small hard reality.
Also in our American life where there is no coercion in custom and it is our right to change our vocation so often as we have desire and opportunity, it is a common experience that our youth extends through the whole first twenty-nine years of our life and it is not till we reach thirty that we find at last that vocation for which we feel ourselves fit and to which we willingly devote continued labor.
Mellow observes that, in 1904, 30-year-old Gertrude "had evidently determined that the 'small hard reality' of her life would be writing".
Three Lives (written 1905–06)
Among the paintings was a portrait of Madame Cézanne which provided Gertrude with inspiration as she began to write, and which she credited with her evolving writing style illustrated by her early work, Three Lives:
“Gertrude claimed that the stylistic method of (Three Lives) had been influenced by the Cézanne portrait under which she sat writing. The portrait of Madame Cézanne is one of the monumental examples of the artist's method, each exacting, carefully negotiated plane--from the suave reds of the armchair and the gray blues of the sitter's jacket to the vaguely figured wallpaper of the background--having been structured into existence, seeming to fix the subject for all eternity. So it was with Gertrude's repetitive sentences, each one building up, phrase by phrase, the substance of her characters. ”
She began her novel Three Lives during the spring of 1905, and finished it the following year.
The Making of Americans (written 1902–11)
Gertrude Stein stated the date for her writing of The Making of Americans was 1906-1908. Her biographer has uncovered evidence that it actually began in 1902 and did not end until 1911.tein compared her work to James Joyce's Ulysses and to Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. Her critics were less enthusiastic about it. First publication in Alfred Stieglitz's Camera Work (August 1912).
Further publication history
Stein wrote the bulk of the novel between 1903 and 1911, and evidence from her manuscripts suggests three major periods of revision during that time. The manuscript remained mostly hidden from public view until 1924 when, at the urging of Ernest Hemingway, Ford Madox Ford agreed to publish excerpts in the transatlantic review. In 1925, the Paris-based Contact Press published a limited run of the novel consisting of 500 copies. A much-abridged edition was published by Harcourt Brace in 1934, but the full version remained out of print until Something Else Press republished it in 1966. In 1995, a new, definitive edition was published by Dalkey Archive Press with a foreword by William Gass.
Gertrude's Matisse and Picasso descriptive essays appeared in Alfred Stieglitz's August 1912 edition of Camera Work, a special edition devoted to Picasso and Matisse, and represented her very first publication. Of this publication, Gertrude said, "[h]e was the first one that ever printed anything that I had done. And you can imagine what that meant to me or to any one."
Word Portraits (written 1908–1913)
Gertrude's descriptive essays apparently began with her essay of Alice B. Toklas, "a little prose vignette, a kind of happy inspiration that had detached itself from the torrential prose of The Making of Americans". Gertrude's early efforts at word portraits are catalogued in Mellow, 1974, p. 129-37 and under individual's names in Kellner, 1988. Matisse and Picasso were subjects of early essays, later collected and published in Geography and Plays (published 1922) and Portraits and Prayers (published 1934).
Her subjects included several ultimately famous personages, and her subjects provided a description of what she observed in her Saturday salons at 27 Rue de Fleurus: "Ada" (Alice B. Toklas), "Two Women" (The Cone Sisters) (Claribel Cone and Etta Cone), Miss Furr and Miss Skeene (Ethel Mars and Maud Hunt Squire), "Men" (Hutchins Hapgood, Peter David Edstrom, Maurice Sterne), "Matisse" (1909) (Henri Matisse), "Picasso" (1909) (Pablo Picasso), "Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia" (1911) (Mabel Dodge Luhan), and "Guillaume Apollinaire" (1913).
Tender Buttons (written 1912)
Tender Buttons is the best known of Gertrude Stein's "hermetic" works. It is a small book separated into three sections - Food, Objects and Rooms each containing prose under subtitles. Its publication in 1914 caused a great dispute between Mabel Dodge Luhan and Gertrude, because Mabel had been working to have it published by another publisher. Mabel wrote at length about the bad choice of publishing it with the press Gertrude selected. Evans wrote Gertrude:
Claire Marie Press ... is absolutely third rate, & in bad odor here, being called for the most part 'decadent" and Broadwayish and that sort of thing. ... I think it would be a pity to publish with [Claire Marie Press] if it will emphasize the idea in the opinion of the public, that there is something degenerate & effete & decadent about the whole of the cubist movement which they all connect you with, because, hang it all, as long as they don't understand a thing they think all sorts of things. My feeling in this is quite strong.
Stein ignored Mabel's exhortations, and eventually Mabel, and published 1,000 copies of the book, in 1914. (An antiquarian copy was valued at over $1,200 in 2007). It is currently in print.
Stein's poems in Tender Buttons are very stylised and hermetic, as she preferred for sound rather than sense.
Alice B. Toklas
Stein met her life partner Alice B. Toklas on September 8, 1907, on Toklas' first day in Paris, at Sarah and Michael Stein's apartment. On meeting Stein, Toklas wrote:
“She was a golden brown presence, burned by the Tuscan sun and with a golden glint in her warm brown hair. She was dressed in a warm brown corduroy suit. She wore a large round coral brooch and when she talked, very little, or laughed, a good deal, I thought her voice came from this brooch. It was unlike anyone else's voice-- deep, full, velvety, like a great contralto's, like two voices.”
Soon thereafter, Stein introduced Toklas to Pablo Picasso at his studio, where he was at work on Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.
In 1908, they summered in Fiesole, Italy, Toklas staying with Harriet Lane Levy, the companion of her trip from the United States, and her housemate until Alice moved in with Stein and Leo in 1910. That summer, Stein stayed with Michael and Sarah Stein, their son Allan, and Leo in a nearby villa. Gertrude and Alice's summer of 1908 is memorialized in images of the two of them in Venice, at the piazza in front of Saint Mark's.
Toklas arrived in 1907 with Harriet Levy, with Toklas maintaining living arrangements with Levy until she moved to 27 Rue de Fleurus in 1910. In an essay written at the time, Stein discussed the complex efforts humorously, involving much letter writing and Victorian niceties, to extricate Levy from Toklas' living arrangements. In "Harriet", Stein considers Levy's nonexistent plans for the summer, following her nonexistent plans for the winter:
“She said she did not have any plans for the summer. No one was interested in this thing in whether she had any plans for the summer. That is not the complete history of this thing, some were interested in this thing in her not having any plans for the summer..... Some who were not interested in her not having made plans for the summer were interested in her not having made plans for the following winter. She had not made plans for the summer and she had not made plans for the following winter.... There was then coming to be the end of the summer and she was then not answering anything when any one asked her what were her plans for the winter.”
During the early summer of 1914, Gertrude bought three paintings by Juan Gris: Roses, Glass and Bottle, and Book and Glasses. Soon after she purchased them from Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler's gallery, the Great War began, Kahnweiler's stock was confiscated and he was not allowed to return to Paris. Gris, who before the war had entered a binding contract with Kahnweiler for his output, was left without income. Gertrude attempted to enter an ancillary arrangement in which she would forward Gris living expenses in exchange for future pictures. Stein and Toklas had plans to visit England to sign a contract for the publication of Three Lives, to spend a few weeks there, and then journey to Spain. They left Paris on July 6, 1914 and returned on October 17. When Britain declared war on Germany, Stein and Toklas were visiting Alfred North Whitehead in England. After a supposed three-week trip to England that stretched to three months due to the War, they returned to France, where they spent the first winter of the war.
With money acquired from the sale of Stein's last Matisse Woman with a Hat to her brother Michael, she and Toklas vacationed in Spain from May 1915, through the spring of 1916. During their interlude in Majorca, Spain, Gertrude continued her correspondence with Mildred Aldrich who kept her apprised of the War's progression, and eventually inspired Gertrude and Alice to return to France to join the war effort.
Toklas and Stein returned to Paris in June 1916, and acquired a Ford automobile with the help of associates in the United States; Gertrude learned to drive it with the help of her friend William Edwards Cook. Gertrude and Alice then volunteered to drive supplies to French hospitals, in the Ford they named Auntie, "after Gertrude's aunt Pauline, 'who always behaved admirably in emergencies and behaved fairly well most times if she was flattered.'"
During the 1920s, her salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus, with walls covered by avant-garde paintings, attracted many of the great writers of the time, including Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound Thornton Wilder, and Sherwood Anderson. While she has been credited with inventing the term "Lost Generation" for some of these expatriate American writers, at least three versions of the story that led to the phrase are on record, two by Ernest Hemingway and one by Gertrude Stein. During the 1920s, she became friends with writer Mina Loy, and the two would remain lifelong friends. Extremely charming, eloquent, and cheerful, she had many friends and promoted herself often. Her judgments of literature and art were influential. She was Ernest Hemingway's mentor, and upon the birth of his son he asked her to be the godmother of his child. During the summer of 1931, Stein advised the young composer and writer Paul Bowles to go to Tangier, where she and Alice had vacationed.
During the 1930s, Stein and Toklas became famous with the 1933 mass market publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. She and Alice had an extended lecture tour in the United States during this decade. They also spent several summers in Bilignin, France, and doted on a famous poodle named "Basket" whose successor, "Basket II", comforted Alice in the years after Gertrude's death.
With the outbreak of World War II, Stein and Toklas relocated to a country home that they had rented for many years previously in Bilignin, Ain, in the Rhône-Alpes region. Gertrude and Alice, who were both Jewish, escaped persecution probably because of their friendship to Bernard Faÿ who was a collaborator with the Vichy regime and had connections to the Gestapo, or possibly because Gertrude was an American and a famous author. Gertrude's book "Wars I Have Seen" written before the German surrender and before the liberation of German concentration camps, likened the German army to Keystone cops. When Faÿ was sentenced to hard labor for life after the war, Gertrude and Alice campaigned for his release. Several years later, Toklas would contribute money to Faÿ's escape from prison.
After the war, Stein was visited by many young American soldiers. Her preface written for a 1945 Paris exhibition for Spanish painter Francisco Riba Rovira "is one of Gertrude Stein's last texts" on her vision of the painting art, approximately one year before her death. In it she expressed her opinions of Picasso, Cézanne, Matisse and Juan Gris as well as Riba-Rovira, a familiar artist of her salon at rue de Fleurus.
The following is a translation from Stein's preface to the exhibition by Francisco Riba Rovira at Roquepine Gallery in May 1945:
It is inevitable that when we really need someone we find him. The person you need attracts you like a magnet. I returned to Paris, after these long years spent in the countryside and I needed a young painter, a young painter who would awaken me. Paris was magnificent, but where was the young painter?I looked everywhere:at my contemporaries and their followers. I walked a lot, I looked everywhere, in all the galleries , but the young painter was not there. Yes, I walk a lot, a lot at the edge of the Seine where we fish, where we paint, where we walk dogs (I am of those who walk their dogs). Not a single young painter! One day, on the corner of a street, in one of these small streets in my district, I saw a man painting. I looked at him; at him and at his painting, as I always look at everybody who creates something I have an indefatigable curiosity to look and I was moved. Yes, a young painter! We began to speak, because we speak easily, as easily as in country roads, in the small streets of the district. His story was the sad story of the young people of our time .A young Spaniard who studied in fine arts in Barcelona: civil war; exile; a concentration camp;escape .Gestapo, another prison, another escape... Eight lost years! If they were lost, who knows? And now a little misery, but all the same the painting. Why did I find that it was him the young painter, why? I visited his drawings, his painting :we speak. I explained that for me, all modern painting is based on what Cézanne nearly made, instead of basing itself on what he almost managed to make. When he could not make a thing, he hijacked it and left it. He insisted on showing his incapacity: he spread his lack of success: showing what he could not do, became an obsession for him .People influenced by him were also obsessed by the things which they could not reach and they began the system of camouflage. It was natural to do so, even inevitable:that soon became an art, in peace and in war, and Matisse concealed and insisted at the same time on that Cézanne could not realize, and Picasso concealed, played and tormented all these things. The only one who wanted to insist on this problem, was Juan Gris. He persisted by deepening the things which Cézanne wanted to do, but it was too hard a task for him: it killed him. And now here we are, I find a young painter who does not follow the tendency to play with what Cézanne could not do, but who attacks any right the things which he tried to make, to create the objects which have to exist, for, and in themselves, and not in relation. This young painter has his weaknesses and his strengths. His force will push him in this road. I am fascinated and that is why he is the young painter who I needed. He is Francisco Riba Rovira
Stein is the author of one of the earliest coming out stories, Q.E.D. (published in 1950 as Things as They Are), written in 1903 and suppressed by the author. The story, written during travels after leaving college, is based on a three-person romantic affair she joined while studying at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. The affair was complicated, as Stein was less experienced with the social dynamics of romantic friendship as well as her own sexuality and any moral dilemmas regarding it. Stein maintained at the time that she detested "passion in its many disguised forms". The relationships of Stein's acquaintances Mabel Haynes and Grace Lounsbury ended as Haynes started one with Mary Bookstaver (also known as May Bookstaver). Stein became enamored of Bookstaver but was unsuccessful in advancing their relationship. Bookstaver, Haynes, and Lounsbury all later married men.
Stein began to accept and define her pseudo-masculinity through the ideas of Otto Weininger's Sex and Character (1906). Weininger, though Jewish by birth, considered Jewish men effeminate and women as incapable of selfhood and genius, except for female homosexuals who may approximate masculinity. As Stein equated genius with masculinity, her position as a female and an intellectual becomes difficult to synthesize and modern feminist interpretations of her work have been called into question.
More positive affirmations of Stein's sexuality began with her relationship with Alice B. Toklas. Ernest Hemingway describes how Alice was Gertrude's "wife" in that Stein rarely addressed his (Hemingway's) wife, and he treated Alice the same, leaving the two "wives" to chat. Alice was 4'11" tall, and Gertrude was 5'1"
The more affirming essay "Miss Furr and Miss Skeene" is one of the first homosexual revelation stories to be published. The work, like Q.E.D., is informed by Stein's growing involvement with a homosexual community though it is based on lesbian partners Maud Hunt Squire and Ethel Mars. The work contains the word "gay" over one hundred times, perhaps the first published use of the word "gay" in reference to same-sex relationships and those who have them, and, thus, uninformed readers missed the lesbian content. A similar essay of homosexual men begins more obviously with the line "Sometimes men are kissing" but is less well known.
In Tender Buttons Stein comments on lesbian sexuality and the work abounds with "highly condensed layers of public and private meanings" created by wordplay including puns on the words "box", "cow", and in titles such as "tender buttons".
Stein was politically conservative, though the nature of her opinions is debated. According to Janet Malcolm's Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, Stein was a life-long Republican and vocal critic of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. She publicly endorsed General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War and admired Vichy leader Marshal Philippe Pétain, translating some of the latter's speeches into English. These unpublished translations included a favorable introduction in which she compared him to George Washington. Some have argued for a more nuanced view of Stein's collaborationist activity, arguing that it was rooted in her wartime predicament and status as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France. Prior to World War II she remarked in an interview with the New York Times Magazine that Adolf Hitler should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. "I say that Hitler ought to have the peace prize, because he is removing all the elements of contest and of struggle from Germany. By driving out the Jews and the democratic and Left element, he is driving out everything that conduces to activity. That means peace.... By suppressing Jews... he was ending struggle in Germany," (New York Times Magazine, May 6, 1934). Stein used clear irony in this statement, as she herself was both a Jew and a leftist and opposed the "peace" promised by Hitler. As Stein explains later in the same interview: "Building a Chinese wall is always bad. Protection, paternalism and suppression of natural activity and competition lead to dullness and stagnation. It is true in politics, in literature, in art. Everything in life needs constant stimulation. It needs activity, new blood." Similarly, Stein commented at 1938 on Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky: "There is too much fathering going on just now and there is no doubt about it fathers are depressing."
Stein's writing can be placed in three categories: "hermetic" works that have gone largely unread, best illustrated by The Making of Americans: The Hersland Family; popularized writing such asThe Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; and speech writing and more accessible autobiographical writing of later years, of which Brewsie and Willie is a good example. Her works include novels, plays, stories, libretti and poems written in a highly idiosyncratic, playful, repetitive, and humorous style. Typical quotes are: "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose"; "Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle"; about her childhood home in Oakland, "There is no there there"; and "The change of color is likely and a difference a very little difference is prepared. Sugar is not a vegetable."
These stream-of-consciousness experiments, rhythmical essays or "portraits", were designed to evoke "the excitingness of pure being" and can be seen as literature's answer to Cubism, plasticity, and collage. Many of the experimental works such as Tender Buttons have since been interpreted by critics as a feminist reworking of patriarchal language. These works were well-received by avant-garde critics but did not initially achieve mainstream success. Despite Stein's work on automatic writing with William James, she did not see her work as automatic, but as an 'excess of consciousness'.
Though Gertrude collected cubist paintings, especially those of Picasso, the largest visual influence on her work is that of Cézanne. Particularly, he influenced her idea of equality, distinguished from universality: "the whole field of the canvas is important" . Rather than a figure/ground relationship, "Stein in her work with words used the entire text as a field in which every element mattered as much as any other." It is a subjective relationship that includes multiple viewpoints. Stein explained: "The important thing is that you must have deep down as the deepest thing in you a sense of equality."
Her use of repetition is ascribed to her search for descriptions of the "bottom nature" of her characters, such as in The Making of Americans where the narrator is described through the repetition of narrative phrases such as "As I was saying" and "There will be now a history of her." Stein used many Anglo-Saxon words and avoided words with "too much association". Social judgement is absent in her writing, so the reader is given the power to decide how to think and feel about the writing. Anxiety, fear and anger are also absent, and her work is harmonic and integrative.
Stein predominantly used the present progressive tense, creating a continuous present in her work, which Grahn argues is a consequence of the previous principles, especially commonality and centeredness. Grahn describes "play" as the granting of autonomy and agency to the readers or audience: "rather than the emotional manipulation that is a characteristic of linear writing, Stein uses play." In addition Stein's work is funny, and multilayered, allowing a variety of interpretations and engagements. Lastly Grahn argues that one must "insterstand ... engage with the work, to mix with it in an active engagement, rather than 'figuring it out.' Figure it in."
In 1932, using an accessible style to appeal to a wider audience, she wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; the book would become her first best-seller. Despite the title, it was actually Stein's autobiography. The style was quite similar to that of The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, which was written by Toklas.
Several of Stein's writings have been set to music by composers, including Virgil Thomson's operas Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All, and James Tenney's setting of Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose as a canon dedicated to Philip Corner, beginning with "a" on an upbeat and continuing so that each repetition shuffles the words, e.g. "a/rose is a rose/is a rose is/a rose is a/rose."
“ For me the work of Gertrude Stein consists in a rebuilding, an entirely new recasting of life, in the city of words. Here is one artist who has been able to accept ridicule, who has even forgone the privilege of writing the great American novel, uplifting our English speaking stage, and wearing the bays of the great poets to go live among the little housekeeping words, the swaggering bullying street-corner words, the honest working, money saving words and all the other forgotten and neglected citizens of the sacred and half forgotten city. ”
In a private letter to his brother Karl, Anderson said,
As for Stein, I do not think her too important. I do think she had an important thing to do, not for the public, but for the artist who happens to work with words as his material.
Other critics took a more negative view of Stein's work. F. W. Dupee (1990, p. IX) defines "Steinese" as "gnomic, repetitive, illogical, sparsely punctuated...a scandal and a delight, lending itself equally to derisory parody and fierce denunciation."
Composer Constant Lambert (1936) compares Stravinsky's choice of "the drabbest and least significant phrases" in L'Histoire du Soldat to Gertrude Stein's in "Helen Furr and Georgine Skeene" (1922), specifically: "[E]veryday they were gay there, they were regularly gay there everyday." He writes that the "effect would be equally appreciated by someone with no knowledge of English whatsoever", apparently missing the pun frequently employed by Stein.
James Thurber wrote:
“Anyone who reads at all diversely during these bizarre 1920s cannot escape the conclusion that a number of crazy men and women are writing stuff which remarkably passes for important composition among certain persons who should know better. Stuart P. Sherman, however, refused to be numbered among those who stand in awe and admiration of one of the most eminent of the idiots, Gertrude Stein. He reviews her Geography and Plays in the August 11 issue of the Literary Review of the New York Evening Post and arrives at the conviction that it is a marvellous and painstaking achievement in setting down approximately 80,000 words which mean nothing at all. ”
(From Collecting Himself, Michael Rosen, ed.)
Stein died at the age of 72 from stomach cancer in Neuilly-sur-Seine on July 27, 1946, and was interred in Paris in the Père Lachaise cemetery. When Stein was being wheeled into the operating room for surgery on her stomach, she asked Toklas, "What is the answer?" When Toklas did not reply, Stein said, "In that case, what is the question?"Stein named writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten as her literary executor, and he helped to publish works of hers which remained unpublished at the time of her death. There is a monument to Stein on the Upper Terrace of Bryant Park, New York.
Legacy and commemoration
Gertrude Stein has been the subject of many artistic works. In the 1998 Latin American literary classic "Yo-Yo Boing!," novelist Giannina Braschi pays homage to Stein as an imaginary mentor. In 2005, playwright/actor Jade Esteban Estrada portrayed Stein in the solo musical ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 1 at Princeton University. Loving Repeating is a musical by Stephen Flaherty based on the writings of Gertrude Stein. Stein and Alice B. Toklas are both characters in the eight person show. Stein is a central character in Nick Bertozzi's 2007 graphic novel The Salon. The posthumously-published Journals of Ayn Rand contain several highly hostile references to Gertrude Stein. From Rand's working notes for her novel "The Fountainhead", it is clear that the character Lois Cook in that book was intended as a caricature of Stein. Stein was also portrayed in the 2011 Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris by Kathy Bates.
Gertrude Stein's Works:
Three Lives (The Grafton Press, 1909)
White Wines, (1913)
Tender buttons: objects, food, rooms (1914) online version
An Exercise in Analysis (1917)
A Circular Play (1920)
Geography and Plays (1922)
The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress (written 1906-1908, published 1925)
Four Saints in Three Acts (libretto, 1929: music by Virgil Thomson, 1934)
Useful Knowledge (1929)
How to Write (1931)
They must. Be Wedded. To Their Wife (1931)
Operas and Plays (1932)
Matisse Picasso and Gertrude Stein with Two Shorter Stories (1933)
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933)
Lectures in America (1935)
The Geographical History of America or the Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind (1936)
Everybody's Autobiography (1937)
Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights (1938)
The World is Round (1939)
Paris France (1940)
Ida: A Novel (1941)
Three Sisters Who Are Not Sisters (1943)
Wars I Have Seen (1945)
Reflections on the Atom Bomb (1946) online version
Brewsie and Willie (1946)
The Mother of Us All (libretto, 1946: music by Virgil Thompson 1947)
Last Operas and Plays (1949)
The Things as They Are (written as Q.E.D. in 1903, published 1950)
Patriarchal Poetry (1953)
Alphabets and Birthdays (1957)
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- A Long Dress
- Red Faces
- Stanzas in Meditation
- Study Nature
- A Frightful Release
- Susie Asado
- From Four Saints in Three Acts
- Stanzas In Meditation: Stanza I
- Negligible Old Star
- Stanzas In Meditation: Stanza LXXXIII
Why is the world at peace.
This may astonish you a little but when you realise how
easily Mrs. Charles Bianco sells the work of American
painters to American millionaires you will recognize that
authorities are constrained to be relieved. Let me tell you a
story. A painter loved a woman. A musician did not sing.
A South African loved books. An American was a woman
and needed help. Are Americans the same as incubators.
But this is the rest of the story. He became an authority.