WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
- Three Lives: Stories of The Good Anna, Melanctha and The Gentle Lena (New York: Grafton Press, 1909; London: John Lane, Bodley Head / New York: John Lane, 1915).
- Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia (Florence, Italy: Privately printed, 1912).
- Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms (New York: Claire Marie, 1914).
- Have They Attacked Mary, He Giggled. (West Chester, Pa.: Printed by Horace F. Temple, 1917).
- Geography and Plays (Boston: Four Seas, 1922).
- The Making of Americans, Being A History of A Family's Progress (Paris: Contact Editions, 1925; New York: A. & C. Boni, 1926; London: Owen, 1968); abridged as The Making of Americans, The Hersland Family (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1934).
- Descriptions of Literature (Englewood, N.J.: George Platt Lynes & Adlai Harbeck, 1926).
- Composition as Explanation (London: Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1926).
- A Book Concluding with As a Wife Has a Cow, A Love Story (Paris: Editions de la Galerie Simon, 1926; Barton, Millerton & Berlin: Something Else Press, 1973).
- An Elucidation (Paris: transition, 1927).
- A Village Are You Ready Yet Not Yet A Play in Four Acts (Paris: Editions de la Galerie Simon, 1928).
- Useful Knowledge (New York: Payson & Clarke, 1928; London: John Lane, Bodley Head, 1929).
- An Acquaintance with Description (London: Seizin Press, 1929).
- Lucy Church Amiably (Paris: Plain Edition, 1930; New York: Something Else Press, 1969).
- Dix Portraits, English text with French translations by Georges Hugnet and Virgil Thomson (Paris: Libraire Gallimard, 1930).
- Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded Friendship Faded, Written on a Poem by Georges Hugnet (Paris: Plain Edition, 1931).
- How to Write (Paris: Plain Edition, 1931; Barton: Something Else Press, 1973).
- Operas and Plays (Paris: Plain Edition, 1932).
- Matisse Picasso and Gertrude Stein with Two Shorter Stories (Paris: Plain Edition, 1933; Barton, Berlin & Millerton: Something Else Press, 1972).
- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1933; London: John Lane, Bodley Head, 1933).
- Four Saints in Three Acts, An Opera To Be Sung (New York: Random House, 1934).
- Portraits and Prayers (New York: Random House, 1934).
- Lectures in America (New York: Random House, 1935).
- Narration: Four Lectures (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1935).
- The Geographical History of America or The Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind (New York: Random House, 1936).
- Is Dead (N.p.: Joyous Guard Press, 1937).
- Everybody's Autobiography (New York: Random House, 1937; London & Toronto: Heinemann, 1938).
- A Wedding Bouquet, Ballet Music by Lord Berners, Words By Gertrude Stein (London: J. & W. Chester, 1938).
- Picasso [in French] (Paris: Libraire Floury, 1938); translated into English by Alice B. Toklas (London: Batsford, 1938; New York: Scribners / London: Batsford, 1939).
- The World is Round (New York: William R. Scott, 1939; London: Batsford, 1939).
- Paris France (London: Batsford, 1940; New York: Scribners / London: Batsford, 1940).
- What Are Masterpieces (California: Conference Press, 1940; expanded edition, New York, Toronto, London & Tel Aviv: Pitman, 1970).
- ida A Novel (New York: Random House, 1941).
- Petits Poèmes Pour un Livre de Lecture, French translation by Madame la Baronne d'Aiguy (Charlot, France: Collection Fontaine, 1944); republished in English as The First Reader & Three Plays (Dublin & London: Maurice Fridberg, 1946; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948).
- Wars I Have Seen (New York: Random House, 1945; enlarged edition, London: Batsford, 1945).
- Brewsie and Willie (New York: Random House, 1946).
- Selected Writings, edited by Carl Van Vechten (New York: Random House, 1946).
- In Savoy, or Yes Is for a Very Young Man (A Play of the Resistance in France) (London: Pushkin, 1946).
- Four in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1947).
- The Mother of Us All, by Stein and Thomson (New York: Music Press, 1947).
- Blood on the Dining Room Floor (Pawlet, Vt.: Banyan Press, 1948).
- Two (Hitherto Unpublished) Poems (New York: Gotham Book Mart, 1948).
- Last Operas and Plays, edited by Van Vechten (New York & Toronto: Rinehart, 1949).
- Things As They Are, A Novel in Three Parts by Gertrude Stein, Written in 1903 but Now Published for the First Time (Pawlet, Vt.: Banyan Press, 1950).
- Two: Gertrude Stein and Her Brother and Other Early Portraits [1908-12], volume I of Unpublished Works of Gertrude Stein (New Haven: Yale University Press / London: Cumberlege, Oxford University Press, 1951).
- In a Garden, An Opera in One Act, libretto by Stein, music by Meyer Kupferman (New York: Mercury Music, 1951).
- Mrs. Reynolds and Five Earlier Novelettes, volume 2 of Unpublished Works of Gertrude Stein (New Haven: Yale University Press / London: Cumberlege, Oxford University Press, 1952).
- Bee Time Vine and Other Pieces 1913-1927, volume 3 of Unpublished Works of Gertrude Stein (New Haven: Yale University Press / London: Cumberlege, Oxford University Press, 1953).
- As Fine As Melanctha (1914-1930), volume 4 of Unpublished Works of Gertrude Stein (New Haven: Yale University Press / London: Cumberlege, Oxford University Press, 1954).
- Absolutely Bob Brown, or Bobbed Brown (Pawlet, Vt.: Addison M. Metcalf Collection, 1955).
- Painted Lace and Other Pieces 1914-1937, volume 5 of Unpublished Works of Gertrude Stein (New Haven: Yale University Press / London: Cumberlege, Oxford University Press, 1955).
- Stanzas in Meditation and Other Poems [1929-1933], volume 6 of Unpublished Works of Gertrude Stein (New Haven: Yale University Press / London: Cumberlege, Oxford University Press, 1956).
- Alphabets & Birthdays, volume 7 of Unpublished Works of Gertrude Stein (New Haven: Yale University Press / London: Oxford University Press, 1957).
- A Novel of Thank You, volume 8 of Unpublished Works of Gertrude Stein (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958; London: Oxford University Press, 1959).
- Gertrude Stein's America, edited by Gilbert A. Harrison (Washington, D.C.: Robert B. Luce, 1965).
- Writings and Lectures 1911-1945, edited by Patricia Meyerowitz (London: Owen, 1967); republished as Look at Me Now and Here I Am: Writing and Lectures, 1909-1945 (Harmondsworth & Baltimore: Penguin, 1971).
- Lucretia Borgia, A Play (New York: Albondocani Press, 1968).
- Motor Automatism, by Stein and Leon M. Solomons (New York: Phoenix Book Shop, 1969).
- Selected Operas and Plays, edited by John Malcolm Brinnin (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970).
- Gertrude Stein on Picasso, edited by Edward Burns (New York: Liveright, 1970).
- I Am Rose (New York: Mini-Books, 1971).
- Fernhurst, Q.E.D., and Other Early Writings (New York: Liveright, 1971; London: Owen, 1971).
- A Primer for the Gradual Understanding of Gertrude Stein, edited by Robert Bartlett Haas (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1971).
- Reflections on the Atomic Bomb, volume 1 of The Previously Uncollected Writings of Gertrude Stein, edited by Haas (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1973).
- Money (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1973).
- How Writing is Written, volume 2 of The Previously Uncollected Writings of Gertrude Stein, edited by Haas (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1974).
- The Yale Gertrude Stein: Selections (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1980).
- "Normal Motor Automatism," by Stein and Leon M. Solomons, Psychological Review, 3 (September 1896): 492-512.
- "Cultivated Motor Automatism," Psychological Review, 5 (May 1898): 295-306.
- "Henri Matisse" and "Pablo Picasso," Camera Work, special number (August 1912): 23-25, 29-30.
- "From a Play by Gertrude Stein," New York Sun, 18 January 1914, VI: 2.
- "Aux Galeries Lafayette," Rogue, 1 (March 1915): 13-14.
- "A League," Life, 74 (18 September 1919): 496.
- "Two Cubist Poems. The Peace Conference, I and II," Oxford Magazine, 38 (7 May 1920): 309.
- Review of Three Stories & Ten Poems by Ernest Hemingway, Chicago Tribune, European edition, 27 November 1923, p. 2.
- The Making of Americans, transatlantic review, 1 (April 1924): 127-142; 1 (May 1924): 297-309; 1 (June 1924): 392-405; 2 (July 1924): 27-38; 2 (August 1924): 188-202; 2 (September 1924): 284-294; 2 (October 1924): 405-414; 2 (November 1924): 527-536; 2 (December 1924): 662-670.
- "The Life of Juan Gris The Life and Death of Juan Gris," transition, no. 4 (July 1927): 160-162.
- "Bibliography," transition, no. 14 (February 1929): 47-55.
- "Genuine Creative Ability," Creative Art, 6 (February 1930), supplement: 41.
- "Scenery and George Washington," Hound & Horn, 5 (July / September 1932): 606-611.
- "Basket," Lion and Crown, 1 (January 1933): 23-25.
- Review of Roosevelt and His America by Bernard Fäy, Kansas City Star, 20 January 1934.
- "Why Willows," Literary America, 1 (July 1934): 19-20.
- "Plays and Landscapes," Saturday Review of Literature, 11 (10 November 1934): 269-270.
- "Completely Gertrude Stein: A Painting Is Painted as a Painting," Design, 36 (January 1935): 25, 28.
- Review of Puzzled America by Sherwood Anderson, Chicago Daily Tribune, 4 May 1935, p. 14.
- "English and American Language in Literature," Life and Letters Today, 13 (September 1935): 19-27.
- "A Portrait of the Abdys," Janus (May 1936): 15; Dialogue with Nunez Martinez, Ken, 1 (2 June 1938): 103-104.
- "The Situation in American Writing" [symposium], Partisan Review, 6 (Summer 1939): 40-41.
- "Ballade," Confluences, 11 / 12 (July 1942): 11-12.
- "Liberation, Glory Be!," Collier's, 114 (16 December 1944): 14-15, 61-63; 114 (23 December 1944): 51, 74-76.
- "Now We Are Back in Paris," Compass (December 1945): 56-60.
- "Capital, Capitals," by Stein, with music by Virgil Thomson, New Music, 20 (April 1947): 3-34.
- "I Like American and American," '47, 1 (October 1947): 16-21.
- "Jean Atlan: Abstract Painting," Yale French Studies, no. 31 (May 1964): 118.
Gertrude Stein, who lived and wrote as though she knew she would be legendary, is more than that now: she is an icon. The image of Stein, sitting under the Picasso portrait of her in the living room at 27, rue de Fleurus, in Paris, has permanently entered the consciousness of literate people everywhere. The image carries with it a myriad of associations: the brilliant hostess around whom gathered a dazzling array of avantgarde writers and artists--among them Ernest Hemingway , F. Scott Fitzgerald , Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Sherwood Anderson , Alfred Steiglitz, Carl Van Vechten , Guillaume Apollinaire, Georges Braque, Marie Laurencin, Robert Delaunay; the powerful personality, alternately brusque or charming as the situation or her mood dictated; the dominant half of a famous and apparently harmonious lesbian relationship with Alice B. Toklas , with whom she lived for thirty-seven years; the originator of the phrase, "A rose is a rose is a rose," words familiar even to those who know little or nothing of the woman who wrote them. Indeed, so unique are the facts of her life that they have continually overshadowed her contribution to the whole range of American literature: fiction, poetry, drama, theory, and criticism.
Although she is regarded as an experimentalist, the works for which she is best known are her most conventionally written: Three Lives (1909) and her series of memoirs-- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), Everybody's Autobiography (1937), and Wars I Have Seen (1945). Her critical works-- Composition as Explanation (1926), Lectures in America (1935), and What Are Masterpieces (1940), which explain, analyze, or justify her method--have historically been useful only to Stein scholars or to those writers, like her, who wish to pursue answers to philosophical or epistemological questions. The remaining works--portraits, still lifes, geographies, plays, novels, operas, and philosophical disquisitions--shatter conventional notions of genre and function as explorations into the nature and function of mind, human nature, perception, language, and art. "Language is a real thing," she said, it is not "an imitation of sounds or colors or emotions it is an intellectual recreation." In an attempt to catch this "real thing" she invented new rhetorical strategies, bringing to language a purity, simplicity, and joy, but in the doing she effectively alienated a whole generation of readers and writers who saw her as an eccentric ("The Mother Goose of Montparnasse"), cloaking herself in a deliberate verbal obscurity.
Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, on 3 February 1874, the fifth and last child of Amelia Keyser and Daniel Stein, neither of whom, it seems, was able to engender filial devotion in their daughter. About her mother, frequently sickly and always passive, she would later write in The Making of Americans (1925), "She was very loving in her feeling to all her children, but they had been always ... after they stopped being very little children, too big for her ever to control them. She could not lead them nor could she know what they needed inside them." Amelia Stein died of cancer in 1888, but, wrote Gertrude Stein in Everybody's Autobiography, "we had already had the habit of doing without her." Daniel Stein died three years later: his moodiness and tyranny over his children led Stein to generalize: "fathers are depressing." This emotional estrangement from her parents was shared by her brother Leo Stein , and it resulted in an intricate bond between them, characterized by alliance (they called themselves the "happy exiles" during their early years at home) and later by long periods of bitterness and antagonism as Gertrude Stein's celebrity and productivity grew far beyond that of her brother, who saw her as possessing an intellect inferior to and wholly dependent upon his own.
Nonetheless, her early years in the Stein household provided, both by way of Leo's influence and the family's years in Europe, the crucible in which was forged her extraordinary adult life and work. In 1875, when Gertrude Stein was one year old, Daniel Stein moved his family to Vienna, where he had developed business interests, and then three years later to Passy, France. Her exposure to German and French--in both of which she early became fluent--undoubtedly helped to shape her later daring experiments in language. In 1879 the Stein family went to stay with Amelia Stein's family in Baltimore, and the next year they moved to Oakland, California, where they lived for a year in Tubb's Hotel, and then rented a ten-acre farm just outside the city. The fresh beauty of this environment was one of her earliest aesthetic experiences. As she recalls it in her massive The Making of Americans: "There was, just around the house, a pleasant garden, in front were green lawns not very carefully attended and with large trees in the center whose roots always sucked up for themselves almost all the moisture, water in this dry western country could not be used just to keep things green and pretty and so, often, the grass was very dry in the summer, but it was very pleasant then lying there watching the birds, black in the bright sunlight and sailing, and the firm white summer clouds breaking away from the horizon and slowly moving ... and then when the quail came it was fun to go shooting, and then when the wind and the rain and the ground were ready to help seeds in their growing, it was good fun to help plant them, and the wind would be so strong it would blow the leaves and branches of the trees down around them and you could shout and work and get wet and be all soaking and run out full into the strong wind and let it dry you, in between the gusts of rain that left you soaking. It was fun all the things that happened all the year then."
These early years were relatively unstructured, and, although Gertrude's formal schooling was limited and erratic, she and Leo shared in the discovery of George Eliot , Mark Twain , Jules Verne , and William Shakespeare , and they read widely in history and science books and in encyclopedias. Their hunger for all aspects of culture was already in evidence: they made frequent excursions to art galleries and attended, with regularity, opera and theater productions.
Following Daniel Stein's death in 1891, Michael, the eldest of the Stein children, became guardian of the family. In 1892 he arranged for Gertrude and her sister, Bertha, to move to Baltimore to live with an aunt, and Leo, who had been attending the University of California at Berkeley, transferred to Harvard. His matriculation there was crucial to Gertrude Stein's development, for she followed him in 1893 and began study at Radcliffe College.
It was here that she came under the tutelage of the father of American pragmatism, philosopher William James, who was later to remember Gertrude Stein as one of his most brilliant students. Her assessment of him, if somewhat presumptuous (she was twenty at the time she recorded it), shows the emergence of her powerful intellect and fearless judgment. He was, she wrote in an essay for an English composition course, "truly a man among men, ... a scientist of force and originality embodying all that is strongest and worthiest in scientific spirit, ... a metaphysician skilled in abstract thought, clear and vigorous and yet too great to worship logic as his God, and narrow himself to a belief merely in the reason of man." From James she learned the absolute necessity of retaining an open mind in the inquiry into the nature of all things, spiritual as well as material. (He told her, "Never reject anything. Nothing has been proved. If you reject anything, that is the beginning of the end as an intellectual.") Under James 's supervision she experimented with automatic writing, attempting to discover the nature and function of the subconscious mind, an enterprise which may well have stimulated her interest in capturing the rhythms of speech, but which led as well to her observations on character (the fiction writer emergent) and to a tendency to group people according to type. Thus, in the paper published as a result of her work in the Harvard psychology laboratory, "Normal Motor Automatism," she described two kinds of personality: the first is "nervous, high strung, very imaginative, has the capacity to be easily roused and intensely interested"; the second is "distinctly phlegmatic. If emotional, decidedly of a weakish, sentimental order."
In general, Stein's life at Radcliffe, where she earned an A.B. degree in 1898, was marked by social as well as academic success. According to the accounts of classmates, she enjoyed a measure of popularity although she tended to display airs of superiority. She earned only a C in her English composition course with the poet William Vaughn Moody , and her writing for the course is more significant for its autobiographical content than for its suggestiveness about her later method. A theme titled "In the Library" describes the experience of a young woman who, while sitting in the college library, feels suddenly suffocated and rushes out to find an ocean view that brings her fresh air and a sense of freedom: "Now the time had come when her old and well-beloved companions had begun to pall. One could not live on books, she felt that she must have some human sympathy. Her passionate yearnings made her fear for the endurance of her own reason. Vague fears began to crowd on her. Her longings and desires had become morbid. She felt that she must have an outlet. Some change must come into her life, or she would no longer be able to struggle with the wild moods that now so often possessed her." Moody found the theme lacking in organization and in literary method but displaying considerable psychological insight and emotional intensity.
This extraordinary candor about the turmoil of her emotional life may well indicate that at about this time Stein had begun to recognize the conflicting sexual impulses eventuating in her love affair with May Bookstaver in 1900. Following the advice of William James, who advised her that a career as a professional psychologist required a medical degree, she had enrolled in the Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1897, did reasonably well for the first two years, and then began to fail miserably. Commentators on Stein's life have suggested that Leo Stein 's decision in 1900 to live in Europe may have left her despondent and unable to perform academically, but, in fact, her grades show a marked decline before he left Baltimore, where he had been engaged in independent biological research. She had met a group of young feminists, several of them graduates of Bryn Mawr College. Among them was May Bookstaver, for whom she had developed a strong sexual attachment but who, after a brief liaison, chose another woman in the group as her lover. Letters between Stein and Bookstaver documenting the relationship were destroyed by Alice Toklas years later, but we know Stein referred to them as she was composing Q.E.D., her work of lesbian fiction. Published posthumously as Things As They Are (1950) and later in Fernhurst, Q.E.D., and Other Early Writings (1971), Q.E.D. is the story of a female love triangle in which the character representing Gertrude Stein suffers a painful rejection and is cast as the lonely outsider. Her next love relationship--with Alice B. Toklas --was to be a deep and satisfying one and was to last the rest of her life.
Between 1900 and autumn 1903 when she decided to live in Paris, Stein made three trips to Europe, either visiting or accompanying Leo, who had decided to devote his life to the study of painting and aesthetics. During her intermittent sojourns in America, she tried, repeatedly, to reconcile with May Bookstaver; finally, accepting the futility of her efforts, she moved in with her brother at 27, rue de Fleurus, in Paris. After a visit to the United States in early 1904, she did not return to her native land for thirty years. When Stein moved in with her brother, she was twenty-nine years old, at a point, she was to write in Fernhurst, when "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." This "small hard reality" was, for Stein, the commitment to a life of writing.
Her written work up to this time included Q. E. D., Fernhurst, and the early draft of The Making of Americans, a combining of novel, biography, and history. Over the next two years she met Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso and was enormously impressed and then very much influenced by their paintings. In spring 1905 Stein began to write what has become her best-known fiction work, Three Lives . The importance of this collection of three stories is in the subtle power of each portrait and in the narrative technique, which reflects her growing disenchantment with traditional fictional forms. The avant-garde painters who became her friends were in the process of rejecting conventional (that is, "realistic") ways of seeing and had begun to break up the spatial planes depicted on the canvas so that completed paintings appeared no longer to mirror the objects in the material world which they represented. Similarly, over the next decade she made herself the writer of the nonrepresentational. Her aim was to capture the "movement of thoughts and words," and at the same time to give the sense of character as existing in a continuous present, divorced from history or description. Being is not remembering, she said, "at any moment when you are you you are you without the memory of yourself." The result was a simple, unadorned prose, emptied of associations and largely composed of nouns and verbs subtly modulated to reveal what she called "entity." In her word portrait, "Miss Furr and Miss Skeene" (first published in Geography and Plays, 1922), it looked like this:
The voice Helen Furr was cultivating was quite a pleasant one. The voice Georgine Skeene was cultivating was, some said, a better one. The voice Helen Furr was cultivating she cultivated and it was quite completely a pleasant enough one then, a cultivated enough one then. The voice Georgine Skeene was cultivating she did not cultivate too much. She cultivated it quite some. She cultivated and she would some time go on cultivating it and it was not then an unpleasant one, it would not be then an unpleasant one, it would be quite richly enough to be a pleasant enough one.
The stripping down of language, removing its complex connotations, creating the word as a thing in itself (as in the words cultivate and pleasant and their variations), and defining character by way of a fixed moment of consciousness were extraordinary innovations forcing readers to perceive language, mind, and world in new ways. Nonetheless, Stein's contemporaries were not ready for such distortions of conventional prose, deriding most of her work as nonsensical, fraudulent, or worse. More recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in her experimental work--in part from feminists who applaud her break with a patriarchal literary tradition, but from a wide range of scholars in other disciplines as well. These include film and theater theorists, poets, literary deconstructionists, philosophers, and composers--all of whom turn to her work for examples of the sophisticated use of language pressed to its limits of purity and innocence.
The bridge to the later abstract prose forms is Three Lives , a work of enormous influence on a small number of writers of her time, notably Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway , who found in Stein's insistent focus on the present moment an alternative to looking to a past that seemed to have failed them and the generation for whom they became spokesmen. Critic Donald Sutherland has summed it up this way: "Three Lives, more radically than any other work of the time in English, brought the language back to life.... Gertrude Stein in this work tried to coordinate the composition of the language with the process of consciousness" by using simple words "to express the most complicated thing" and then by employing "repetition and dislocation to make the word bear all the meaning it has." Thus, he concludes, "One has to give her work word by word the deliberate attention one gives to something written in italics." Three Lives, although not widely read at the time of its publication (Stein had to subsidize its printing), and understood by only a small coterie among those who did read it, created new possibilities for the short-story form.
Several convergent forces led to the writing of Three Lives. The lessons she learned under the tutelage of William James at Harvard and her concomitant fascination with language and its relationship to the workings of the mind remained with Stein long after her apprenticeship with him. Her ideas on this subject and her application of them to her writing left her brother Leo either indifferent or unabashedly hostile. (He later characterized her experimental work as "an abomination.") Her sensitivity to his rejection led to her writing during the quiet hours after midnight when she could avoid his scrutiny. The need of a creative sensibility akin to her own was met in Pablo Picasso, who by late 1905 was a frequent visitor at 27, rue de Fleurus. For several months in 1905 and 1906 Stein sat for him as he painted her portrait, and during this period they engaged in an ongoing, mutually supportive dialogue. Stein's biographer, James R. Mellow , describes their artistic relationship this way: "Picasso had ... a way of summing up, in razorsharp and emphatic statements, his ideas about art and the creative life that complemented and influenced her own way of thinking. When he told her, for example, that the artist who first creates a thing is `forced to make it ugly,' that `those who follow can make of this thing a beautiful thing because they know what they are doing, the thing having already been invented, but the inventor because he does not know what he is going to invent inevitably the thing he makes must have its ugliness,' she set it down as one of the larger truths to be gained from listening to a genius." In return "she might offer her own breathtaking generalizations, such as her belief that the reason that she and Picasso were so responsive to each other was that they represented the most advanced and most backward of modern nations, America and Spain. They had, therefore, the affinity of opposites."
The effect of this enduring friendship, while characterized by the occasional turbulence that would naturally exist between two such powerful personalities, was to release Gertrude, gradually, from a dependence on Leo and to instill in her the confidence she desperately needed to go on with her innovative work. During this period she came increasingly under the influence of paintings by Henri Matisse, as well as Picasso and Cézanne--all of whose works the Stein family (Leo, Gertrude, and Michael and his wife, Sarah) were purchasing and promoting with regularity. Indeed, the salon at 27, rue de Fleurus, had become a small but important museum in which many of the finest avant-garde canvasses could be seen. One of the earliest important paintings on her walls was by Cézanne, a portrait of his wife seated in a red chair and wearing a blue dress. The artist had departed from the established techniques of photographic or representational portraiture by structuring color planes so that areas of color gave a solidity and monumentality to the work and captured the essential nature of his subject. At the same time the model did not dominate the painting as in traditional portraiture but was related to everything else in the painting equally, achieving a kind of democratization of composition. Stein sat in front of the painting calculatedly and began to write the stories that were to become Three Lives. She later had this to say about the impact of Cézanne's painting on the writing that took place in front of it: "I came to Cézanne and there you were, at least, there I was, not all at once, but as soon as I got used to it. The landscape looked like a landscape that is to say what is yellow in the landscape looked yellow in the oil painting, and what was blue in the landscape looked blue in the oil painting and if it did not there was still the oil painting, the oil painting by Cézanne. The same thing was true of the people there was no reason why it should be but it was, the same thing was true of the chairs, the same thing was true of the apples. The apples looked like apples the chairs looked like chairs and it all had nothing to do with anything because if they did not look like apples or chairs or landscapes or people they were apples and landscapes and chairs and people. They were so entirely these things that they were not an oil painting and yet that is just what the Cézannes were they were an oil painting. They were so entirely an oil painting that it was all there whether they were finished, the paintings, or whether they were not finished. Finished or unfinished it always was what it looked like the very essence of an oil painting because everything was there, really there.... This then was a great relief to me and I began my writing."
At about this time Gertrude Stein, at her brother's suggestion, had begun reading Gustave Flaubert , and as part of her immersion in the technique and vision of the French novelist, had begun to translate his Trois Contes (1877). The consequence of this experience was the decision to begin three tales of her own, tales at whose center were servant women modeled on real women from her childhood. The mood is set in the epigraph which Stein took from a work of Jules Laforgue : "Donc je suis un malheureux et ce n'est ni ma faute ni celle de la vie" (So I am unhappy and neither I nor life is responsible for it). The first and last stories, "The Good Anna" and "The Gentle Lena," are closely related to the rhetorical and thematic tradition of the naturalists writing in this period; that is to say, the prose style, while rhythmic and poetic, is relatively conventional, and the characters are depicted as passive victims who, almost from the beginning, are seen as doomed by fate to a tragic end. But in the middle tale, "Melanctha," one can see the transition to an entirely new perception of the role of fiction. The central character struggles with the conflicting forces that seem, all unbidden, to dominate her existence, and the narrative now dispenses with conventional means of structuring plot and time.
"The Good Anna" is closely patterned after Flaubert's "Un Coeur Simple" in Trois Contes. Anna, like Flaubert's young woman, is a servant girl, who, like Flaubert's Félicité, depends on the events in other people's lives for the meaning of her own. Since she moves from position to position and since her energies are so heavily invested in those for whom she works, her history is one of a series of losses, the greatest of which is that of Miss Mathilda, the large, phlegmatic woman with whom she spends her last years and who eventually moves to Europe to live. The pride she cannot feel about her own achievements, possessions, and appearance is displaced onto her mistress: "With Miss Mathilda Anna did it all. The clothes, the house, the hats, what she should wear and when and what was always best for her to do. There was nothing Miss Mathilda would not let Anna manage, and only be too glad if she would do.... Anna was proud almost to bursting of her cherished Miss Mathilda with all her knowledge and her great possessions, and the good Anna was always telling of it all to everybody that she knew." When Mathilda, going out one evening, puts on an old dress, Anna stops her, insisting, "You can't go out to dinner in that dress, Miss Mathilda. You got to go and put on your new dress you always look so nice in." The most original aspect of this work is the way in which much of the narrative perpetuates the style of the character's voice. As a consequence, one has the sense that everything within the narrative is perceived by Anna, is given her conceptual limitations, her values, her mind-set. Here is the narrator describing a brief period in Anna's life: "All this time Anna was leading her happy life with Dr. Shonjen. She had every day her busy time. She cooked and saved and sewed and scrubbed and scolded. And every night she had her happy time, in seeing her doctor like the fine things she bought so cheap and cooked so good for him to eat. And then he would listen and laugh so loud, as she told him stories of what had happened on that day." The effect of this device--the inversions, the rhythmic repetitions, the colloquialisms--is to place the narrator on the same social and epistemological plane as the character and, thus, to yoke together character, narrative persona, and vision. Stein's great contribution here is her demonstration that working-class characters can be as interesting psychologically as those from the middle class, who are traditionally the subjects of fiction. In her treatment of Anna, she avoids even the faintest patronizing tone which could easily have resulted had the tale been told from the point of view and in the voice of a socially superior narrator.
Anna's eccentricities, in part rooted in her German-immigrant background, make her complex: although well motivated and relentlessly moral, she is not simply a "good Anna" but a tough-minded, at times irritable, and occasionally badgering woman. That which Stein has also caught in Anna's occasional rebelliousness is the repressed anger predictably experienced by members of the servant class, for whom there is a preordained and changeless requirement that they perform smilingly, an exacting of courteous and cheerful behavior no matter what their spirits may in actuality dictate. The story ends with the departure of Miss Mathilda and then, very quickly, the death of Anna. Given the dependency which alone characterizes her existence, there is literally nothing further she can live for. Anna has known that Miss Mathilda never lives in one place for long, but she has "made herself forget it. This last year when she knew that it was coming she had tried hard not to think it would happen.... The dreary day dragged out and then all was ready and Miss Mathilda left to take her train. Anna stood strained and pale and dry eyed on the white stone steps of the little red brick house that they had lived in. The last thing Miss Mathilda heard was the good Anna bidding foolish Peter say good bye and be sure to remember Miss Mathilda." The report of Anna's death is given by way of a letter to Miss Mathilda, and its contents make clear that the good Anna died in precisely the same way she lived--her thoughts rooted in concern for those outside herself:
"Dear Miss Mathilda," wrote Mrs. Drehten, "Miss Annie died in the hospital yesterday after a hard operation. She was talking about you and Doctor and Miss Mary Wadsmith all the time. She said that she hoped you would take Peter and the little Rags to keep when you come back to America to live. I will keep them for you here Miss Mathilda. Miss Annie died easy, Miss Mathilda, and sent you her love."
In "The Gentle Lena" Stein reveals with even greater force the relationship between language and power. Like Anna, Lena is a German immigrant, but she has a less assertive personality and an even greater linguistic inadequacy in her adopted country; so she is overwhelmed by others of her group who, in their need to compensate for their own feelings of powerlessness, succeed in manipulating the events of her life.
Early in the story we learn of the influence on Lena of her aunt, Mrs. Haydon, whose own daughters are unmanageable and who consequently chooses the young, gentle Lena for the exercising of her maternal prerogatives. "Mrs. Haydon thought it would be a fine thing to take [Lena] back with her to Bridgepoint and get her well started.... Lena's age just suited Mrs. Haydon's purpose. Lena could first go out to service, and learn how to do things, and then, when she was a little older Mrs. Haydon could get her a good husband. And then Lena was so still and docile, she would never want to do things her own way. And then, too, Mrs. Haydon, with all her hardness had wisdom, and she could feel the rarer strain there was in Lena."
The search for a husband begins: for four years Mrs. Haydon is "busy looking around among all the german people that she knew for the right man to be Lena's husband, and now at last she was quite decided. The man Mrs. Haydon wanted for Lena was a young german-american tailor, who worked with his father. He was good and all the family were very saving, and Mrs. Haydon was sure that this would be just right for Lena, and then too, this young tailor always did whatever his father and his mother wanted." But neither Lena nor Herman Kreder wish to marry: she remains silent, impassive; he runs away. When Lena stands before her aunt, mute, intimidated, she is berated: "You just stand there so stupid and don't answer just like you ain't heard a word what I been saying to you. I never see anybody like you, Lena. If you going to burst out at all, why don't you burst out sudden instead of standing there so silly and don't answer." Of course, "bursting out" is totally inconsistent with Lena's character, and so, when her aunt asks if she likes Herman, she responds: "Why I do anything you say, Aunt Mathilda. Yes, I like him. He don't say much to me, but I guess he is a good man, and I do anything you say for me to do."
Even though Lena has been jilted by Herman Kreder, when the reluctant bridegroom finally reappears, the two young people find they have no power to fight the communal forces urging their union. They capitulate, and Lena, now living with Herman and his parents, retreats even further into silence and isolation. So few are her articulated needs and so infrequent are her demands that it is as though she has no existence at all. When she dies in childbirth, the event is given only a passing reference, the narrative structure emulating her inconsequentiality, the lack of impact her introverted nature has had on the lives of others: "When the baby was come out at last, it was like its mother lifeless. While it was coming, Lena had grown very pale and sicker. When it was all over Lena had died, too, and nobody knew just how it had happened to her."
With "Melanctha," the second story in the collection but the last to be written, Stein's break with traditional fictional forms was complete. In this story of a young black woman's struggle to understand her troubled and passionate nature, Stein not only stretched the linguistic parameters of narrative strategy, but she found a way to enter the black experience with a rare authenticity. There have been, admittedly, those critics whose views of "Melanctha" have been less than sanguine. Black-American poet and novelist Claude McKay wrote, "In the telling of the story I found nothing striking and informative about Negro life.... Melanctha seemed more like a brief American paraphrase of Esther Waters than a story of Negro life. The original Esther Waters is more important to me." The most openly hostile response to the story came from British writer and artist (and frequent nay-sayer) Wyndham Lewis , who called it "the most wearisome dirge it is possible to imagine.... What is the matter with it is, probably, that it is dead." He went on to charge that "The monstrous, desperate soggy lengths of primitive mass-life.... are undoubtedly intended as an epic contribution to the present mass-democracy. The texture of the language has to be jumbled, cheap, slangy, and thick to suit."
Both these critics either inadvertantly or willfully misrepresented Stein's intention and achievement. A careful reading of "Melanctha," even from the vantage point of today's heightened consciousness in matters of race and ethnicity, reveals an authorial attitude of compassion, wisdom, and sensitivity. It is precisely this astuteness that Richard Wright caught in the story at the time of his first reading. He claimed it was "the first long serious literary treatment of Negro life in the United States" and, in a 1945 review of Stein's Wars I Have Seen, described discovering the story while browsing in a public library in Chicago and taking Three Lives home so that he could read "Melanctha": "As I read it my ears were opened for the first time to the magic of the spoken word. I began to hear the speech of my grandmother, who spoke a deep, pure Negro dialect and with whom I had lived for many years. All of my life I had been only half hearing, but Miss Stein's struggling words made the speech of the people around me vivid. From that moment on, in my attempts at writing, I was able to tap at will the vast pool of living words that whirled around me." After reading a left-wing literary critic's charge that Stein was a decadent writer who opposed social revolution, Wright "contrived a method to gauge the degree to which Miss Stein's prose was tainted with the spirit of counter-revolution." He read "Melanctha" to a group of semiliterate black stockyard workers: "They understood every word. Enthralled, they slapped their thighs, howled, laughed, stomped, and interrupted me constantly to comment upon the characters. My fondness for Steinian prose never distressed me after that." The anecdote emphasizes the authenticity of dialect and character, the truthfulness of events and behaviors, the accuracy of language patterns in this rendering of the stormy life of a young black working-class woman by an upper-middle-class white one.
The story of "Melanctha" is loosely patterned after Stein's earlier Q.E.D. and, like that work, is rooted in the experience of an oppressed social group. Yet here she has replaced the lesbian love relationship and its difficulties with the struggle of a beautiful young light-skinned black woman to discover her place in a world whose limits and values she cannot really fathom any more than she can understand the conflicting and constantly changing emotional forces that seem to drive her. That Stein should have an interest in and sensitivity to oppressed groups--lesbians, German immigrant women, black working-class women--is not surprising. As an intellectual Jewish lesbian she could not have been more outside the mainstream of contemporary culture. What is surprising, however, is the degree to which she was able to shape language into a tool for the subtle communication of thought processes and lived experience as no one ever had before her.
Stein said that "Melanctha" is a pattern of "beginning again and again." Thus, in Melanctha's relationship with each person who enters her life, she moves toward, then away from, then nearer to, then back again from the intimacy that she seems so urgently to need--a dizzying dance of tentative acceptance and rejection that ends, repeatedly, in Melanctha's isolation. The pattern first emerges in her friendship with Jane Harden, a young black woman who, the narrator says, introduces Melanctha into the ways of "wisdom." The sexuality at the heart of this story has been for many decades unacknowledged, or at best glossed over. That Melanctha is defined mainly, although not only, by a powerful eroticism is clear from the beginning in her flirtations with the men at the railroad station and shipyard. This appetite is expressed in her lesbian relationship with Jane Harden as well as in the heterosexual liaisons both women openly seek: "It was not from men that Melanctha learned her wisdom. It was always Jane Harden herself who was making Melanctha begin to understand.... Jane had many ways in which to do this teaching. She told Melanctha many things. She loved Melanctha hard and made Melanctha feel it very deeply. She would be with other people and with men and with Melanctha, and she would make Melanctha understand what everybody wanted, and what one did with power when one had it.... In every way she got it from Jane Harden. There was nothing good or bad in doing, feeling, thinking or in talking, that Jane spared her. Sometimes the lesson came almost too strong for Melanctha, but somehow she always managed to endure it and so slowly, but always with increasing strength and feeling, Melanctha began to really understand."
Melanctha's nature is complex: although she possesses great vitality and an enormous appetite for experience and "knowing," she desires, too, "peace and gentleness and goodness." But like so many other young fictional heroines whose characters are tested as they move outward into the world, Melanctha lacks a moral guide; she is, in a very real sense, parentless. Although her mother and father are married, they do not live together. Her mother has been responsible for raising her, but, as the narrator explains, "Melanctha had not liked her mother very well." Her mother "had always been a little wandering and mysterious and uncertain in her ways," and these "things she had in her of her mother never made her feel respect." Though she has "almost always hated" him, she more closely identifies with her father. She resents and fears his coarseness and brutality, but she loves "the power in herself that came through him."
After a few years of "seeking wisdom" with and through Jane Harden, Melanctha meets Jefferson Campbell, an attractive, but quiet, serious, young black physician, who until Melanctha "has never yet in his life had real trouble." They meet when Jeff is called in to treat her mother in the last days of a terminal illness. The long, agonizing wait draws them together, but Jeff is a "thinking" man, Melanctha a "feeling" woman; the relationship is doomed despite their early strong attachment to one another. The long, complex, continually shifting texture of this romance is revealed in subtly modulated language, expressive of both the inner thoughts and spoken words of each character. Key words appear and reappear, defining the distinctive and sharply contrasting emotional structures of Melanctha and Jeff as they grope futilely toward an understanding. This extended dialogue reveals the rhetorical strategy Stein uses to establish the psychological nature of her two characters:
"You see it's this way with me always Miss Melanctha, I really certainly don't ever like to get excited, and that kind of loving hard does seem always to mean just getting all the time excited. That certainly is what I always think from what I see from them that have it bad Miss Melanctha, and that certainly would never suit a man like me. You see Miss Melanctha I am a very quiet kind of fellow, and I believe in a quiet life for all the colored people. No Miss Melanctha I certainly never have mixed myself up in that kind of trouble."
"Yes I certainly do see that very clearly Dr. Campbell," said Melanctha, "I see that's certainly what it is always made me not know right about you and that's certainly what it is that makes you really mean what you was always saying. You certainly are just too scared Dr. Campbell to really feel things way down in you. All you are always wanting Dr. Campbell is just to talk about being good, and to play with people just to have a good time, and yet always to certainly keep yourself out of trouble. It don't seem to me Dr. Campbell that I admire that way to do things very much. It certainly ain't really to me being very good. It certainly ain't any more to me Dr. Campbell, but that you certainly are awful scared about really feeling things way down in you, and that's certainly the only way Dr. Campbell I can see that you can mean, by what it is that you are always saying to me."
"I don't know about that Miss Melanctha, I certainly don't think I can feel things very deep in me, though I do say I certainly do like to have things nice and quiet, but I don't see harm in keeping out of danger Miss Melanctha, when a man certainly knows he don't want to get killed in it, and I don't know anything that's more awful dangerous Miss Melanctha than being strong in love with somebody. I don't mind sickness or real trouble Miss Melanctha, and I don't want to be talking about what I can do in real trouble, but you know something about that Miss Melanctha, but I certainly don't see much in mixing up just to get excited, in that awful kind of danger. No Miss Melanctha I certainly do only know just two kinds of ways of loving. One kind of loving seems to me, is like one has a good quiet feeling in a family when one does his work, and is always living good and being regular, and then the other way of loving is just like having it like any animal that's low in the streets together, and that don't seem to me very good Miss Melanctha, though I don't ever say that its not all right when anybody likes it, and that's all the kinds of love I know Miss Melanctha, and I certainly don't care very much to get mixed up in that kind of a way just to be in trouble."
Jefferson stopped and Melanctha thought a little.
"That certainty does explain to me Dr. Campbell what I been thinking about you this long time. I certainly did wonder how you could be so live, and knowing everything, and everybody, and talking so big always about everything, and everybody always liking you so much, and you always looking as if you was thinking, and yet you really was never knowing about anybody and certainly not being really very understanding."On a later occasion Jeff protests, "I certainly do think I feel as much for you Miss Melanctha, as you ever feel about me, sure I do"; and she responds, "I certainly do care for you Jeff Campbell less than you are always thinking and much more than you are ever knowing."
Throughout the story, Melanctha is described as always "wandering," "looking for excitement," having "too much feeling," and always finding "trouble." Given what we know of her history with Jane Harden and her early flirtations with the railroad and dockyard workers, the terms could be construed as having specifically sexual connotations, but Stein's shaping of her character transcends the merely primitive or titillating. While Melanctha's nature is frankly sensual, and while it is clear that she has experienced intimacy with several men (as well as with Jane Harden), this eroticism is a metaphor for her openness and responsiveness to life, a childlike delight in the myriad of experiences presented to her sensibility. This distinguishes her from Jeff Campbell, who lives "so that he could understand what troubled people, and not just to have `excitements.'" He is a practical man, a rationalist; she is a sybarite, and it is her very need and ability to enjoy a diversity of sensuous experiences that charms others while it troubles her. She lives completely in the here and now, a creature of the immediate (exemplifying both through the prose that describes her and the experiences she lives through, Stein's concept of the continuous present: "being is not remembering"; "at any moment when you are you you are you without the memory of yourself"). Consequently, she has great difficulty in "remembering right"; her own history is elusive to her. Jeff's accusation that she never is "remembering anything only what you just then are feeling in you," is precisely her predicament. Much of the dialogue between the young lovers is centered around the issues of trust and fidelity: "no man can ever really hold you," Jeff tells her, "because you mean right Melanctha, but you never can remember...."
Although their efforts to establish a strong and lasting union are thwarted by their differences, Jeff, through his closeness to Melanctha, is able to move beyond the narrow emotional limits he has placed upon his life. From her he learns to think less and feel more; first, he begins to "feel a little"; then he becomes less "sure of what he wants"; he stops "thinking in words"; he begins to "wander" and finds he is "losing himself in strong feeling." Finally, one afternoon, Jeff finds he can, like Melanctha, respond fully to the glories of the physical world: "He loved all the colors in the trees and on the ground, and the little, new, bright colored bugs he found in the moist ground and in the grass he loved to lie on and in which he was busy searching. Jeff loved everything that moved and that was still, and that had color, and beauty, and real being. Jeff loved very much this day while they were wandering. He almost forgot that he had any trouble with him still inside him. Jeff loved to be there with Melanctha Herbert. She was always so sympathetic to him for the way she listened to everything he found and told her, the way she felt his joy in all this being, the way she never said she wanted anything different from the way they had it. It was certainly a busy and a happy day, this their first long day of really wandering." For the first time Jeff finds "real being." He achieves the freshness and innocence that so defines Melanctha and tells her: "You see Melanctha, it's like this way with me. I got a new feeling now, you been teaching to me ... and I see perhaps what really loving is like, like really having everything together, new things, little pieces all different, like I always before been thinking was bad to be having, all go together like, to make one good big feeling." Jeff, through loving her, has achieved spiritual and psychological integration, a wholeness not available to Melanctha. Her function is to provide for others what they do not have without her, but hers is a restless spirit. She seems destined to move on from relationship to relationship like a principle of energy, giving much, taking little.
Following her affair with Jeff Campbell, she enters one with the irresponsible gambler Jem Richards, to whom cards and travel mean more than any woman, and from this to a complex, strangely satisfying friendship with the rigid, scolding, authority figure Rose Johnson, a woman Melanctha feels has "worked in to be the deepest of all her emotions." But Rose, fearing the effect the unwittingly seductive Melanctha might have on her husband, Sam, rejects her, for bidding her ever to come to her house again. This act is a fatal blow; Rose has been a source of strength to Melanctha; she has been able to give her a feeling of safety she has not experienced before: "And now Rose had cast her from her. Melanctha was lost, and all the world went whirling in a mad weary dance around her." She feels that "nothing any more could ever help." It is as though she is all used up, as though the intensity of the emotional investment she has made in each of her doomed encounters has left her drained, empty. The short time that remains to her is marked by loneliness and despair, and then by weakness and a fatal illness. As in the stories of "The Good Anna" and "The Gentle Lena," her life ends in a phrase: "They sent her where she would be taken care of, a home for poor consumptives, and there Melanctha stayed until she died."
While Stein's story of this troubled, spirited young woman has interest in and of itself (and may have significant autobiographical resonance in the heroine's unsuccessful search for a parent figure), it is her technique, a deliberate departure from past fictional prose forms, that warrants most attention. The careful limitation of vocabulary, the emphatic repetition, the distortion of diction and syntax suggest a rudimentary level of consciousness, a mirroring of the mind as it experiences feelings and perceives events. The texture of this prose style is halting, hypnotic, incantatory. Each character is depicted, not by way of narrative description or conventionally deployed dialogue, but rather by the unique linguistic patterns that establish his or her personality. The rootedness of each individual within limited, repeated word patterns emphasizes both the struggle to achieve understanding and the inability of language to act as a medium of communication. Absent from "Melanctha" is fiction's socially elevated tone, its occasional over-reliance on description, plot, and dialogue, its gratuitous building to denouements, and its ever-present authorial voice. Absent, too, is the aggrandizement of one character, one event with the resultant diminution of all others. Stein had achieved in writing Three Lives the democratization of composition that had so struck her as she sat and gazed at Cézanne's portrait of his wife.
In 1907, not long after she completed the writing of Three Lives, Michael and Sarah Stein introduced Gertrude Stein to Alice B. Toklas , who had traveled to Paris from her home in California with a companion, Harriet Levy. Toklas's recollection of this meeting in What Is Remembered (1963) makes wonderfully vivid the impact Stein immediately had upon her: "In the room were Mr. and Mrs. Stein and Gertrude Stein. It was Gertrude Stein who held my complete attention.... 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 conralto's, like two voices. She was large and heavy with delicate small hands and a beautifully modeled and unique head." Later she was to remark after meeting the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead , "He was my third genius for whom the bell rang. The first two had been Gertrude Stein and Picasso."
There are several ways in which the two women must have been drawn to each other. Each was well educated, well informed about, and vitally interested in the arts; each had a Jewish background which, from the standpoint of orthodox rituals, each had renounced; each had lost parents while still young; each had spent time in the vast openness of the American West; each had traveled to and fallen in love with Paris, which was to become home for them in their shared life; and each was sexually woman-oriented, a fact about Toklas that Stein possessed even before their meeting.
But the ways in which they differed are of equal importance; Toklas, in her greater passivity and in her taking over most of the domestic responsibilities (she developed a reputation as cook; the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook still enjoys great popularity), made it possible for Stein to expend her energies on her increasingly difficult, ever more innovative writing. Toklas became integral to the composing process itself. Her fine literary instincts and her openness to the unconventional nature of Stein's work led her at first to encourage Stein, then to begin editing and typing the manuscripts. Since Gertrude's relationship with Leo had been rapidly disintegrating, the entrance of Toklas into Stein's life could not have been more felicitous. Here at last was someone who was vitally interested in every aspect of her existence and whose pleasure came, not in competing with her as her brother did, but in creating an environment in which Stein's creativity could flourish. Not long after their meeting, Harriet Levy returned to California, and Toklas moved into 27, rue de Fleurus. In 1914 Leo moved out, announcing later that Toklas was not responsible for his departure; the growing rift between sister and brother had made their continuing to live together impossible.
In European Experiences (1935), volume two of her Intimate Memories, Mabel Dodge Luhan describes Alice Toklas this way: "slight and dark, with beautiful gray eyes hung with black lashes--and she had a drooping Jewish nose, and her eyelids drooped, and the corners of her red mouth and the lobes of her ears drooped under the black folded Hebraic hair, weighted down, as they were with heavy Oriental earrings." To Luhan, "She looked like Leah, out of the Old Testament, in her half-Oriental get-up--her blues and browns and oyster whites--her black hair--her barbaric chains and jewels--and her melancholy nose. Artistic." Clearly not beautiful, Toklas nonetheless seems to have possessed an exoticism, a charm, and an air of elegance that attracted people to her. She had been born to an upper-middle-class San Francisco family that later suffered severe financial setbacks. Her mother died when she was nineteen, and she was sent to her grandparents to keep house for them and the adult sons who lived with them; this arrangement placed severe restrictions both on her social life and on her ability to develop her emerging talent for music into anything like a career. While she took what she could of the culture then beginning to develop in the San Francisco area, by the time she was twenty-eight she yearned for more, and, having come into a small inheritance from her grandfather, arranged with her friend, Harriet Levy, to spend the winter in Paris. The celebrated meeting with Gertrude Stein gave her her vocation. Not only did she act as listener, critic, and appreciative audience for Stein, but she frequently entertained her with wry and lively anecdotes. Her role as raconteur is caught in Stein's word portrait "Ada" (Geography and Plays): "Someone who was living was almost always listening. Someone who was loving was almost always listening.... That one who was loving was telling about being one then listening. That one being loving was then telling stories having a beginning and a middle and an ending."
The two women took up their lives together very much as husband and wife, with Toklas guarding Stein from unwanted visitors and interruptions and entertaining the wives of guests at their Saturday night salons: "The genuises came and talked to Gertrude Stein and the wives sat with me," Stein has Toklas report in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. They fell into comfortable, unvarying patterns: Toklas cooked and Stein ate; Toklas tended the garden and Stein chopped wood; Toklas prepared the shopping lists and Stein drove the car; Toklas proofread the manuscripts and found publishers for them; Stein continued to write. While Toklas's role seems to have been defined by a general subservience to Stein, she gained immediate exposure to a lively world of art and artists that would never have been hers without the entrance of Stein into her life. She found herself suddenly, astonishingly, at such events as the famous Banquet Rousseau in 1908 at Picasso's studio, where some of the most famous artists of the day became increasingly drunk waiting for a dinner that never arrived, Guillaume Apollinaire sang songs to the accompaniment of Henri Rousseau on the violin, and a donkey ate the feathers off Toklas's hat.
It is interesting to note that after Alice Toklas moved to 27, rue de Fleurus, Gertrude Stein's writing became more joyous, more rooted in the domestic scene which she experienced daily, and more openly erotic, as in "Lifting Belly" (first published in Bee Time Vine and Other Pieces 1913-1927, 1953):
Kiss my lips. She did
Kiss my lips again she did
Kiss my lips over and over and over again she did.Clearly, although her work found no responsive audience in the larger literary world, her new living arrangement and the total fulfillment it brought led to confidence in her work and abandonment to a myriad of creative impulses. Before the beginning of World War I, she had completed a series of portraits (her impressionistic and often acute responses to specific people or to character types), among the most interesting of which are "Matisse," "Cezanne,""Picasso,"and "Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia," all written between 1909 and 1912. Dodge had her portrait published privately in an edition of three hundred copies and bound in opulent Florentine wallpaper, and she distributed it to friends whom she thought would be open to this unconventional writing. "Portrait of Mabel Dodge" later appeared in the June 1913 special number of Alfred Steiglitz's avant-garde and widely distributed Camera Work, which earlier had published "Matisse" and "Picasso" (special number, August 1912), and Stein's reputation as a modernist writer was launched. A number of avant-garde artists and art patrons flocked to 27, rue de Fleurus--Roger Fry, Augustus John, Francis Picabia, Jacob Epstein, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Marcel Duchamp--to be amused or enlightened by the woman who had dared to transpose the cubist impulse to the written word.
From 1906 to 1911 Stein was at work on her thousand-page book The Making of Americans . Although it was not published until 1925, it achieved notoriety while she was writing it since all who knew her were aware of the notebooks she diligently kept, notebooks in which were entered her observations on the people with whom she came in contact. No one escaped her notice; all were grist for her literary mill; all were scrutinized for their potential function as character types in this "history of every one who ever can or is or will be living." Although Stein came to regard this work as her magnum opus, her challenge to Proust's Remembrance of Things Past (1913-1927) and to Joyce's Ulysses (1922), she was alone in this assessment. James Mellow describes the work as "a sprawling, jerry-built structure," whose "writing style ... was slow and ponderous; the simplest ideas and observations are introduced and worried over endlessly. The pace of the novel is elephantine; the plot, such as it is, lumbers forward, foraging about in strange jungles of psychological observation. Gertrude was to make no concession to the patience and endurance of her readers." Yet, Mellow concludes, the book served "as the laboratory of her later style, of her antic philosophy of human nature, and even of her habits as a creative writer." The Making of Americans is purported to be a history of the Dehning and Hersland families, but its content is more nearly a series of vignettes--descriptive bits and pieces, character analyses, personal confessions ("I am all unhappy in this writing")--often seemingly unrelated, unfocused. Her interest was in using the history of her family as a parable of the history of America--its vast openness, its spirit of adventure, its incredible energy. Early in the book she articulates her purpose: "There are many that I know and they know it. They are all of them repeating and I hear it. I love it and I tell it. I love it and now I will write it. This is now a history of my love of it. I hear it and I love it and I write it. They repeat it. They live it and I see it and I hear it. They live it and I hear it and I see it and I love it and now and always I will write it." These lines demonstrate Stein's enormous enthusiasm for life, her great interest in all kinds of people, and her attempt, through rhythmic repetition and greatly reduced vocabulary to catch, not individual identities, but what she called the "bottom nature in people." Yet they demonstrate as well the enormous egotism of assuming that nearly one thousand pages of seemingly unmediated impressions would be of interest to anyone but herself, and, presumably, to Alice Toklas. In fact, when the book was finally published in 1925, only 103 of the 500 copies in the first edition were sold. In his hugely influential critical work Axel's Castle (1931) Edmund Wilson expressed enthusiasm for Stein's early work but said that he had been unable to finish The Making of Americans, and he doubted that anyone could.
Other creative work during this period culminated in a long prose poem,(1914), more dense, more abstracted a word patterning than anything she had attempted before. In Lectures in America she had this to say about the work: "And so in Tender Buttons and then on I struggled with the ridding of myself of nouns. I knew that nouns must go in poetry as they had gone in prose if anything that is everything was to go on meaning something.... Poetry is ... a vocabulary entirely based on the noun ... concerned with using with abusing, with losing with wanting, with denying with avoiding with adoring with replacing the noun." She invites the reader into her mind as it searches for new strategies: "Was there not a way of naming things that would not invent names, but mean names without naming them." The result was the series of linguistic still lifes that suggest, not the image of the subject depicted, but the energy of the thing seen, or, as Marjorie Perloff has observed, "a way of happening rather than an account of what has happened, a way of looking rather than a description of how things look." There is a resultant playfulness and freshness embodied in the individual pieces in Tender Buttons, whose subjects could easily have led to facile clichés: "Elephant beaten with candy and little pops and chews all bolts and reckless reckless rats, this is this" ("A Sound"); "It is a winning Cake" ("Salad"); "Celery tastes tastes where in cured lashes and little bits and mostly in remains. A Green acre is so selfish and so pure and so enlivened" ("Celery"); "In the middle of a tiny spot and nearly bare there is a nice thing to say that wrist is leading. Wrist is leading" ("A Leave"). The work, predictably, was widely quoted and ridiculed by friends and enemies alike when it appeared in 1914. "Stirred by the publication of Tender Buttons," Stein wrote in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, "many newspapers had taken up the amusement of imitating Gertrude Stein's work and making fun of it. Life [the weekly magazine] began a series that were called after Gertrude Stein." To review Tender Buttons now is to be struck by its antipatriarchal stance. The subjects are insistently those of feminine domesticity: sensual and sexual pleasures, parts of the female body, nursery rhymes, characters from life or from fiction, food, rooms, the autonomy of women. The traditional subjects of male fiction writers--battles, jobs, travels, families or nations in crisis--are conspicuous by their absence.
When World War I broke out in August 1914, Stein and Toklas found themselves stranded in England, where they had been visiting Alfred North Whitehead and his wife (Bertrand Russell , George Moore, and Lytton Strachey were there as well). They were forced to remain there for several weeks before they could safely return to Paris. Frightened by the zeppelin raids and concerned about the potential lack of food and fuel, they fled to Spain, returning to Paris in 1916 following the Battle of Verdun. Feeling called upon to devote some energies to the war effort, they bought a Model T Ford, had it converted to a truck (which they christened "Auntie"), and transported medical supplies to depots throughout France for the American Fund for French Wounded for the remainder of the war. Their activities were acknowledged by the French: at war's end they each received a Medaille de la Reconnaissance Française.
"If you write not long but practically every day you do get a great deal written," Stein once asserted. Indeed, her productivity during and after the war was considerable. Attentive to every facet of her experience, she reworked her impressions into poems, plays, and portraits, most of which, finding no publisher courageous enough to print them, did not reach the public until late in her life or after her death. In spite of the indifference (or worse, the derision) that greeted her work, she remained resolute in her attempts to revitalize language. As Richard Kostelanetz observes in his introduction to The Yale Gertrude Stein (1980), she wanted to treat words "as autonomous objects, rather than symbols of something else, rather than windows onto other terrain. They cohere in terms of stressed sounds, rhythms, alliterations, rhymes, textures, and consistencies in diction--linguistic qualities other than subject and syntax; and even when entirely divorced from semantics, these dimensions of prose have their own powers of effect." Stein's lonely project was to reveal that "meaning" lies not in symbolic references, that is, with reference to another, separate reality, but in the relationship that words have among themselves.
In insisting on the divorce of word from referent and in keeping character and narrative remote from traditional structures, Stein was implicitly challenging the authority of myth in literary modernism. In this fictional mode, practiced by the acknowledged literary giants of the period-- James Joyce , Virginia Woolf , D. H. Lawrence , and William Faulkner --power lies in rich, symbolic suggestiveness, in a multi-referential structuring of both plot and character, clearly the very antithesis of Stein's spare, antihistorical approach to the creative use of language. Although she might have befriended Joyce, who for a time lived in Paris and expressed an interest in meeting her, she assiduously avoided any contact with him other than a brief introduction at a party. She may well have felt that their talents and their interests were too disparate for any mutually satisfying relationship to ensue; or, more than likely, she was jealous of the success that had come to the Irish writer and that had so far eluded her. Hemingway was later to remark about visits to 27, rue de Fleurus: "If you mention Joyce's name twice, you'll never be invited back."
There were many literary figures who did become her friends, including Ernest Hemingway , F. Scott Fitzgerald , and Sherwood Anderson . The friendship between Stein and Hemingway was the most notorious. Hemingway and his wife, Hadley, came to dinner one evening in 1922, having been introduced by way of a letter from Anderson to Stein and Toklas. Stein was charmed by him. (Toklas was less so; she was easily threatened by those who might make any claim on Gertrude's affections.) There was an immediate feeling of kinship between them, Stein being particularly impressed by the younger writer's ability to listen, his hunger for advice on fiction writing, his emerging talent. They met frequently after that evening, taking leisurely walks along the Left Bank, discussing Hemingway's writing as well as his personal difficulties. ("Gertrude Stein and me are just like brothers, and we see alot of her," Hemingway wrote in a letter to Anderson.) He courted her energetically, pleased to be a clear favorite among the growing number of Stein partisans. And he convinced Ford Madox Ford to serialize The Making of Americans in the transatlantic review (April-December 1924). And, as the Hemingway style emerged, it was clear how indebted he was to his mentor for his spare, simple, declarative sentences, for his repetitions, and for his restricted vocabulary. There emerged, ultimately, some resentment on Hemingway's part as he witnessed Stein's growing admiration for Anderson's prose fictions; he was much less sanguine about the older writer's work and, in fact, parodied Anderson cruelly in his novel, The Torrents of Spring (1926). Biographers point to no single event that caused the rift; there may have been simply a slow dissolution of the affection they had once felt for one another intensified by Stein's growing (and very astute) suspicion that Hemingway's obsession with violence and death masked a painful vulnerability, and his predictable discomfort at her discovery.
The estrangement of the two writers eventually became public, finding its way into their works. Stein referred to Hemingway as "yellow" in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas ; he responded by way of parody in For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940): "`An onion is an onion is an onion,' Robert Jordan said cheerily and, he thought, `a stone is a stein is a rock is a boulder is a pebble.'"
Throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s Stein was wholly dependent upon little magazines for the publication of her poetry, fiction, portraits, plays, and literary and psychological theories. She remained, to general readers at least, unknown, unread, unheralded. But when The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas appeared in 1933 she achieved instant celebrity. The book is not, of course, an autobiography. It is a fascinating and important social record of Stein's and Toklas's life among the artists and writers in Paris in the early decades of the century, and while it masquerades as Toklas's memoir, it is, in actuality, written by Stein as though she were Toklas reporting on Stein. This device allowed Stein to create a Gertrude Stein of her own making, one somewhat idealized. Indeed, several of those represented in the book protested at the distortions, publishing their counterclaims in a transition article titled "Testimony Against Gertrude Stein" (February 1935). The genesis and method of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas are clarified in its closing sentences: "About six weeks ago Gertrude Stein said it does not look to me as if you were ever going to write that autobiography. You know what I am going to do. I am going to write it for you. I am going to write it as simply as Defoe did the autobiography of Robinson Crusoe. And she has and this is it." That the book was and still is the most widely read of all Stein's publications is ironic; for she regarded it as an inferior work, one sullied by her awareness of the audience for whom she was writing. "When you are writing before there is an audience," she said, "anything written is as important as any other thing and you cherish anything and everything that you have written. After audience begins, naturally they create something that is they create you, and so ... something is more important than another thing, which was not true when you were you that is when you were not you as your little dog knows you." Despite her reservations about the aesthetic purity of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, it is important because it demolishes the complaint by Leo Stein and others that she was incapable of writing coherent, conventional prose; because it is filled with lively, significant anecdotal material about her life and work; and because it is a witty, charming social chronicle, offering brief, penetrating characterizations of the famous, or the soon to be famous, in Paris's Left Bank community during the early years of the twentieth century.
The book enjoyed immediate success on both sides of the Atlantic; in 1933 it was a Literary Guild selection, and the conservative Atlantic Monthly serialized it in four installments (May-August 1933). Stein had wished, probably rather desperately, for the recognition she saw others receiving through the years; now both recognition and celebrity were hers. Although nervous at the prospect of returning to the United States after a thirty-year absence, she acceded to her agent's proposal that she undertake a six-month American lecture tour. She need not have worried; she was greeted everywhere as though she were a diva--hounded for interviews, photographed relentlessly, applauded, and cheered. Reporters were waiting when her ship arrived in New York Harbor, and she saw her name in lights moving around the Times building. Her lectures, while occasionally on rather lofty subjects ("What is English Literature?," "Portraits and Repetition," "Poetry and Grammar"), were always well attended and dutifully reported in the nation's newspapers. Even her appearance did not escape notice: her closely clipped hair, her odd deerstalker hat, mannish oxford shoes and shirt, coarse tweed suit and vivid vest were commented upon everywhere, and as John Malcolm Brinnin reports, "every story about her bore the inevitable Steinese caption. Typical among them was: GERTY GERTY STEIN STEIN IS BACK HOME HOME BACK."
Among the people she visited or met during her October 1934-May 1935 tour were Eleanor Roosevelt (in the White House), Thornton Wilder , George Gershwin, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Charlie Chaplin , Ellen Glasgow , William Saroyan , Dashiell Hammett , and Sherwood Anderson . While the attention she received was beyond anything she might have imagined, the paradox of being praised by the public and ridiculed or ignored by most in the literary community could not have escaped her notice. Still, as she observed: "It is very nice being a celebrity a real celebrity who can decide who they want to meet and say so and they come or do not come as you want them."
Stein had been convinced, even during those increasingly troubling times in the late 1930s, that there would be no war. When it came, in September 1939, she and Toklas left their Paris apartment at 5, rue Christine, where they had moved shortly after their return from the United States to live year-round at their country house in Bilignin. Then in 1943 they went to live at Le Columbier, in Culoz, where during one brief period German officers and then Italian troops were billeted with them. As Jews, Americans, and lesbians, the danger for them was very real; the combined protection given them by the town officials, their neighbors, and their friend, Bernard Fäy, a member of the Vichy government and director of the Bibliotheque Nationale, made possible their survival.
Gertrude Stein had always seen herself as essentially American. Although separation from home for most of her creative life was, as with so many expatriates (Wharton and James among them), absolutely necessary for her work, her lifelong identification with the country of her birth was a powerful force, frequently expressed in her writing. The experience of the war and her distance from home for its duration reinforced even more her nationalistic fervor. When peace was declared, she broadcast an emotionally charged speech to America: "What a day is today that is what a day it was day before yesterday, what a day! I can tell everybody that none of you know what this native land business is until you have been cut off from that same native land completely for years. This native land business gets you all right. Day before yesterday was a wonderful day. First we saw three Americans in a military car and we said are you Americans and they said yes and we choked and we talked, and they took us driving in their car, those long-awaited Americans.... And now thanks to the land of my birth and the land of my adoption we are free.... I am so happy to be talking to America today so happy."
Just as they had during World War I, Stein and Toklas developed close relationships with American soldiers. "It was pretty wonderful and pretty awful to have been intimate and friendly and proud of two American armies in France apart by only twenty-seven years," Stein said. These relationships led her to write a book of soldier dialogues, Brewsie and Willie (1946). The two characters who give the book its title are temperamentally opposed: Willie is aggressive, cynical, practical; Brewsie is quiet, meditative, emotional. Their conversations allow Stein to explore several subjects: sex, money, jobs, food, the atom bomb. Her attitude about contemporary American politics and culture as engendering immaturity and conformity, particularly in men, is everywhere in evidence as are her convictions about the shortcomings of industrial capitalism. "We are ruled by tired middle-aged people," she says in one of the dialogues, "tired business men, the kind who need pin-ups, you know the kind, only they can afford the originals...."
In March 1946 Stein completed the libretto for an opera, The Mother of Us All (1947), written in collaboration with the composer Virgil Thomson. He was later to describe the work as "an evocation of nineteenth century America, with its gospel hymns and cocky marches, its sentimental ballads, waltzes, darn fool ditties and intoned sermons." But its thematic impulse was less innocuous than this description suggests: the feminist stance implicit in Brewsie and Willie is now overt. Through the opera's central character, Susan B. Anthony, the nineteenth-century woman whose life was defined by her struggle to achieve equal rights for women, the idea that women are in every way superior to men is repeatedly articulated: "[Men] do not know that two and two make four if women do not tell them so."
Gertrude Stein did not live to see The Mother of Us All performed. She collapsed on 19 July 1946, during a brief vacation in the country; friends rushed her to the American Hospital at Neuilly, where she died of inoperable cancer on the evening of 27 July. Alice B. Toklas reported the event this way: "I sat next to her and she said to me early in the afternoon, What is the answer? I was silent. In that case, she said, What is the question? Then the whole afternoon was troubled, confused and very uncertain, and later in the afternoon they took her away on a wheeled stretcher to the operating room and I never saw her again."
The anecdote reveals about Stein not only her philosophical turn of mind, and, given the circumstances, her courage, but her sense of humor--a facet of her personality not generally remarked upon by critics. It is this same humor, at times expressed as wit, at other times as a sense of play, which dominates so much of her "inaccessible" writing. While the serious questions of contemporary philosophy--those that deal with fragmented twentieth-century reality and its emphasis on the nonrational, of art no longer seen as primarily representative or mimetic--find in her work answers no less brilliant than they are astonishingly original, her value lies equally in her ability to revitalize our language, to bring to it a childlike freshness, a sense of words made new. It is no small contribution. To examine her prose--her more abstract, impersonal, spare, and "difficult" prose--is to discover, in a phrase she delighted in, that "it shows shine."
The major repository for Stein materials is the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, which has most of Stein's manuscripts, correspondence, and unpublished notebooks. There are also significant collections at the Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Texas at Austin.