Gertrude Stein

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Publisher: Gale
Series: Dictionary of Literary Biography
Document Type: Biography
Length: 8,322 words

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About this Person
Born: February 03, 1874 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: July 27, 1946 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Nationality: American
Occupation: Writer

Education: A.B., Harvard University, 1898; Johns Hopkins Medical School, 1897-1901.


Medaille de la Reconnaissance Francaise, 1922.



Selected Books

  • 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, 1937).
  • 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: 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 Poemes 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 of Gertrude Stein, edited by Carl Van Vechten (New York: Random House, 1946).
  • Four in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1947).
  • The Mother of Us All, by Stein and Virgil Thomson (New York: Music Press, 1947).
  • Blood on the Dining Room Floor (Pawlet, Vt.: Banyan Press, 1947).
  • 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 1 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 (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, 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 Edward Burns (New York: Liveright, 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).
  • Operas & Plays, foreword by James R. Mellow (Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill Press, 1987).
  • "Normal Motor Automatism," by Stein and Leo M. Solomons, Psychological Review, 3 (September 1896): 492-512.
  • "Cultivated Motor Automatism," Psychological Review, 5 (May 1898): 295-306.
  • "Henri Matisse," Camera Work, Special Number (August 1912): 23-25.
  • "Pablo Picasso," Camera Work, Special Number (August 1912): 29-30.
  • "Aux Galeries Lafayette," Rogue, 1 (March 1915): 13-14.
  • "M. Vollard et Cezanne," New York Sun, 10 October 1915, Section 5, p. 12.
  • "Mrs. Th_______y," Soil, 1 (December 1916): 16.
  • "Have They Attacked Mary. He Giggled.," Vanity Fair, 8 (June 1917): 55.
  • "Two Cubist Poems. The Peace Conference, I and II," Oxford Magazine, 38 (7 May 1920): 309.
  • "If You Had Three Husbands," Broom, 1 (January 1922): 211-215; 1 (April 1922): 74-77; 2 (June 1922): 242-246.
  • "Vacation in Brittany," Little Review, 8 (Spring 1922): 5-6.
  • 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-June 1924): 297-309; 1 (July 1924): 392-405; 2 (August 1924): 27- 38; 2 (September 1924): 188-202; 2 (October 1924): 284-294; 2 (November 1924): 405-414; 2 (December 1924): 527-536; 2 (January 1925): 662-670.
  • "The Fifteenth of November," New Criterion, 4 (January 1926): 71-75.
  • "Composition as Explanation," Dial, 81 (October 1926): 327-336.
  • "An Elucidation," transition, no. 1 (April 1927): 64-78.
  • "The Life of Juan Gris. The Life and Death of Juan Gris," transition, no. 4 (July 1927): 160-162.
  • "Mrs. Emerson," Close Up, 2 (August 1927): 23-29.
  • "Georges Hugnet," Blues, 1 (July 1929): 133.
  • "Five Words in a Line," Pagany, 1 (Winter 1930): 39-40.
  • "Scenery and George Washington," Hound & Horn, 5 (July/September 1932): 606-611.
  • "American Newspapers," New York Herald Tribune, 3 March 1935, section 4, p. 10; 23 March 1935, p. 16.
  • "The Capital and the Capitals of the United States of America," New York Herald Tribune, 9 March 1935, p. 11.
  • "American Education and Colleges," New York Herald Tribune, 16 March 1935, p. 15.
  • "American Crimes and How They Matter," New York Herald Tribune, 30 March 1935, p. 13.
  • "American States and Cities and How They Differ from Each Other," New York Herald Tribune, 6 April 1935, p. 13.
  • "American Food and American Houses," New York Herald Tribune, 13 April 1935, p. 13.
  • "Butter Will Melt," Atlantic Monthly, 159 (February 1937): 156-157.
  • "The Situation in American Writing," Partisan Review, 6 (Summer 1939): 40-41.
  • "Stanzas in Meditation," Poetry, 55 (February 1940): 229-235.
  • "The Winner Loses: a Picture of Occupied France," Atlantic Monthly, 166 (November 1940): 571-583.
  • "Off We All Went To See Germany," Life, 19 (6 August 1945): 54-58.


  • Sherwood Anderson/Gertrude Stein Correspondence and Personal Essays, ed. Ray Lewis White (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972).
  • Dear Sammy Letters from Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas, ed. Samuel M. Steward (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977).
  • The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten, 1913-1946, 2 volumes, edited by Edward Burns (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986).
  • The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, edited by Burns and Ulla E. Dydo, with William Rice (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).
  • A History of Having a Great Many Times Not Continued to Be Friends: The Correspondence between Mabel Dodge and Gertrude Stein, 1911-1934


  • The major repository for Stein materials is the Beinecke Library, Yale University, which has most of Stein's manuscripts and correspondence and her unpublished notebooks. There are also significant collections at the Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Texas at Austin.


"It was not what France gave you but what it did not take away from you that was important," Gertrude Stein once remarked by way of explaining her long-term residence in Paris. She had found in the French capital the privacy and freedom to live and write as she pleased. She was one of the most celebrated expatriates of her time, living in a standard of modest luxury with her lifetime companion, Alice B. Toklas . As the hostess of a well-publicized salon, Stein included among her friends and acquaintances many of the great and near-great men and women of her time--artists, writers, composers, critics, and publishers.

She needed two civilizations, she claimed: America had made her, but it was in Paris that she became a writer. It was, indeed, during her forty-three years abroad that she produced--and promoted--the idiosyncratic and experimental poems, plays, "word-portraits," and novels which admirers regarded as innovations in the use of language and critics denounced as childish twaddle. (In later years she would also write three of the most vital and comprehensible memoirs of the period.) Throughout her career she was to remain a self-proclaimed genius whom the broad public and many critics regarded as a coterie writer, easily dismissed as the "Mama of Dada," or "The Mother Goose of Montparnasse." Still, it says something for Gertrude Stein's perseverance that from the distance of Paris she managed to court, direct, and sustain her American reputation as a quintessentially modern writer. Her famous line, "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose," was endlessly quoted, misquoted, and ridiculed, but it kept the name and the image of the plump, cropped-haired author firmly before the public. Asked once how she had managed a publicity campaign that even a practiced press agent might envy, Gertrude Stein countered, "By cultivating a small audience."

Stein arrived in Paris in the fall of 1903 to take up residence with her brother Leo in the combined studio and pavilion at 27, rue de Fleurus, which was soon to become the mecca for visiting tourists and artists of all nations who wanted a glimpse of modern art. The Steins, including their older brother Michael and his wife Sarah--who lived nearby on the rue Madame--amassed a collection of modernist art, prime works by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Pierre Bonnard, Juan Gris, as well as works by Edouard Manet and the Postimpressionists Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, that was overshadowed only by the collections of the far wealthier Russian merchants Shchukin and Morosov. The distinction was that the Stein collections were accessible in Paris, and the Steins themselves were fierce propagandists for the modern movement.

The unconventionality of Gertrude Stein's life-style and her openness to vanguard trends may have been encouraged by her erratic family life. Shortly after her birth, her family traveled abroad for a period of five years, settling largely in Vienna and Paris. After their return to the United States, Daniel Stein, having invested in street railroads and real estate in the San Francisco area, moved his family to California in 1880. At best, the education of both Leo and Gertrude Stein was spotty; a matter of shuttling between public schools and private tutors, according to the whims of their father, supplemented by whatever reading they cared to engage in. Gertrude Stein had a taste for Wordsworth and the English poets, as well as for Jules Verne. She read Henry Fielding and Tobias Smollett and was especially fond of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa Harlowe (1747-1748). She laid claim to having read every line of William Lecky's History of England in the 18th Century (1878-1890) and Thomas Carlyle 's History of Frederick II of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great (1858-1865). She and Leo Stein regularly attended the theatre and the opera in San Francisco, and they saw their first "masterpiece" of French painting when Jean Millet's Man with a Hoe was exhibited there in 1880. With the deaths of Amelia Stein (1842-1888) and Daniel Stein (1832-1891), family discipline became even more relaxed; Michael Stein (1865-1938) served as the indulgent guardian of both Leo and Gertrude.

Throughout her early career, Gertrude Stein exhibited a profound dependence upon her brother Leo. In 1892 Leo Stein went to Harvard; the following year, she enrolled at Radcliffe. Her literary efforts during this period consisted of a number of indifferently written themes for William Vaughn Moody 's course in English composition. (Instructors complained of her wayward syntax.) But she developed an abiding interest in psychology, became a favorite pupil of William James, and engaged in research that resulted in two papers for the Harvard Psychological Review, "Normal Motor Automatism" (1896) and "Cultivated Motor Automatism" (1898). After her graduation from Harvard, again following in her brother's footsteps--and acting upon the advice of William James--she moved to Baltimore to pursue a medical career at Johns Hopkins. But aside from her independent research conducted for the neurological specialist Dr. Llewellys Barker and her casework in obstetrics which took her to Baltimore's Negro quarter, Stein confessed she was unconsolably bored with medical practice and pathological psychology. It was with a feeling of profound relief that she gave up her medical career and moved to Paris, where Leo Stein , planning to take up a career as an artist, had settled early in 1903.

Although her first decade in Paris was given over to the visual arts and her growing relationships with such artists as Matisse, Picasso, Georges Braque, Robert Delaunay, and Marie Laurencin, Stein also became acquainted with several vanguard French writers--notably Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire, the extravagant poet, boulevardier, art critic, and promoter of his friends the Cubists. Later, through Picasso, she was also to meet Jean Cocteau , who professed an admiration for some of her more hermetic works such as Tender Buttons (1914). Throughout that decade, Gertrude Stein devoted considerable energy and thought to her own writing, working at night in the privacy of her studio, after her guests had departed. It was in the rue de Fleurus studio in October 1903 that she completed her first known novella, Q.E.D. (posthumously published in 1950 as Things As They Are), an account of an unhappy lesbian relationship drawn from her Baltimore experiences, that is all the more moving for the clinical straightforwardness of its style. In it, an ebullient young woman named Adele is initiated into the mysteries of sex in the course of a passionate affair with Helen Thomas, "the American version of the English handsome girl." Helen, in turn, is dominated by the wealthy and manipulative Mabel Neathe, a spinster "possessed by a nature of the tropics."

Stein's first published book, Three Lives (1909), a series of three contes, written somewhat in the manner of Gustave Flaubert , whom Leo had encouraged her to read and translate, was published in America at her expense. For a first book by an unknown writer, it received considerable praise: the critic for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle called it "an extraordinary piece of realism," while the anonymous reviewer of the Kansas City Star claimed, "Here is a literary artist of such originality that it is not easy to conjecture what special influences have gone into the making of her." Her story "Melanctha," one of the earliest and most sensitive treatments of Negro experience, was particularly singled out for praise. Although the love affair between the mulatto girl Melanctha and the black doctor, Jefferson Campbell, is clearly a reworking of the love affair in Q.E.D. , the success of the tale derives from the racy, almost vernacular style of the dialogue.

Stein's major literary effort during her early years in Paris, however, was The Making of Americans (1925), ostensibly a history of the Dehning and Hersland families, but an enormous, wordy, intolerably repetitious outpouring of descriptive vignettes and increasingly abstracted character analyses. Midway, in response to some psychological compulsion, the book takes on the impossible task of analyzing the "bottom nature" or essential character of "every kind of men and women, every kind there is of men and women." Against all reason, Gertrude Stein steadfastly maintained that it was her masterpiece, a book to be compared with Marcel Proust 's Remembrance of Things Past (1912-1927) and James Joyce 's Ulysses (1922). The writing of it occupied her for approximately five years, from 1906 to 1911, though in its jerry-built fashion, it also incorporated fragments, such as the "Fernhurst" episode written earlier. Each evening's stint of writing was faithfully typed by Alice B. Toklas , who had recently arrived in Paris and in 1910 had moved into the rue de Fleurus to become Gertrude Stein's "wife," lifetime companion, occasional secretary, and staunchest supporter.

Despite the best efforts of Gertrude Stein and her friends, no American or English publisher would take The Making of Americans, considering it far too long and too eccentric to be profitable. It was not published in book form until 1925. But it did give rise to the full-blown literary experiments that first brought her fame--and notoriety--as a literary expatriate. Throughout the writing of The Making of Americans , Stein kept notebooks in which she set down her rambling assessments of various character types she had encountered. These provided the source for her later "word-portraits," in which repetitions, suggestive allusions, verbal color, and insistent rhythm were intended to approximate her subjects--usually her friends and the visitors to her salon. From collections of such portraits, she also developed her earliest theatrical pieces, "What Happened, A Play" (1913) and "For The Country Entirely. A Play in Letters" (1916). In time she discarded all the conventional dramatic devices--scenery, plot lines, and character development--relying solely upon the spoken word, an innovation that anticipated certain developments of the Theatre of the Absurd.

Prior to World War I, a few of these experiments were published. Her Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia (1912), a word-portrait of the exuberant and avant-garde American hostess, was circulated in a privately printed edition by Mabel Dodge herself. It was also reprinted, along with her word-portraits of her artist friends "Matisse" and "Picasso" (both written in 1909), in the early issues of Alfred Stieglitz's avant-garde publication Camera Work . In New York her name was being promoted by two critics, Henry McBride, art critic for the New York Sun, who often wrote about her and her work in his columns, and Carl Van Vechten , cultural critic and novelist, who for years served as her unofficial and unpaid literary agent. Her contributions had also begun to appear in Vanity Fair as well as in such ephemeral literary magazines as Rogue and Soil. Probably her oddest and most difficult book, and the one that established for decades her image as a literary eccentric, is Tender Buttons, a volume of her most hermetic poems published in a small edition in New York just before the outbreak of World War I.

Stein and Toklas were stranded in England when war was declared. They had gone there during the summer of 1914 in hopes of persuading the English publisher John Lane to take on her work. (He had tentatively agreed to publish an English edition of Three Lives.) For eleven weeks they remained with Alfred North Whitehead and his family at his country home, Lockeridge. It was not until mid-October that they were able to arrange passage to France. In wartime Paris they were confronted by zeppelin raids as well as food and fuel shortages and decided to travel to the Mediterranean. They spent a year in neutral Majorca, where Stein continued writing her sometimes cryptic, sometimes idyllic, poems dealing with their daily life on the island, their acquaintances, and excursions. Occasionally, in a lyric vein, she referred to her affection for Toklas and their "marriage," as in "Lifting Belly" and "I Have No Title To Be Successful," poems which were eventually published in the posthumous volumes Bee Time Vine (1953) and Painted Lace (1956). By the summer of 1916 both Stein and Toklas had grown weary of their enforced vacation and returned to France. Hoping to serve the war effort, Stein arranged for the purchase of a Ford truck, christened it "Auntie," and learned to drive. She and Toklas offered their services to the American Fund for French Wounded and for the remainder of the war transported hospital supplies and set up depots throughout France. Stein's first contact with soldiers--both French and American--at army installations and along the road encouraged a camaraderie that she found enjoyable. Her experiences became the subject of some of her more intelligible lyrics of the period. "Soldiers like a fuss," she reported in one of her wartime ruminations, "Give them their way." The lines come from the poem "Work Again," which, along with "Accents in Alsace," appeared in Geography and Plays (1922), the first of her postwar volumes to be published in America--as usual at her own expense.

The two decades between World War I and World War II were, for Stein, the period of her most consistent literary production and of her greatest literary influence and reputation. Her contributions were sought after by the editors of the new--and usually nonpaying--little magazines of the time. Her friendships during this period were more literary than artistic. She could no longer afford the paintings of the successful Cubists, but she remained on the warmest of terms (despite occasional differences) with Picasso and consolidated her friendship with Juan Gris. (About Gris she wrote a simple and touching elegy, "The Life and Death of Juan Gris," which appeared in the July 1927 issue of transition.) Throughout the twenties and thirties she befriended certain of the Surrealist artists and writers. Although her poetic methods might seem related to or antecedent to the Surrealists' interest in Freudian associations and in the subconscious, Stein was never enthusiastic about the movement and distrusted its attempts at shock tactics. Some of it she regarded as pornographic or worse--"girls' high school stuff." Although she was warmly appreciative of the young Surrealist Rene Crevel, as with her relationships to other French writers such as Apollinaire, Cocteau, and Georges Hugnet, her interest was more apt to be personal than literary. It is questionable whether her command of French literature, as distinct from the spoken language, enabled her to appreciate fully the works of the French writers with whom she associated. More to the point, her complacent egotism as a writer made her somewhat insular.

There can be no question, however, about her interest in the younger American and English writers who flocked to Paris after the war and whom she dubbed "The Lost Generation." (She acknowledged frankly that the epithet had been invented by a French innkeeper who claimed that all young men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five were in need of a civilizing experience--usually an affair with an older woman--but that the young men who had gone to war had lost their opportunity and so were a lost generation.) Stein was never interested in the bohemian life-style--the cafes and the nightlife--of the young expatriates in Paris. Nor was she ever involved in the summer exodus to the French Riviera, which was just coming into vogue among the fashionable. Conservative in their habits, she and Toklas lived the life of a modestly comfortable bourgeois couple, entertaining their friends at teas and dinners in their Left Bank apartment. (Toklas had become one of the notable cooks of her time; she also served as a watchdog at the rue de Fleurus, screening the visitors--and sitting with the wives of the visitors--before they were allowed to share in Stein's conversations.) After 1924 their summers were spent in the unfashionable rural town of Belley, in the department of Ain. From 1929 until World War II, they rented a seventeenth-century villa in the nearby farming community of Bilignin. It became a "summer palace" for brief visits from such notables as Picasso, Andre Breton , Thornton Wilder , Cecil Beaton, Clare Boothe Luce , and her publisher husband Henry Luce.

Her major literary friendships with other writers during this period were with Ernest Hemingway , F. Scott Fitzgerald , and Sherwood Anderson . Although Stein may have advised Hemingway to give up journalism, live frugally, and cut back on his use of descriptive adjectives, she did not blue-pencil the manuscripts of younger writers in the fashion of Ezra Pound . She preferred to talk about a writer's general vision, "the way of seeing what the writer chooses to see," and the relation between that vision and the way it was put down on paper. Hemingway had written her early in their relationship: "It used to be easy before I met you. I certainly was bad, gosh, I'm awfully bad now but it's a different kind of bad," but in his hard-boiled, dissembling fashion he was both appreciative and critical of Stein as a writer. He acknowledged the value of her use of rhythm and repetition in writing, but he could also tell Allen Tate that Gertrude Stein was lazy and vain as a writer and that she had invented a private style for herself, for which there were no standards of judgment so there could be no comparisons with her rivals. Hemingway's taut, declarative style had already been formed in the practice of journalism, and it is doubtful that Stein had any profound influence upon his work. Their relationship became a casualty of the literary life, precipitated by what she considered Hemingway's shabby treatment of Sherwood Anderson . In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), while describing a conversation with Anderson, she remarks that Hemingway was "yellow," implying that he was so concerned about his career and his image that he could never write honestly from his experience. Hemingway was to have a final revenge in his scathing portrait of Stein and Toklas in his posthumously published Parisian memoir, A Moveable Feast (1964).

Sherwood Anderson , too, was already an established writer when he met Stein on a visit to Paris in 1921; their relationship was one of mutual admiration and respect. Anderson publicly praised her innovations with language and was privately flattering. Out of his own weaknesses he seems to have responded to the weaknesses in her style--a tendency to discursiveness and repetition--but beyond certain superficial mannerisms, Anderson was not deeply influenced by Stein's writing. More often than not it was Stein's single-minded commitment to literature and her perseverance in spite of ridicule and neglect which impressed other writers. In the strictly literary sense, hers was a hard act to follow; blatant imitations of her manner were usually disastrous. Stein had even less direct literary influence on Fitzgerald, whom she saw on his frequent visits to Paris. Throughout her life she maintained a great respect for Fitzgerald's writing and was particularly encouraging with the writer who, whatever his drunken bravado, always had feelings of insecurity about his work. She remained convinced that in This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Great Gatsby (1925), Fitzgerald had really created his own age as a writer, the age of Gatsby and the lost generation, and that he would still be read "when many of his well known contemporaries are forgotten."

During the twenties and thirties, Stein's often friendly, sometimes quarrelsome relations with other celebrated writers of the period extended to such figures as Ford Madox Ford , Edith Sitwell , Lincoln Steffens, Robert Coates, Janet Flanner , Bravig Imbs , William Carlos Williams , Glenway Wescott , Paul Bowles , Thornton Wilder , and Louis Bromfield . More often than not, her cordial relationships with such writers depended upon their being socially entertaining or professionally useful or only intermittent, admiring visitors. Seldom was there any question of Stein's dominant influence upon them as writers; although there is a possibility that Stein's antic plays may have offered some encouragement to Wilder's theatrical experiments in Our Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1942). Ezra Pound was too contentious a personality to serve as one of Stein's promoters, and he was not encouraged to call at the rue de Fleurus--particularly after he had accidentally broken an antique chair in the course of an animated discussion. Stein was to have a very cordial relationship with Sylvia Beach , proprietor of the bookstore Shakespeare and Company, even though Beach was the publisher of James Joyce , whom Stein regarded as her principal rival among the moderns. Although the two writers were longtime residents of Paris, they met only once, at a party, and found they had little to say to one another. Stein had been equally wary of meeting T.S. Eliot , who made a brief call at the rue de Fleurus in 1924 and asked for a contribution to his magazine, the New Criterion. Stein supplied "The Fifteenth of November," a poem commemorating the American poet's visit, but had to wait more than a year before Eliot printed it. Eliot's opinion, she learned by way of the grapevine, was that "the work of Gertrude Stein was very fine but not for us."

Stein had a strictly limited appreciation of music. As a child she had liked Wagner, but then she came to feel "that music was made for adolescents and not for adults." Nonetheless she had a passing acquaintance with the French composer Erik Satie, and knew the young American composers George Antheil and Aaron Copland. Her real musical friendship during this period was with the American composer Virgil Thomson. But Thomson, besides being a composer, had distinct literary interests. When he visited Stein in 1925, he was already an established music critic, having written for the Dial, the New Republic, and H.L. Mencken 's American Mercury. Their friendship was quickly cemented when he began setting a number of her poems to music--notably, "Preciosilla," the "Portrait of F.B.," and "Capitals Capitals." He also began to create impromptu musical "portraits" of his friends, borrowing the idea from Stein's word-portraits. The major collaborative efforts of the pair, however, were two celebrated operas: Four Saints in Three Acts , first performed in February 1934, with an all-Negro cast, at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, and The Mother of Us All, commissioned by Columbia University and produced there in 1947, the year after Stein's death. For the first, Stein drew upon her enthusiasm for the Spanish saints, Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola, to create a kind of timeless sequence of arias and tableaux which, in the scenario developed by the painter Maurice Grosser, bore some relationship to the rituals of the Catholic Church. Her last opera, based loosely on the life of Susan B. Anthony and her companionship with Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, another nineteenth-century feminist, carried echoes of Stein's long-term relationship with Toklas. She also introduced a number of other unrelated historical figures--Daniel Webster, Thaddeus Stevens, and Lillian Russell. In Thomson's words, his score was "an evocation of nineteenth-century America, with its gospel hymns and cocky marches, its sentimental ballads, waltzes, darn-fool ditties and intoned sermons."

Throughout the twenties Stein relied upon the little magazines to bring her work before the public. Beginning with "Vacation in Brittany," which appeared in the Spring 1922 number of the Little Review, Stein appeared with some regularity in that controversial publication edited by Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, who had courageously published installments of Joyce's Ulysses. The editors of virtually every vanguard literary magazine of the period expected contributions from Stein to launch their publications, and Stein readily supplied poetry and prose for such exotically titled reviews as Broom, This Quarter, Black & Blue Jay, larus The Celestial Visitor, Close Up, Blues, and Pagany. Her relationships with the editors were often short-lived, partly because the magazines were transient, folding after a few months or a season, but also because she was extremely jealous of her reputation and took offense when an editor seemed too eager to court such rivals as Joyce or Pound. Her affiliation with transition lasted for several years, although Stein was inclined to feel that coeditor Elliot Paul was the operative intelligence behind the magazine rather than its founders, Eugene and Maria Jolas. For several years the Jolases generously published a good deal of her work, including the text of her opera Four Saints, a reprint of Tender Buttons, and a bibliography of her work. The association ended when Stein became a best-selling author with The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Angered at her description of transition, the Jolases printed a "Testimony against Gertrude Stein" (February 1935) with contributions by Matisse, Braque, Tristan Tzara, and Andre Salmon, claiming that Stein had clearly not understood the events she had written about in her memoirs and denouncing the book's "hollow, tinsel bohemianism." In 1930, when transition suspended publication for two years, Stein, somewhat fatuously, decided that it was her contributions that had kept the publication alive and that when the Jolases failed to publish her, transition died.

Hemingway engineered the publication of Stein's long overdue novel, The Making of Americans, in Ford Madox Ford 's magazine, the transatlantic review, where it appeared in regular installments from the April 1924 issue until the magazine's demise in January 1925. It was Robert McAlmon who, with some misgivings, agreed to publish the novel in book form. The publication of The Making of Americans by McAlmon's Contact Publishing Company in 1925 was a major failure; by December 1926 only 103 copies had been sold. Edmund Wilson , a critic usually receptive to Stein's work, maintained in the New Republic that he had been unable to finish reading it and doubted that anyone could. A reviewer for the Irish Statesman was convinced that it was "among the seven longest books in the world." Only Marianne Moore , writing in the Dial, had a kind word, calling it "distinctly American," but she compared it to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678). Stein, who hoped for great things from the book, became increasingly dissatisfied with its distribution and sale, and McAlmon, exasperated with her meddling, threatened to get rid of the edition "by the pulping proposition." The business venture ended in a bitter break which Stein, unsuccessfully, tried to mend.

Two collections of Stein's works appeared in the twenties: Geography and Plays, published in 1922 at her own expense, and Useful Knowledge, brought out by the small New York firm Payson & Clarke in 1928. It included a number of early pieces, among them "Farragut or A Husband's Recompense," written during her wartime sojourn in Majorca. In 1926 Leonard and Virginia Woolf 's Hogarth Press published Composition as Explanation, a lecture that Stein had delivered to appreciative undergraduate audiences at both Oxford and Cambridge earlier in the year. In collaboration with Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Picasso's dealer, there were two luxury editions of her works: A Book Concluding with As a Wife Has a Cow (1926), with lithographs by Juan Gris, and A Village Are You Ready Yet Not Yet A Play in Four Acts (1928), illustrated by Elie Lascaux. A third volume, A Birthday Book, fell through when Picasso failed to supply the expected engravings. The young French poet Georges Hugnet, acting as publisher (and translator, together with Virgil Thomson), produced a luxury volume of Stein's word-portraits, Dix Portraits (1930), with illustrations by Picasso and the new young artists of her circle, Pavel Tchelitchew, Eugene Berman, Christian Berard, and Kristians Tonny. Her friendship with Hugnet ended in another literary quarrel. She had made a free adaptation of Hugnet's poem sequence "Enfances" and proposed that the two works be published as a book. The arrangement broke down, however, over a question of equal billing. Hugnet was afraid that his work would be overshadowed by Stein's greater reputation; Stein huffily withdrew her text but allowed it to be printed--or misprinted, as "Poem Pritten on Pfances of Georges Hugnet"--in the Winter 1931 issue of Pagany.

In the quarrel with Robert McAlmon the irate publisher had challenged Stein, claiming that if she were so concerned about her "art," she could well afford to publish her works herself. Dissatisfied with her lack of recognition, aware of the successes of younger writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Stein decided to do just that. In 1930 she and Toklas initiated the Plain Edition, intended to publish "all the work not yet printed of Gertrude Stein," and in that year they produced her rambling and unfocused tale Lucy Church Amiably, billed as "A Novel of Romantic beauty and nature and which Looks Like an Engraving." Over the next three years, in printings ranging from 1000 to 500 copies, they published a series of Stein's most hermetic works: How to Write (1931), Operas and Plays (1932), and Matisse Picasso and Gertrude Stein (1933). They also published a limited edition of Stein's ill-fated Hugnet translation, meaningfully titled Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded Friendship Faded (1931). None of the volumes was a success, although the editions, for which Toklas carefully selected the papers, typefaces, and bindings, have become collectors' items.

Asked once what a writer most wanted, Stein threw up her hands and exclaimed, "Oh, praise, praise, praise, praise, praise." Throughout her career she had been courting "la gloire." It came with the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas , written as the reminiscences of her lifetime companion and covering the early, heroic years of the Cubist revolution and the Rousseau banquet, and the no less exciting decade of the twenties with its literary squabbles and its literary celebrities--Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Anderson, Joyce, Eliot, Ford Madox Ford , and Djuna Barnes . From the outset, the best-seller potential of the book was recognized by Stein's shrewd Parisian agent, William Aspenwall Bradley , who began receiving chapters of the memoir in the late summer of 1932. Harcourt, Brace readily agreed to publish the American edition, with John Lane's Bodley Head contracting for the English edition. The Literary Guild bought it for its September 1933 selection. Stein also realized a lifetime ambition, publication in the staid Atlantic Monthly, which serialized the book in four abridged installments beginning in May 1933. Seemingly overnight she had become famous.

With some trepidation, after a thirty-year absence, she agreed to make a lecture tour of the United States. The ground had been well-prepared by the extraordinary reception of her book and by Virgil Thomson's well-publicized performances of their opera, Four Saints. Reporters and newsreel photographers crowded aboard the deck of the Champlain when it pulled into New York Harbor on the morning of 24 October 1934. Stein's return was front page news for all of the major dailies. She saw her name in lights coursing around the Times Building. Throughout her six-month tour she was relentlessly interviewed and photographed. Her lectures on modern art, poetry and grammar, her own literary methods, and the forbidding subject "What is English Literature," delivered at the Colony Club and at East Coast colleges and universities from Harvard to the University of Virginia, were always well-attended and thoroughly reported in the press. She had tea at the White House with Eleanor Roosevelt and a sad Christmas meeting with Fitzgerald in Baltimore. In Richmond she dined with Ellen Glasgow and a slightly stunned James Branch Gabell, who wondered if Stein could be serious about her writing. At the University of Chicago she lectured Chancellor Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler on the subject of education, met Thornton Wilder , and delivered a series of four specially written lectures on "Narration." Despite her busy schedule, she found time to do a good deal of other writing as well. For the New York Herald Tribune, in the spring of 1935, she wrote a series of six weekly articles, discoursing on such subjects as American education and American crimes. (Her astonishing publicity also gave her entree to another bastion of respectability, the Saturday Evening Post, which in the following year published five of her articles on the most unlikely of subjects--"Money." A Republican in matters of economics, she was convinced that Roosevelt was trying to spend money out of existence.) In California she met William Saroyan , Charlie Chaplin , and Dashiell Hammett , all of whom she admired, and resolutely snubbed Mabel Dodge Luhan, Robinson Jeffers , and the entire artistic colony at Carmel, declaring in an interview, "I like ordinary people who don't bore me. Highbrows, you know, always do." By the time she sailed for Europe on 4 May 1935, it was clear that her American tour had been a resounding success. She had acquired a publisher, Bennett Cerf of Random House, who agreed to publish one book by her each year. Cerf welcomed her highly readable account of her American tour, Everybody's Autobiography (1937), and kept his word by first publishing her far less popular productions--Portraits and Prayers (1934), Lectures in America (1935), The Geographical History of America (1936)--and later her hodgepodge novel Ida (1941), based loosely and very improbably on the life of the Duchess of Windsor.

Stein's Picasso (1938), her homage to her painter friend, was published on the eve of World War II. A warmhearted and affectionate memoir of their relationship, it was also an evocative portrait of an era in life and art that was passing from the scene. Stein was convinced there would be no war on the grounds that a full-scale European war was unthinkable. Nevertheless, it came. In September 1939 she and Toklas were settled in Bilignin. Lulled by the "phony war," they decided to remain in their corner of France, close to the Swiss border. When France fell, she and Toklas lingered on in a state of indecision. Ironically, her tribute to her second country, Paris France, was published in 1940. Finally they decided to stay on in France until the end of the war. Although they were in purportedly Unoccupied France and could count on the protection of their neighbors and of their friend the historian Bernard Fay, a Vichy official and director of the Bibliotheque nationale, it was still a dangerous decision. As Jews--and as enemy nationals, once America had entered the war--they could easily have been shipped off to concentration camps. At first in Bilignin and then at nearby Culoz, where they were obliged to move in 1943, they endured the food and fuel shortages, waiting for their liberation. They lived quietly; Toklas gardened, Stein walked, meditated, sawed wood. There were some dangerous moments, as in 1943 when a German officer was billeted in their home.

For Stein the wartime years in France provided a delayed education in politics. She grew to understand, as she never quite had before, the value of personal liberty. In her memoir, Wars I Have Seen (1945), she offers a vivid and moving account of daily life in France during those troubled years: the bitter enmities among her French neighbors, the hardships and fears of the times, the small acts of generosity, and the heroic acts of the Maquis.

With the liberation, she returned to Paris in December 1944. She was grateful to find that her valuable collection of paintings had not been vandalized or stolen. She renewed old acquaintances with Picasso and Parisian friends and even had a cordial meeting with Hemingway, one of the more celebrated liberators of the French capital. With the end of the war, she was launched on a new wave of celebrity; American GIs flocked to her apartment on the rue Christine, where she and Toklas had moved before the war. Under the auspices of Life magazine, she was flown to Germany with a contingent of GIs and photographed on the terrace of Hitler's Berchtesgaden retreat. She wrote about the experience for Life and wrote about the GIs in a thin little volume, Brewsie and Willie (1946), a plea for individualism in the face of the growing conformity of industrial life, written in the lingo of the American soldier.

Given the pace of her life, she had begun to grow increasingly tired and irritable. She quarreled with an army group over a production of her wartime play, Yes is For a Very Young Man. (It was eventually produced in the Pasadena Playhouse in March 1946.) While on a vacation in Luceau, she became seriously ill and was advised to see a specialist immediately. She entered the American Hospital at Neuilly, where, after an unsuccessful operation for cancer, she lapsed into a coma and died on the evening of 27 July 1946. She was buried in Paris in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the resting place of the eminent dead, a repository of French life and letters. Twenty-one years later Toklas was buried by her side.

Stein's public image had always been newsworthy; but her writing--especially her "difficult" works--even during her lifetime seemed hors concours, of little concern to literary critics and academicians. Following her death, her innovations in the use of language were always given a polite nod of recognition, but her emphasis on the abstract qualities of language--the color, sound, and rhythm of words--did not lend itself readily to the kind of textual explications which, under the guidance of the New Criticism, came to dominate American literary studies. Although her difficult works offered stray hints of meaning, they offered far fewer textual opportunities than the writings of James Joyce . Beginning in 1951 and continuing through 1958, Yale University, to which Stein had left her papers and manuscripts, began publishing the Yale Edition of the Unpublished Writings of Gertrude Stein, but without any great critical response. The pioneering critical studies are still few: Donald Sutherland's Gertrude Stein: A Biography of Her Work (1951), Michael J. Hoffman's The Development of Abstractionism in the Writings of Gertrude Stein (1965), and more recently, Richard Bridgman's Gertrude Stein in Pieces (1970). Benjamin L. Reid's Art by Subtraction (1958) offers a sharply argued dissenting opinion. With the centenary of Stein's birth in 1974, however, there has been a marked revival of interest--both public and academic--in her life and her work.




  • Robert Bartlett Haas and Donald Clifford Gallup, A Catalogue of the Published and Unpublished Writings of Gertrude Stein (New Haven: Yale University Library, 1941).
  • Ray Lewis White, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas: A Reference Guide (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1984).
  • Robert A. Wilson, Gertrude Stein: A Bibliography (New York: Phoenix Bookshop, 1974).


  • John Malcolm Brinnin, The Third Rose: Gertrude Stein and Her World (Boston: Little, Brown, 1959).
  • Four Americans in Paris: The Collections of Gertrude Stein and Her Family (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1970).
  • Janet Hobhouse, Everybody Who Was Anybody: A Biography of Gertrude Stein (New York: Putnam's, 1975).
  • James R. Mellow, Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein & Company (New York & Washington: Praeger, 1974).
  • W.G. Rogers, When this you see remember me: Gertrude Stein in person (New York & Toronto: Rinehart, 1948).
  • Linda Simon, ed., Gertrude Stein: A Composite Portrait (New York: Avon, 1974).
  • Elizabeth Sprigge, Gertrude Stein: Her Life and Work (New York: Harper, 1957).
  • Alice B. Toklas, What is Remembered (New York, Chicago & San Francisco: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963).
  • Diana Souhami, Gertrude and Alice (Hammersmith & London: Pandora, 1991; San Francisco: Pandora, 1992).
  • Renate Stendhal, ed., Gertrude Stein: In Words and Pictures, A Photobiography (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 1994).
  • Linda Wagner-Martin, "Favored Strangers": Gertrude Stein and Her Family (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1995).
  • Brenda Wineapple, Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein (New York: Putnam, 1996).


  • Shari Benstock, Women of the Left Bank, Paris, 1900-1940 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986).
  • Ellen E. Berry, Curved Thought and Textual Wandering: Gertrude Stein's Postmodernism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992).
  • Harold Bloom, ed., Gertrude Stein (New York: Chelsea House, 1986).
  • Jane Palatini Bowers, Gertrude Stein (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993).
  • Richard Bridgman, The Colloquial Style in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966).
  • Bridgman, Gertrude Stein in Pieces (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970).
  • Marianne Dekoven, A Different Language: Gertrude Stein's Experimental Writing (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983).
  • Randa K. Dubnick, The Structure of Obscurity: Gertrude Stein, Language, and Cubism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984).
  • Donald Gallup, ed., The Flowers of Friendship Letters Written to Gertrude Stein (New York: Knopf, 1953).
  • Frederick J. Hoffman, Gertrude Stein (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1961).
  • Michael J. Hoffman, The Development of Abstractionism in the Writings of Gertrude Stein (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1965).
  • Michael J. Hoffman, Gertrude Stein (Boston: Twayne, 1976).
  • Michael J. Hoffman, ed., Critical Essays on Gertrude Stein (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1986).
  • Bruce F. Kawin, Telling it Again and Again (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972).
  • Bruce Kellner, ed., A Gertrude Stein Companion: Content with the Example (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988).
  • Richard Kostelanetz, ed., Gertrude Stein Advanced: An Anthology of Criticism (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1990).
  • Rosalind Miller, Gertrude Stein: Form and Intelligibility (New York: Exposition Press, 1949).
  • Shirley Neuman and Ira B. Nadel, eds., Gertrude Stein and The Making of Literature (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988).
  • Benjamin L. Reid, Art by Subtraction: A Dissenting Opinion of Gertrude Stein (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958).
  • Wendy Steiner, Exact Resemblance to Exact Resemblance: The Literary Portraiture of Gertrude Stein (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978).
  • Allegra Stewart, Gertrude Stein and the Present (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967).
  • Donald Sutherland, Gertrude Stein: A Biography of Her Work (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951).
  • Jayne L. Walker, The Making of a Modernist: Gertrude Stein from Three Lives to Tender Buttons (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984).
  • Edmund Wilson, Axel's Castle A Study In the Imaginative Literature of 1890-1930 (New York & London: Scribners, 1931).


Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1200002072