"One must dare to be happy"
Birth, Culture, and Family
Gertrude Stein was born on February 3, 1874 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania the daughter of wealthy German-Jewish immigrants. After moving from the U.S. to Europe, living in Vienna and Paris, the family returned to America and settled in Oakland, California. Gertrude's mother died when she was only 14, and she lost her father only four years after.
"I could undertake to be an efficient pupil if it were possible to find an efficient teacher."
An Education...or Lack Thereof
Gertrude Stein studied psychology at Radcliffe College under William James. She also studied medicine at Johns Hopkins for a short period of time. However, she did not receive a formal degree from either program. The jury is out whether she flunked or quit, most critics seem to agree it was a mixture of both.
|Stein with Toklas|
"America is my country, and Paris is my hometown."
Answering the Call to Return Home
In 1903, Gertrude Stein moved to Paris with her brother Leo. Shortly after moving there, she met her secretary and lifelong partner in Alice B. Toklas. She lived in a flat with both Toklas and her brother on the Left Bank, 27 rue de Fleurus.
|Gertrude Stein lived here with her brother, Leo Stein and later Alice Toklas. She accepted many artists and writers here.|
"Paris was the place that suited us who were to create the twentieth century art and literature."
The Salon at 27 rue de fleurus
Pablo Picasso and his portrait of Gertrude Stein
Henri Matisse and a piece of his from Stein's private collection entitled, "Woman in a Hat"
"You are all a lost generation."
Stein, Fitzgerald and Hemingway
|F. Scott Fitzgerald|
|Ernest Hemingway, who took Stein's term "the lost generation" and popularized it in his novel, The Sun also Rises|
"An audience is warming, but it must never be necessary to your work."
Personality and Writing Style
"She was an imposing figure, possessed of a remarkable self-confidence and a commanding manner" (poetryfoundation.org)
As a lover of modern art, Stein sought to accomplish the same rejection of traditional views on time and space through a literary form of "a spatial, process-oriented" one (poetryfoundation).
|Three Lives, published 1909|
"The identity of her characters as it is revealed in unconscious habits and rhythms of speech, the classification of all possible character types, and the problem of laying out as a continuous present knowledge that had accumulated over a period of time" are all ideas Stein likely acquired when studying under James at Radcliffe College (poetryfoundation)
"Not trusting narration to convey the complexity of human behavior, Stein employed description to achieve what she called 'a continuous present.'
On the idea of a continuous present, literary critic Katherine Anne Porter commented:
"The people in this world appear to be motionless at every stage of their progress, each one is simultaneously being born, arriving at all ages and dying. You perceive that it is a world without mobility, everything takes place, has taken place, will take place; therefore nothing takes place, all at once."
|Tender Buttons, published 1912|
"Devoid of logic, narration, and conventional grammar, it resembles a verbal collage" (poetryfondation)
THE PROBLEM IS...
No one got it, except for her.
Most critics agree that, in an attempt to reduce language to abstraction, it had no meaning to anyone but her.
Stein's most successful writing, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, was in fact an autobiography of herself. As her only writing that prescribed to a traditional, linear narrative, it was also her only widely-read one.
"Let me listen to me, and not to them."
Stein in Summation
Stein's contribution to 20th century literature "has largely been relegated to a secondary role," as more a personality and influence on the great writers and artists of the time than being one herself (poetryfoundation). Her stance as a woman unconcerned with public opinion or success, and her appreciation and encouragement of those whose genius had yet been recognized arguably defined the course of history of art and language development of modern times. Thus, she is a figure inseparable from the development of modernism.
"Gertrude Stein." Poetry Foundation. Ed. Catherine Halley. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2013. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/gertrude-stein>.
"Gertrude Stein." poets.org. Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/315>.
"Gertrude Stein Quotes." Brainy Quote. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/g/gertrude_stein.html>.