Monday, February 18, 2013

Stein: A Source of Inspiration

Gertrude Stein
"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.  

The walls of the studio apartment at 27 rue de fleurus quickly became filled with the diverse works of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Juan Gris. The Stein collection is still a marvel today, and many famous museums, such as the MET and Smithsonian, have displayed exhibitions of it.

"Paris was the place that suited us who were to create the twentieth century art and literature."
The Salon at 27 rue de fleurus

"Gertrude Stein was a central figure in the Parisian art world," as a strong "advocate of the avant garde" (poetryfoundation). Combined with her brother being an avid art critic and amateur painter, Stein's home quickly became known as a center of art and art appreciation. Their home became a safe haven for young artists who became known as "new moderns," a term coined for their belief in creation of a "novel form of expression and a conscious break with the past" (poetryfoundation).

 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

Stein's salons did not only attract artists, but writers as well. The likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway found their way into her studio apartment. To them she coined the phrase "the lost generation," to define those "expatriate American and English writers" who flocked to France between the world wars (poetryfoundation).
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" (
 Stein had a personality that did not need the approval of those around her.  She led a lesbian lifestyle, all but married to Alice Toklas, who she stayed with until her death.  When she would get together with male artists and writers, she would send their wives off to be with Alice-showing that the two played relatively traditional gender roles in their relationship, with Stein acting (and looking) the more manly of the two.
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)
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.  

Works Cited
"Gertrude Stein." Poetry Foundation. Ed. Catherine Halley. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2013. <>.  

"Gertrude Stein." Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <>. 
"Gertrude Stein Quotes." Brainy Quote. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <>.  







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