Ondertexts
Gertrude Stein
Search

Gertrude Stein

Gertrude SteinExplore# Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein (February 3, 1874 – July 27, 1946) was an American novelist, poet, playwright, and art collector[1†]. Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, and raised in Oakland, California, Stein moved to Paris in 1903, making France her home for the remainder of her life[1†]. She was a central figure in the Parisian art world and an advocate of the avant-garde[1†][2†]. Her Paris home was a salon for the leading artists and writers of the period between World Wars I and II[1†][3†]. Stein’s work, characterized by its experimental style, has had a profound influence on modern literature[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Gertrude Stein, the youngest of a family of five children, was born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania[1†]. Her parents were Daniel Stein and Amelia Stein, née Keyser, who were upper-middle-class Jewish[1†]. Stein spent her infancy in Vienna and in Passy, France, and her girlhood in Oakland, California[1†][3†].

Stein’s mother, Amelia, died of cancer in 1888, and her father, Daniel, died in 1891[1†][4†]. After their deaths, she was raised by her oldest brother, Michael Stein[1†]. The family was well-off, thanks to their father’s successful real estate investments[1†].

Stein entered the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women (renamed Radcliffe College in 1894), where she studied psychology with the philosopher William James and received her degree in 1898[1†][3†]. She then enrolled at Johns Hopkins University, where she studied medicine for four years, leaving in 1901[1†][4†].

Career Development and Achievements

After leaving Johns Hopkins University, Stein moved to London and then to Paris in 1903, where she lived for the remainder of her life[3†]. She lived with her older brother Leo, who became an accomplished art critic, until 1909; thereafter she lived with her lifelong companion, Alice B. Toklas[3†].

Stein and her brother were among the first collectors of works by the Cubists and other experimental painters of the period, such as Pablo Picasso (who painted her portrait), Henri Matisse, and Georges Braque, several of whom became her friends[3†]. At her salon, they mingled with expatriate American writers whom she dubbed the “Lost Generation,” including Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway, and other visitors drawn by her literary reputation[3†].

In her own work, she attempted to parallel the theories of Cubism, specifically in her concentration on the illumination of the present moment (for which she often relied on the present perfect tense) and her use of slightly varied repetitions and extreme simplification and fragmentation[3†]. Her literary and artistic judgments were revered, and her chance remarks could make or destroy reputations[3†].

In 1933, Stein published a quasi-memoir of her Paris years, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, written in the voice of Alice B. Toklas, her life partner. The book became a literary bestseller and vaulted Stein from the relative obscurity of the cult-literature scene into the limelight of mainstream attention[3†][1†].

Her books include Q.E.D. (1903), about a lesbian romantic affair involving several of Stein’s friends; Fernhurst, a fictional story about a love triangle; Three Lives (1905–06); The Making of Americans (1902–1911); and Tender Buttons (1914)[3†][1†].

First Publication of Her Main Works

Gertrude Stein was a prolific writer, and her body of work includes novels, plays, and poetry. Here are some of her main works:

Each of these works contributed to Stein’s reputation as a leading figure in Modernist literature[1†]. Her innovative writing style, characterized by its stream-of-consciousness technique and its emphasis on the musicality and rhythm of language, has been both praised and criticized[1†]. Despite the controversy, her influence on 20th-century literature is undeniable[1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Gertrude Stein’s work is often described as abstract, repetitive, and nonsensical[7†]. However, these terms do not fully capture the remarkable literary achievement that her work represents[7†]. Stein’s writing is characterized by a focus on the present moment of consciousness[7†][8†]. She radicalized her writing to concentrate on the here and now, the mystery of consciousness, and ultimately the enigma of language and words[7†][8†].

Stein’s style is unmistakably her own and serves as a signature to all her works[7†][8†]. Her innovative writing style, characterized by its stream-of-consciousness technique and its emphasis on the musicality and rhythm of language, has been both praised and criticized[7†][8†]. Despite the controversy, her influence on 20th-century literature is undeniable[7†][8†].

Stein was a creative person with a strong personality, a gift for conversation, and a good ear, and her home became a center for the avant-garde circle of artists in Paris during the early 1900s[7†][8†]. Among contemporaries, she was recognized as a fascinating individual, a woman of strong opinions and definite views, a lively intelligence, and vibrant mind[7†][8†]. Among the cultural historians who came later, she was acknowledged to be a person of enormous creative influence and empowering force[7†][8†].

Stein saw beyond the prejudices of the existing art establishment, becoming the first important patron to some of the great pioneers of twentieth-century modernism[7†][9†]. Her vocal and financial interventions went a long way to deciding the future fortunes of those she called the "New Moderns"[7†][9†]. Stein was one of the first to recognize the potential for Picasso’s early Cubist works[7†][9†]. While most were struggling to comprehend the Cubist agenda, Stein was hailing it as the future of art[7†][9†].

Personal Life

Gertrude Stein was born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania[1†]. She spent her infancy in Vienna and in Passy, France, and her girlhood in Oakland, California[1†][3†]. She was the youngest of a family of five children, born to upper-middle-class Jewish parents, Daniel Stein and Amelia Stein, née Keyser[1†]. Her father was a wealthy businessman with real estate holdings[1†]. German and English were spoken in their home[1†].

When Stein was three years old, she and her family moved to Vienna, and then Paris[1†]. Accompanied by governesses and tutors, the Steins endeavored to imbue their children with the cultured sensibilities of European history and life[1†]. After a year-long sojourn abroad, they returned to America in 1878, settling in Oakland, California, where her father became director of San Francisco’s streetcar lines[1†].

Stein lived most of her adult life in Paris, where she moved in 1903[1†][10†]. She lived with her older brother Leo, who became an accomplished art critic, until 1909[1†][3†]. Thereafter, she lived with her lifelong companion, Alice B. Toklas[1†][3†]. Stein and Toklas’s Paris home was a salon for the leading artists and writers of the period between World Wars I and II[1†][3†].

Stein’s personal life was marked by challenges, including struggles to fit into traditional roles and unrequited love for another woman[1†][11†]. Her activities during World War II have been the subject of analysis and commentary[1†]. As a Jew living in Nazi-occupied France, Stein may have only been able to sustain her lifestyle as an art collector, and indeed to ensure her physical safety, through the protection of the powerful Vichy government official and Nazi collaborator Bernard Fa[1†]. After the war ended, Stein expressed admiration for another Nazi collaborator, Vichy leader Marshal Pétain[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Gertrude Stein’s legacy is vast and enduring. She was a central figure in the Parisian art world and an advocate of the avant-garde[2†]. Her Paris home, where she hosted salons for the leading figures of modernism in literature and art, became a hub for artists and writers[2†][12†]. Her influence extended beyond her lifetime, especially within the American avant-garde[2†][13†].

Stein’s writings, which include novels, poems, plays, and an autobiography, have left a significant mark on literature[2†][1†]. Her unique style and innovative use of language have influenced countless writers and artists[2†][12†]. Two of her phrases, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” and “there is no there there,” have become widely known[2†][1†].

In addition to her literary contributions, Stein was a prolific art collector. She and her brother Leo amassed a dazzling art collection featuring works from Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Cézanne, Renoir, and Delacroix, among others[2†][12†]. As early supporters of the Cubist movement, their collection played a crucial role in facilitating the artists’ burgeoning celebrity status[2†][12†].

Despite the controversies surrounding her activities during World War II, Stein’s impact on literature and art is undeniable[2†][1†]. Her life and work continue to be studied and celebrated, and her influence can still be felt in the worlds of literature and art[2†][12†][13†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Gertrude Stein [website] - link
  2. Poetry Foundation - Gertrude Stein [website] - link
  3. Britannica - Gertrude Stein: American writer [website] - link
  4. Academy of American Poets - About Gertrude Stein [website] - link
  5. Encyclopedia.com - Stein, Gertrude: Principal Works [website] - link
  6. Goodreads - Listopia: The Greatest Works of Gertrude Stein [website] - link
  7. eNotes - Gertrude Stein Poetry: American Poets Analysis [website] - link
  8. eNotes - Gertrude Stein Analysis [website] - link
  9. TheArtStory - Gertrude Stein Overview and Analysis [website] - link
  10. Literary Ladies Guide - Gertrude Stein, Godmother of the Lost Generation [website] - link
  11. Culture.org - Gertrude Stein: The Paradox of a Literary Pioneer and her Controversial Political Affiliations [website] - link
  12. Invaluable - Gertrude Stein: Biography, Influence, and Legacy [website] - link
  13. National Portrait Gallery - National Portrait Gallery [website] - link
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0; additional terms may apply.
Ondertexts® is a registered trademark of Ondertexts Foundation, a non-profit organization.