Gertrude Stein (February 3, 1874 – July 27, 1946) was an American
novelist, poet, playwright, and art collector. Born in the Allegheny
West neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and raised in Oakland,
California, Stein moved to
Paris in 1903, and made France her home for
the remainder of her life. She hosted a
Paris salon, where the leading
figures of modernism in literature and art, such as Pablo Picasso,
Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Ezra Pound,
Sherwood Anderson and Henri Matisse, would meet.
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 and an American-born member of the Parisian
avant-garde. The book became a literary bestseller and vaulted Stein
from the relative obscurity of the cult-literature scene into the
limelight of mainstream attention. Two quotes from her works have
become widely known: "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose" and
"there is no there there", with the latter often taken to be a
reference to her childhood home of Oakland, California.
Her books include Q.E.D. (Quod Erat Demonstrandum) (1903), about a
lesbian romantic affair involving several of Stein's female friends,
Fernhurst, a fictional story about a romantic affair, Three Lives
The Making of Americans (1902–1911). In Tender
Buttons (1914), Stein commented on lesbian sexuality.
Her activities during
World War II
World War II have been the subject of analysis
and commentary. 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
Vichy government official and
Nazi collaborator Bernard Faÿ.
After the war ended, Stein expressed admiration for another Nazi
collaborator, Vichy leader Marshal Pétain. Some have argued that
certain accounts of Stein's wartime activities have amounted to a
1 Early life
2.2 Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
3 Art collection
4 27 rue de Fleurus: The Stein salon
5 Literary style
6 Literary career
6.1 America (1934–1935)
Three Lives (1905–1906)
The Making of Americans (1902–1911)
6.2.5 Word Portraits (1908–1913)
6.2.6 Tender Buttons (1912)
7 Alice B. Toklas
7.1 Lesbian relationships
8 "There is no there there"
9 Political views
World War II
World War II activities
12 Critical reception
13 Legacy and commemoration
14 Published works
15 Related exhibits
16.1 Works cited
17 External links
Gertrude Stein's birthplace and childhood home in Allegheny West
Stein, the youngest of a family of five children, was born on February
3, 1874, in
Allegheny, Pennsylvania (which merged with
1907), to upper-middle-class
Jewish parents, Daniel and Amelia
Stein. Her father was a wealthy businessman with real estate
holdings. German and English were spoken in their home.
Gertrude Stein, age 3
When Stein was three years old, she and her family moved to Vienna,
and then Paris. Accompanied by governesses and tutors, the Steins
endeavored to imbue their children with the cultured sensibilities of
European history and life. 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 street car lines, the
Market Street Railway, in an era when public transportation was a
privately owned enterprise. Stein attended First Hebrew
Congregation of Oakland's Sabbath school. During their residence
in Oakland, they lived for four years on a ten-acre lot, and Stein
built many memories of
California there. She would often go on
excursions with her brother, Leo, with whom she developed a close
relationship. Stein found formal schooling in Oakland unstimulating,
but she read often: Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Scott, Burns, Smollett,
Fielding, and more.
When Stein was 14 years old, her mother died. Three years later, her
father died as well. Stein's eldest brother, Michael Stein, then took
over the family business holdings and in 1892 arranged for Gertrude
and another sister, Bertha, to live with their mother's family in
Baltimore. Here she lived with her uncle David Bachrach, who
in 1877 had married Gertrude's maternal aunt, Fanny Keyser.
In Baltimore, Stein met Claribel and Etta Cone, who held Saturday
evening salons that she would later emulate in Paris. The Cones shared
an appreciation for art and conversation about it and modeled a
domestic division of labor that Stein would replicate in her
relationship with Alice B. Toklas.
Stein attended Radcliffe College, then an annex of Harvard
University, from 1893 to 1897 and was a student of psychologist
William James. With James's supervision, Stein and another student,
Leon Mendez Solomons, performed experiments on normal motor
automatism, a phenomenon hypothesized to occur in people when their
attention is divided between two simultaneous intelligent activities
such as writing and speaking.
These experiments yielded examples of writing that appeared to
represent "stream of consciousness", a psychological theory often
attributed to James and the style of modernist authors Virginia Woolf
and James Joyce. In 1934, behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner
interpreted Stein's difficult poem Tender Buttons as an example of
normal motor automatism. In a letter Stein wrote during the 1930s,
she explained that she never accepted the theory of automatic writing:
"[T]here can be automatic movements, but not automatic writing.
Writing for the normal person is too complicated an activity to be
indulged in automatically." She did publish an article in a
psychological journal on "spontaneous automatic writing" while at
Radcliffe, but "the unconscious and the intuition (even when James
himself wrote about them) never concerned her."
At Radcliffe, she began a lifelong friendship with Mabel Foote Weeks,
whose correspondence traces much of the progression of Stein's life.
In 1897, Stein spent the summer in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, studying
embryology at the Marine Biological Laboratory. She received her
A.B. (Bachelor of Arts) magna cum laude from Radcliffe in 1898.
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
William James, who had become a committed mentor to Stein at
Radcliffe, recognizing her intellectual potential, and declaring her
his "most brilliant woman student", encouraged Stein to enroll in
medical school. Although Stein professed no interest in either the
theory or practice of medicine, she enrolled at Johns Hopkins School
of Medicine in 1897. In her fourth year, Stein failed an important
course, lost interest, and left. Ultimately, medical school had
bored her, and she had spent many of her evenings not applying herself
to her studies, but taking long walks and attending the opera.
Stein's tenure at Johns Hopkins was marked by challenge and stress.
Men dominated the medical field, and the inclusion of women in the
profession was not unreservedly or unanimously welcomed. Writing of
this period in her life (in Things As They Are, 1903) Stein often
revealed herself as a depressed young woman dealing with a
paternalistic culture, struggling to find her own identity, which she
realized could not conform to the conventional female role. Her
uncorseted physical appearance and eccentric mode of dress aroused
comment and she was described as "Big and floppy and sandaled and not
caring a damn". According to Linda Wagner-Martin, Stein's
"controversial stance on women's medicine caused problems with the
male faculty" and contributed to her decision to leave without
finishing her degree.
Asked to give a lecture to a group of
Baltimore women in 1899, Stein
gave a controversial speech titled "The Value of College Education for
Women", undoubtedly designed to provoke the largely middle-class
audience. In the lecture Stein maintained:
"average middle class woman [supported by] some male relative, a
husband or father or brother,...[is] not worth her keep economically
considered. [This economic dependence caused her to become]
oversexed...adapting herself to the abnormal sex desire of the
male...and becoming a creature that should have been first a human
being and then a woman into one that is a woman first and always."
While a student at Johns Hopkins and purportedly still naïve about
sexual matters, Stein experienced an awakening of her latent
sexuality. Sometime in 1899 or 1900, she became infatuated with Mary
Bookstaver who was involved in a relationship with a medical student,
Mabel Haynes. Witnessing the relationship between the two women served
for Stein as her "erotic awakening". The unhappy love triangle
demoralized Stein, arguably contributing to her decision to abandon
her medical studies. In 1902 Stein's brother
Leo Stein left for
London, and Stein followed. The following year the two relocated to
Paris, where Leo hoped to pursue an art career.
Henri Matisse, Woman with a Hat, 1905.
San Francisco Museum of Modern
Leo, Gertrude and Michael Stein
From 1903 until 1914, when they dissolved their common household,
Gertrude and her brother Leo shared living quarters near the
Luxembourg Garden on the
Left Bank of
Paris in a two-story apartment
(with adjacent studio) located on the interior courtyard at 27 rue de
Fleurus, 6th arrondissement. Here they accumulated the works of art
that formed a collection that became renowned for its prescience and
The gallery space was furnished with imposing Renaissance-era
furniture manufactured in Florence, Italy. The paintings lined the
walls in tiers trailing many feet to the ceiling. Initially
illuminated by gaslight, the artwork was later lit by electric light
shortly prior to World War I.
Leo Stein cultivated important art world connections, enabling the
Stein holdings to grow over time. The art historian and collector
Bernard Berenson hosted Gertrude and Leo in his English country house
in 1902, facilitating their introduction to
Paul Cézanne and the
dealer Ambroise Vollard. Vollard was heavily involved in the
Cézanne art market, and he was the first important contact in the
Paris art world for both Leo and Gertrude.
The joint collection of Gertrude and
Leo Stein began in late 1904 when
Michael Stein announced that their trust account had accumulated a
balance of 8,000 francs. They spent this at Vollard's Gallery, buying
Gauguin's Sunflowers and Three Tahitians, Cézanne's
Bathers, and two Renoirs.
Gertrude Stein sitting on a sofa in her
Paris studio, with a portrait
of her by Pablo Picasso, and other modern art paintings hanging on the
wall (before 1910)
The art collection increased and the walls at Rue de Fleurus were
rearranged continually to make way for new acquisitions. In "the
first half of 1905" the Steins acquired Cézanne's Portrait of Mme
Cézanne and Delacroix's Perseus and Andromeda. Shortly after the
opening of the
Salon d'Automne of 1905 (on October 18, 1905), the
Steins acquired Matisse's Woman with a Hat and Picasso's Young
Girl with Basket of Flowers.
Henry McBride (art critic for the New York Sun) did much for Stein's
reputation in the United States, publicizing her art acquisitions and
her importance as a cultural figure. Of the art collection at 27 Rue
de Fleurus, McBride commented: "[I]n proportion to its size and
quality... [it is] just about the most potent of any that I have ever
heard of in history." McBride also made the observation that
Gertrude "collected geniuses rather than masterpieces. She recognized
them a long way off."
By early 1906, Leo and Gertrude Stein's studio had many paintings by
Henri Manguin, Pierre Bonnard, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne,
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Honoré Daumier, Henri Matisse, and Henri de
Toulouse-Lautrec. Their collection was representative of two
famous art exhibitions that took place during their residence together
in Paris, and to which they contributed, either by lending their art,
or by patronizing the featured artists. The Steins' elder brother,
Michael, and sister-in-law Sarah (Sally) acquired a large number of
Henri Matisse paintings; Gertrude's friends from Baltimore, Claribel
and Etta Cone, collected similarly, eventually donating their art
collection, virtually intact, to the
Baltimore Museum of Art.
While numerous artists visited the Stein salon, many of these artists
were not represented among the paintings on the walls at 27 Rue de
Fleurus. Where Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso's works
dominated Leo and Gertrude's collection, the collection of Michael and
Sarah Stein emphasized Matisse. In April 1914 Leo relocated to
Settignano, Italy, near Florence, and the art collection was divided.
The division of the Steins' art collection was described in a letter
Cézanne apples have a unique importance to me that nothing can
replace. The Picasso landscape is not important in any such sense. We
are, as it seems to me on the whole, both so well off now that we
needn't repine. The Cézannes had to be divided. I am willing to leave
you the Picasso oeuvre, as you left me the Renoir, and you can have
everything except that. I want to keep the few drawings that I have.
This leaves no string for me, it is financially equable either way for
estimates are only rough & ready methods, & I'm afraid you'll
have to look upon the loss of the apples as an act of God. I have been
anxious above all things that each should have in reason all that he
wanted, and just as I was glad that Renoir was sufficiently
indifferent to you so that you were ready to give them up, so I am
glad that Pablo is sufficiently indifferent to me that I am willing to
let you have all you want of it.
Leo departed with sixteen Renoirs, and relinquishing the Picassos and
Matisse to his sister, took only a portrait sketch Picasso had
done of him. He remained dedicated to Cézanne, nonetheless, leaving
all the artist's works with his sister, taking with him only a
Cézanne painting of "5 apples". The split between brother and
sister was acrimonious. Stein did not see
Leo Stein again until after
World War I, and then through only a brief greeting on the street in
Paris. After this accidental encounter, they never saw or spoke to
each other again. The Steins' holdings were dispersed eventually
by various methods and for various reasons. After Stein's and
Leo's households separated in 1914, she continued to collect examples
of Picasso's art, which had turned to Cubism, a style Leo did not
appreciate. At her death, Gertrude's remaining collection emphasized
the artwork of Picasso and Juan Gris, most of her other pictures
having been sold.
Gertrude Stein's personality has dominated the provenance of the Stein
art legacy. It was, however, her brother Leo who was the astute art
appraiser. Alfred Barr Jr., the founding director of New York's Museum
of Modern Art, said that between the years of 1905 and 1907, "[Leo]
was possibly the most discerning connoisseur and collector of 20th
century painting in the world." After the artworks were divided
between the two Stein siblings, it was Gertrude who moved on to
champion the works of what proved to be lesser talents in the 1930s.
She concentrated on the work of Juan Gris, André Masson, and Sir
Francis Rose. In 1932, Stein asserted: "painting now after its great
period has come back to be a minor art."
In 1945, in a preface for the first exhibition of Spanish painter
Francisco Riba Rovira (who painted a portrait of her), Stein wrote:
I explained that for me, all modern painting is based on what Cézanne
nearly made, instead of basing itself on what he almost managed to
make. When he could not make a thing, he hijacked it and left it. He
insisted on showing his incapacity: he spread his lack of success:
showing what he could not do, became an obsession for him. People
influenced by him were also obsessed by the things which they could
not reach and they began the system of camouflage. It was natural to
do so, even inevitable: that soon became an art, in peace and in war,
Matisse concealed and insisted at the same time on that Cézanne
could not realize, and Picasso concealed, played and tormented all
these things. The only one who wanted to insist on this problem, was
Juan Gris. He persisted by deepening the things which
to do, but it was too hard a task for him: it killed him. And now here
we are, I find a young painter who does not follow the tendency to
play with what
Cézanne could not do, but who attacks any right the
things which he tried to make, to create the objects which have to
exist, for, and in themselves, and not in relation.
27 rue de Fleurus: The Stein salon
Plaque at 27 rue de Fleurus
The gatherings in the Stein home "brought together confluences of
talent and thinking that would help define modernism in literature and
art". Dedicated attendees included Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F.
Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Ezra Pound, Gavin Williamson,
Thornton Wilder, Sherwood Anderson, Francis Cyril Rose, Bob Brown,
René Crevel, Élisabeth de Gramont, Francis Picabia, Claribel Cone,
Mildred Aldrich, Jane Peterson,
Carl Van Vechten
Carl Van Vechten and Henri Matisse.
Saturday evenings had been set as the fixed day and time for formal
congregation so Stein could work at her writing uninterrupted by
impromptu visitors. It was Stein's partner Alice who became the de
facto hostess for the wives and girlfriends of the artists in
attendance, who met in a separate room.
Gertrude attributed the beginnings of the Saturday evening salons to
Matisse, as people began visiting to see his paintings and those of
Matisse brought people, everybody brought somebody, and
they came at any time and it began to be a nuisance, and it was in
this way that Saturday evenings began."
Among Picasso's acquaintances who frequented the Saturday evenings
Fernande Olivier (Picasso's mistress),
Georges Braque (artist),
André Derain (artist),
Max Jacob (poet), Guillaume Apollinaire
Marie Laurencin (artist, and Apollinaire's mistress), Henri
Rousseau (painter), and Joseph Stella.
Hemingway frequented Stein's salon, but the two had an uneven
relationship. They began as close friends, with Hemingway admiring
Stein as a mentor, but they later grew apart, especially after Stein
called Hemingway "yellow" in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
Upon the birth of his son, Hemingway asked Stein to be the godmother
of his child. While Stein has been credited with inventing the
term "Lost Generation" for those whose defining moment in time and
coming of age had been
World War I
World War I and its aftermath, there are at
least three versions of the story that led to the phrase, two by
Hemingway and one by Stein.
During the summer of 1931, Stein advised the young composer and writer
Paul Bowles to go to Tangier, where she and Alice had vacationed.
Carl Van Vechten, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1934
Stein's writing can be placed in three categories: "hermetic" works
best illustrated by The Making of Americans: The Hersland Family;
popularized writing such as The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; and
speech writing and more accessible autobiographical writing of later
years, of which Brewsie and Willie is a good example. Her works
include novels, plays, stories, libretti and poems written in a highly
idiosyncratic, playful, repetitive, and humorous style. Typical quotes
are: "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose"; "Out of kindness comes
redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye
comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle"; about her
childhood home in Oakland, "There is no there there"; and "The change
of color is likely and a difference a very little difference is
prepared. Sugar is not a vegetable."
These stream-of-consciousness experiments, rhythmical essays or
"portraits", were designed to evoke "the excitingness of pure being"
and can be seen as literature's answer to visual art styles and forms
such as Cubism, plasticity, and collage. Many of the experimental
works such as Tender Buttons have since been interpreted by critics as
a feminist reworking of patriarchal language. These works were well
received by avant-garde critics but did not initially achieve
mainstream success. Despite Stein's work on "automatic writing" with
William James, she did not see her work as automatic, but as an
'excess of consciousness'.
Though Stein collected cubist paintings, especially those of Picasso,
the largest visual arts influence on her literary work is that of
Cézanne. Particularly, he influenced her idea of equality,
distinguished from universality: "the whole field of the canvas is
important" (p. 8[full citation needed]). Rather than a
figure/ground relationship, "Stein in her work with words used the
entire text as a field in which every element mattered as much as any
other." It is a subjective relationship that includes multiple
viewpoints. Stein explained: "The important thing is that you must
have deep down as the deepest thing in you a sense of equality."
Her use of repetition is ascribed to her search for descriptions of
the "bottom nature" of her characters, such as in The Making of
Americans where the narrator is described through the repetition of
narrative phrases such as "As I was saying" and "There will be now a
history of her." Stein used many Anglo-Saxon words and avoided words
with "too much association". Social judgement is absent in her
writing, so the reader is given the power to decide how to think and
feel about the writing. Anxiety, fear and anger are also absent, and
her work is harmonic and integrative.
Stein predominantly used the present progressive tense, creating a
continuous present in her work, which Grahn argues is a consequence of
the previous principles, especially commonality and centeredness.
Grahn describes "play" as the granting of autonomy and agency to the
readers or audience: "rather than the emotional manipulation that is a
characteristic of linear writing, Stein uses play." In addition
Stein's work is funny, and multilayered, allowing a variety of
interpretations and engagements. Lastly Grahn argues that one must
"insterstand... engage with the work, to mix with it in an active
engagement, rather than 'figuring it out.' Figure it in." In 1932,
using an accessible style to appeal to a wider audience, she wrote The
Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; the book would become her first
best-seller. Despite the title, it was actually Stein's autobiography.
The style was quite similar to that of The
Alice B. Toklas
Alice B. Toklas Cookbook,
which was written by Toklas.
Several of Stein's writings have been set to music by composers,
including Virgil Thomson's operas
Four Saints in Three Acts
Four Saints in Three Acts and The
Mother of Us All, and James Tenney's setting of Rose is a rose is a
rose is a rose as a canon dedicated to Philip Corner, beginning with
"a" on an upbeat and continuing so that each repetition shuffles the
words, e.g. "a/rose is a rose/is a rose is/a rose is a/rose."
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906, Metropolitan Museum
of Art, New York. When someone commented that Stein didn't look like
her portrait, Picasso replied, "She will". Stein wrote "If I Told
Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso" in response to the painting.
Félix Vallotton, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1907
While living in Paris, Stein began submitting her writing for
publication. Her earliest writings were mainly retellings of her
college experiences. Her first critically acclaimed publication was
Three Lives. In 1911,
Mildred Aldrich introduced Stein to Mabel Dodge
Luhan and they began a short-lived but fruitful friendship during
which the wealthy Mabel Dodge promoted Gertrude's legend in the United
Mabel was enthusiastic about Stein's sprawling publication The Makings
of Americans and, at a time when Stein had much difficulty selling her
writing to publishers, privately published 300 copies of Portrait of
Mabel Dodge at Villa Curonia. Dodge was also involved in the
publicity and planning of the 69th Regiment
Armory Show in 1913, "the
first avant-garde art exhibition in America".
In addition, she wrote the first critical analysis of Stein's writing
to appear in America, in "Speculations, or Post-Impressionists in
Prose", published in a special March 1913 publication of Arts and
Decoration. Foreshadowing Stein's later critical reception, Dodge
wrote in "Speculations":
In Gertrude Stein's writing every word lives and, apart from concept,
it is so exquisitely rhythmical and cadenced that if we read it aloud
and receive it as pure sound, it is like a kind of sensuous music.
Just as one may stop, for once, in a way, before a canvas of Picasso,
and, letting one's reason sleep for an instant, may exclaim: "It is a
fine pattern!" so, listening to Gertrude Stein's words and forgetting
to try to understand what they mean, one submits to their gradual
Stein and Carl Van Vechten, the noted critic and photographer, became
Paris in 1913. The two became lifelong friends, devising
pet names for each other: Van Vechten was "Papa Woojums", and Stein,
"Baby Woojums". Van Vechten served as an enthusiastic champion of
Stein's literary work in the United States, in effect becoming her
In October 1934, Stein arrived in America after a 30-year absence.
Disembarking from the ocean liner in New York, she encountered a
throng of reporters. Front-page articles on Stein appeared in almost
New York City
New York City newspaper. As she rode through Manhattan to her
hotel, she was able to get a sense of the publicity that would
hallmark her US tour. An electric sign in
Times Square announced to
all that "
Gertrude Stein Has Arrived". Her six-month tour of the
country encompassed 191 days of travel, criss-crossing 23 states and
visiting 37 cities. Stein prepared her lectures for each stop-over in
a formally structured way, and the audience was limited to five
hundred attendees for each venue. She spoke, reading from notes, and
provided for an audience question and answer period at the end of her
Stein's effectiveness as a lecture speaker received varying
evaluations. At the time, some maintained that "Stein's audiences by
and large did not understand her lectures." Some of those in the
psychiatric community weighed in, judging that Stein suffered from a
speech disorder, palilalia, which caused her "to stutter over words
and phrases". The predominant feeling, however, was that Stein was a
compelling presence, a fascinating personality who had the ability to
hold listeners with the "musicality of her language".
In Washington, D.C. Stein was invited to have tea with the President's
wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. In Beverly Hills, California, she visited
actor and filmmaker
Charlie Chaplin who reportedly discussed the
future of cinema with her. Stein left America in May 1935, a newly
minted American celebrity with a commitment from Random House, who had
agreed to become the American publisher for all of her future
Chicago Daily Tribune
Chicago Daily Tribune wrote after Stein's return to
Paris: "No writer in years has been so widely discussed, so much
caricatured, so passionately championed."
Gertrude completed Q.E.D. (Quod Erat Demonstrandum) on October 24,
1903. One of the earliest coming out stories, it is about a
romantic affair involving Stein and her friends Mabel Haynes, Grace
Lounsbury and Mary Bookstaver, and occurred between 1897 and 1901
while she was studying at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
In 1904 Stein began Fernhurst, a fictional account of a scandalous
three-person romantic affair involving a dean (M. Carey Thomas), a
faculty member from
Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr College (Mary Gwinn) and a Harvard
graduate (Alfred Hodder). Mellow asserts that
Fernhurst "is a
decidedly minor and awkward piece of writing". It includes some
commentary that Gertrude mentioned in her autobiography when she
discussed the "fateful twenty-ninth year" during which:
All the forces that have been engaged through the years of childhood,
adolescence and youth in confused and ferocious combat range
themselves in ordered ranks (and during which) 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.
Also in our American life where there is no coercion in custom and it
is our right to change our vocation so often as we have desire and
opportunity, it is a common experience that our youth extends through
the whole first twenty-nine years of our life and it is not till we
reach thirty that we find at last that vocation for which we feel
ourselves fit and to which we willingly devote continued labor.
Mellow observes that, in 1904, 30-year-old Gertrude "had evidently
determined that the 'small hard reality' of her life would be
Three Lives (1905–1906)
Stein attributed the inception of
Three Lives to the inspiration she
received from a portrait
Cézanne had painted of his wife and which
was in the Stein collection. She credited this as a revelatory moment
in the evolution of her writing style. Stein described:
that the stylistic method of (Three Lives) had been influenced by the
Cézanne portrait under which she sat writing. The portrait of Madame
Cézanne is one of the monumental examples of the artist's method,
each exacting, carefully negotiated plane—from the suave reds of the
armchair and the gray blues of the sitter's jacket to the vaguely
figured wallpaper of the background—having been structured into
existence, seeming to fix the subject for all eternity. So it was with
Gertrude's repetitive sentences, each one building up, phrase by
phrase, the substance of her characters.
Three Lives during the spring of 1905 and finished it the
The Making of Americans (1902–1911)
Gertrude Stein stated the date for her writing of The Making of
Americans was 1906–8. Her biographer has uncovered evidence that it
actually began in 1902 and did not end until 1911. Stein compared
her work to James Joyce's Ulysses and to Marcel Proust's In Search of
Lost Time. Her critics were less enthusiastic about it. Stein
wrote the bulk of the novel between 1903 and 1911, and evidence from
her manuscripts suggests three major periods of revision during that
time. The manuscript remained mostly hidden from public view until
1924 when, at the urging of Ernest Hemingway,
Ford Madox Ford
Ford Madox Ford agreed
to publish excerpts in the transatlantic review. In 1925, the
Paris-based Contact Press published a limited run of the novel
consisting of 500 copies. A much-abridged edition was published by
Harcourt Brace in 1934, but the full version remained out of print
Something Else Press republished it in 1966. In 1995, a new,
definitive edition was published by
Dalkey Archive Press with a
foreword by William Gass.
Matisse and Picasso descriptive essays appeared in Alfred
Stieglitz's August, 1912 edition of Camera Work, a special edition
devoted to Picasso and Matisse, and represented her very first
publication. Of this publication, Gertrude said, "[h]e was the
first one that ever printed anything that I had done. And you can
imagine what that meant to me or to any one."
Word Portraits (1908–1913)
Stein's descriptive essays apparently began with her essay of Alice B.
Toklas, "a little prose vignette, a kind of happy inspiration that had
detached itself from the torrential prose of The Making of
Americans". Stein's early efforts at word portraits are catalogued
in Mellow (1974, pp. 129–37) and under individual's names in
Matisse and Picasso were subjects of early essays,
later collected and published in Geography and Plays and Portraits
Her subjects included several ultimately famous personages, and her
subjects provided a description of what she observed in her Saturday
salons at 27 Rue de Fleurus: "Ada" (Alice B. Toklas), "Two Women" (The
Claribel Cone and Etta Cone), Miss Furr and Miss Skeene
(Ethel Mars and Maud Hunt Squire), "Men" (Hutchins Hapgood, Peter
David Edstrom, Maurice Sterne), "Matisse" (1909, Henri Matisse),
"Picasso" (1909, Pablo Picasso), "Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa
Curonia" (1911, Mabel Dodge Luhan), and "Guillaume Apollinaire"
Tender Buttons (1912)
Tender Buttons is the best known of Stein's "hermetic" works. It is a
small book separated into three sections—"Food, Objects and Rooms",
each containing prose under subtitles. Its publication in 1914
caused a great dispute between
Mabel Dodge Luhan
Mabel Dodge Luhan and Stein, because
Mabel had been working to have it published by another publisher.
Mabel wrote at length about what she viewed as the bad choice of
publishing it with the press Gertrude selected. Evans wrote
Claire Marie Press... is absolutely third rate, & in bad odor
here, being called for the most part 'decadent" and Broadwayish and
that sort of thing... I think it would be a pity to publish with
[Claire Marie Press] if it will emphasize the idea in the opinion of
the public, that there is something degenerate & effete &
decadent about the whole of the cubist movement which they all connect
you with, because, hang it all, as long as they don't understand a
thing they think all sorts of things. My feeling in this is quite
Stein ignored Mabel's exhortations, and eventually Mabel, and
published 1,000 copies of the book, in 1914. An antiquarian copy was
valued at over $1,200 in 2007. It is currently in print, and was
re-released as Tender Buttons: The Corrected Centennial Edition by
City Lights Publishers
City Lights Publishers in March 2014.
In an interview with Robert Bartlett Haas in "A Transatlantic
Interview - 1946", Stein insisted that this work was completely
"realistic" in the tradition of Gustave Flaubert, stating the
following: "I used to take objects on a table, like a tumbler or any
kind of object and try to get the picture of it clear and separate in
my mind and create a word relationship between the word and the things
seen." Commentators have indicated that what she meant was that the
reference of objects remained central to her work, although the
representation of them had not. Scholar
Marjorie Perloff had said
of Stein that "[u]nlike her contemporaries (Eliot, Pound, Moore), she
does not give us an image, however fractured, of a carafe on a table;
rather, she forces us to reconsider how language actually constructs
the world we know."
Alice B. Toklas
Stein met her life partner Alice B. Toklas on September 8, 1907,
on Toklas's first day in Paris, at Sarah and Michael Stein's
apartment. On meeting Stein, Toklas wrote:
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 contralto's, like two voices.
Soon thereafter, Stein introduced Toklas to
Pablo Picasso at his
studio, where he was at work on Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.
In 1908, they summered in Fiesole, Italy, Toklas staying with Harriet
Lane Levy, the companion of her trip from the United States, and her
housemate until Alice moved in with Stein and Leo in 1910. That
summer, Stein stayed with Michael and Sarah Stein, their son Allan,
and Leo in a nearby villa. Gertrude and Alice's summer of 1908 is
memorialized in images of the two of them in Venice, at the piazza in
front of Saint Mark's.
Toklas arrived in 1907 with Harriet Levy, with Toklas maintaining
living arrangements with Levy until she moved to 27 Rue de Fleurus in
1910. In an essay written at the time, Stein humorously discussed the
complex efforts, involving much letter writing and Victorian niceties,
to extricate Levy from Toklas's living arrangements. In "Harriet",
Stein considers Levy's nonexistent plans for the summer, following her
nonexistent plans for the winter:
She said she did not have any plans for the summer. No one was
interested in this thing in whether she had any plans for the summer.
That is not the complete history of this thing, some were interested
in this thing in her not having any plans for the summer... Some who
were not interested in her not having made plans for the summer were
interested in her not having made plans for the following winter. She
had not made plans for the summer and she had not made plans for the
following winter... There was then coming to be the end of the summer
and she was then not answering anything when any one asked her what
were her plans for the winter.
Stein in 1913
During the early summer of 1914, Gertrude bought three paintings by
Juan Gris: Roses, Glass and Bottle, and Book and Glasses. Soon after
she purchased them from Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler's gallery, the
Great War began, Kahnweiler's stock was confiscated and he was not
allowed to return to Paris. Gris, who before the war had entered a
binding contract with Kahnweiler for his output, was left without
income. Gertrude attempted to enter an ancillary arrangement in which
she would forward Gris living expenses in exchange for future
pictures. Stein and Toklas had plans to visit England to sign a
contract for the publication of Three Lives, to spend a few weeks
there, and then journey to Spain. They left
Paris on July 6, 1914 and
returned on October 17. When Britain declared war on Germany,
Stein and Toklas were visiting
Alfred North Whitehead
Alfred North Whitehead in England.
After a supposed three-week trip to England that stretched to three
months due to the War, they returned to France, where they spent the
first winter of the war.
With money acquired from the sale of Stein's last
Matisse Woman with a
Hat to her brother Michael, she and Toklas vacationed in Spain
from May 1915 through the spring of 1916. During their interlude
in Majorca, Spain, Gertrude continued her correspondence with Mildred
Aldrich who kept her apprised of the War's progression, and eventually
inspired Gertrude and Alice to return to France to join the war
Toklas and Stein returned to
Paris in June 1916, and acquired a Ford
automobile with the help of associates in the United States; Gertrude
learned to drive it with the help of her friend William Edwards
Cook. Gertrude and Alice then volunteered to drive supplies to
French hospitals, in the Ford they named Auntie, "after Gertrude's
aunt Pauline, 'who always behaved admirably in emergencies and behaved
fairly well most times if she was flattered.'"
Gertrude Stein with Ernest Hemingway's son,
Jack Hemingway in 1924.
Stein is credited with bringing the term "Lost Generation" into use.
During the 1930s, Stein and Toklas became famous with the 1933 mass
market publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. She and
Alice had an extended lecture tour in the United States during this
decade. They also spent several summers in the town of Bilignin, in
Ain district of eastern France situated in the picturesque region
of the Rhône-Alpes. The two women doted on their beloved poodle named
"Basket" whose successor, "Basket II", comforted Alice in the years
after Gertrude's death.
With the outbreak of World War II, Stein and Toklas relocated to a
country home that they had rented for many years previously in
Bilignin, Ain, in the
Rhône-Alpes region. Gertrude and Alice, who
were both Jewish, escaped persecution probably because of their
Bernard Faÿ who was a collaborator with the Vichy
regime and had connections to the Gestapo, or possibly because
Gertrude was an American and a famous author. Gertrude's book "Wars I
Have Seen" written before the German surrender and before the
liberation of German concentration camps, likened the German army to
Keystone cops. When Faÿ was sentenced to hard labor for life after
the war, Gertrude and Alice campaigned for his release. Several years
later, Toklas would contribute money to Faÿ's escape from prison.
After the war, Stein was visited by many young American soldiers. The
August 6, 1945 issue of Life magazine featured a photo of Stein and
American soldiers posing in front of Hitler's bunker in Berchtesgaden.
They are all giving the
Nazi salute and Stein is wearing the
traditional Alpine cap, accompanied by the text: "Off We All Went To
In the 1980s, a cabinet in the
Yale University Beinecke Library, which
had been locked for an indeterminate number of years, was opened and
found to contain some 300 love letters written by Stein and Toklas.
They were made public for the first time, revealing intimate details
of their relationship. Stein's endearment for Toklas was "Baby
Precious", in turn Stein was for Toklas, "Mr. Cuddle-Wuddle".
Stein is the author of one of the earliest coming out stories,
"Q.E.D." (published in 1950 as Things as They Are), written in 1903
and suppressed by the author. The story, written during travels after
leaving college, is based on a three-person romantic affair in which
she became involved while studying at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. The
affair was complicated, as Stein was less experienced with the social
dynamics of romantic friendship as well as her own sexuality and any
moral dilemmas regarding it. Stein maintained at the time that she
detested "passion in its many disguised forms". The relationships of
Stein's acquaintances Mabel Haynes and Grace Lounsbury ended as Haynes
started one with
Mary Bookstaver (also known as May Bookstaver). Stein
became enamored of Bookstaver but was unsuccessful in advancing their
relationship. Bookstaver, Haynes, and Lounsbury all later married
Stein began to accept and define her pseudo-masculinity through the
ideas of Otto Weininger's Sex and Character (1906). Weininger, though
Jewish by birth, considered
Jewish men effeminate and women as
incapable of selfhood and genius, except for female homosexuals who
may approximate masculinity. As Stein equated genius with masculinity,
her position as a female and an intellectual becomes difficult to
synthesize and modern feminist interpretations of her work have been
called into question.
More positive affirmations of Stein's sexuality began with her
relationship with Alice B. Toklas.
Ernest Hemingway describes how
Alice was Gertrude's "wife" in that Stein rarely addressed his
(Hemingway's) wife, and he treated Alice the same, leaving the two
"wives" to chat.
The more affirming essay "Miss Furr and Miss Skeene" is one of the
first homosexual revelation stories to be published. The work, like
Q.E.D., is informed by Stein's growing involvement with a homosexual
community, though it is based on lesbian partners Maud Hunt Squire
and Ethel Mars. The work contains the word "gay" over 100 times,
perhaps the first published use of the word "gay" in reference to
same-sex relationships and those who have them, and, thus,
uninformed readers missed the lesbian content. A similar essay of
homosexual men begins more obviously with the line "Sometimes men are
kissing" but is less well known.
In Tender Buttons Stein comments on lesbian sexuality and the work
abounds with "highly condensed layers of public and private meanings"
created by wordplay including puns on the words "box", "cow", and in
titles such as "tender buttons".
"There is no there there"
Along with Stein's widely known "A rose is a rose is a rose is a
rose" quotation, "there is no there there" is also one of her most
famous. It appears in Gertrude Stein, Everybody's Autobiography
Random House 1937, p 289) and is often applied to the city of her
childhood, Oakland, California. Defenders and critics of Oakland have
debated what she really meant when she said this in 1933, after coming
San Francisco on a book tour. She took a ferry to Oakland to visit
the farm she grew up on, and the house she lived in near what is now
13th Avenue and E. 25th Street in Oakland. The house had been razed,
and the farmland had been developed with new housing in the three
decades since her father had sold the property and moved closer to the
commercial hub of the neighborhood on Washington Street (now 12th
Avenue). She wrote:
She took us to see her granddaughter who was teaching in the Dominican
convent in San Raphael, we went across the bay on a ferry, that had
not changed but Goat Island might just as well not have been there,
anyway what was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not
natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or
anything if I like but not there, there is no there there.
...but not there, there is no there there. ... Ah Thirteenth Avenue
was the same it was shabby and overgrown. ... Not of course the house,
the house the big house and the big garden and the eucalyptus trees
and the rose hedge naturally were not there any longer existing, what
was the use ...
It is a funny thing about addresses where you live. When you live
there you know it so well that it is like an identity a thing that is
so much a thing that it could not ever be any other thing and then you
live somewhere else and years later, the address that was so much an
address that it was like your name and you said it as if it was not an
address but something that was living and then years after you do not
know what the address was and when you say it is not a name anymore
but something you cannot remember. That is what makes your identity
not a thing that exists but something you do or do not remember.
According to Janet Malcolm's contested account in Two Lives: Gertrude
and Alice, Stein was a vocal critic of
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt and
the New Deal.
While some have stressed her queer, feminist, pro-immigration, and
democratic politics, her statements on immigration include
sentiments that would be considered racist today. In a 1934 interview
published in The New York Times she stated:
That is the reason why I do not approve of the stringent immigration
laws in America today. We need the stimulation of new blood. It is
best to favor healthy competition. There is no reason why we should
not select our immigrants with greater care, nor why we should not bar
certain peoples and preserve the color line for instance. But if we
shut down on immigration completely we shall become stagnant.
She publicly endorsed General
Francisco Franco during the Spanish
Civil War and admired Vichy leader Marshal Philippe Pétain. Some
have argued for a more nuanced view of Stein's collaborationist
activity, arguing that it was rooted in her wartime predicament and
status as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France.
Similarly, Stein commented in 1938 on Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler,
Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky: "There is too
much fathering going on just now and there is no doubt about it
fathers are depressing."
World War II
World War II activities
While identified with the modernist movements in art and literature,
Stein's political affiliations were a mix of reactionary and
progressive ideas. She was outspoken in her hostility to some liberal
reforms of progressive politics. To Stein, the industrial revolution
had acted as a negative societal force, disrupting stability,
degrading values, and subsequently affecting cultural decline. Stein
idealized the 18th century as the golden age of civilization,
epitomized in America as the era of its founding fathers and what was
in France, the glory of its pre-revolutionary Ancien Régime.
At the same time, she was pro-immigrant, pro-democratic, and
anti-patriarchal. Her last major work was the libretto of the
The Mother of Us All
The Mother of Us All (1947) about the socially
progressive suffragette movement and another work from this time,
Brewsie and Willie (1946), expressed strong support for American
A compendium of source material confirms that Stein may have been able
to save her life and sustain her lifestyle through the protection of
Vichy government official Bernard Faÿ. Stein had met Faÿ in
1926, and he became her "dearest friend during her life", according to
Alice B. Toklas. Faÿ had been the primary translator of Stein's work
into French and subsequently masterminded her 1933–34 American book
tour, which gave Stein celebrity status and proved to be a highly
successful promotion of her memoir, The Autobiography of Alice B.
Toklas. Faÿ's influence was instrumental in avoiding Nazi
confiscation of Stein's historically significant and monetarily
valuable collection of artwork, which throughout the war years was
housed in Stein's
Paris rue Christine apartment, under locked
In 1941, at Faÿ's suggestion, Stein consented to translate into
English some 180 pages of speeches made by Marshal Philippe Pétain.
In her introduction, Stein crafts an analogy between George Washington
and Pétain. She writes of the high esteem in which Pétain is held by
his countrymen; France respected and admired the man who had struck an
armistice with Hitler. Conceived and targeted for an American
readership, Stein's translations were ultimately never published in
the United States.
Random House publisher
Bennett Cerf had read the
introduction Stein had written for the translations and been horrified
by what she had produced.
Although Jewish, Stein collaborated with Vichy France, a regime that
deported more than 75,000
Nazi concentration camps, of whom
only 3 percent survived the Holocaust. In 1944, Stein wrote
that Petain's policies were "really wonderful so simple so natural so
extraordinary". This was Stein's contention in the year when the town
of Culoz, where she and Toklas resided, saw the removal of its Jewish
children to Auschwitz. It is difficult to say, however, how aware
Stein was of these events. As she wrote in Wars I Have Seen, "However
near a war is it is always not very near. Even when it is here."
Stein had stopped translating Petain's speeches three years
previously, in 1941.
Stein was able to condemn the Japanese attack at
Pearl Harbor while
simultaneously maintaining the dissonant acceptance of Hitler as
conqueror of Europe. Journalist Lanning Warren interviewed Stein in
Paris apartment in a piece published in The New York Times
Magazine on May 6, 1934. Stein, seemingly ironically, proclaimed that
Hitler merited the Nobel Peace Prize.
"The Saxon element is always destined to be dominated. The Germans
have no gift at organizing. They can only obey. And obedience is not
organization. Organization comes from community of will as well as
community of action. And in America our democracy has been based on
community of will and effort.... I say Hitler ought to have the peace
prize...because he is removing all elements of contest and struggle
from Germany. By driving out the
Jews and the democratic Left
elements, he is driving out everything that conduces to activity. That
Given that after the war Stein commented that the only way to ensure
world peace was to teach the Germans disobedience, this 1934
Stein interview has come to be interpreted as an ironic jest made by a
practiced iconoclast hoping to gain attention and provoke controversy.
In an effort to correct popular mainstream misrepresentations of
Stein's wartime activity, a dossier of articles by critics and
historians has been gathered for the online journal Jacket2.
How much of Stein's wartime activities were motivated by the real
exigencies of self-preservation in a dangerous environment can only be
speculated upon. However, her loyalty to Pétain may have gone beyond
expedience. She had been urged to leave France by American
embassy officials, friends and family when that possibility still
existed, but declined to do so. Accustomed to a life of entitlement
since birth, Stein may have been convinced her wealth and notoriety
would exempt her from what had befallen other European Jews. In an
essay written for the Atlantic Monthly in November, 1940, Stein had
written about her decision not to leave France: "it would be awfully
uncomfortable and I am fussy about my food." Stein continued to praise
Pétain after the war ended, this at a time when Pétain had been
sentenced to death by a French court for treason.
Djuna Barnes provided a caustic assessment of Stein's book,
"Wars I Have Seen":
"You do not feel that she [Stein] is ever really worried about the
sorrows of the people. Her concerns at its highest pitch is a well-fed
Others have argued that some of the accounts of Stein's war time
activities have amounted to a "witch hunt".
Stein died on July 27, 1946 at the age of 72 after surgery for stomach
cancer at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine. She was
Paris in Père Lachaise Cemetery. Later Alice B.
Toklas was buried alongside her. According to the famous version
of her last moments, before having been taken into surgery, Stein
asked her partner Toklas: "What is the answer?" After Toklas replied
to Stein that there was no answer, Stein countered by sinking back
into her bed, murmuring: "Then, there is no question!"
Her companion Toklas, however, has given two other versions of the
encounter—neither of which agrees with the "canonical" version
above. Writing in the June 2005 edition of The New Yorker, Janet
On July 27, 1946, Stein was operated on for what proved to be
inoperable stomach cancer and died before coming out of anesthesia. In
"What Is Remembered," Toklas wrote of the "troubled, confused and very
uncertain" afternoon of the surgery. "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?" However, in a letter to
Van Vechten ten years earlier, Toklas had written:
About Baby's last words. She said upon waking from a sleep--What is
the question. And I didn't answer thinking she was not completely
awakened. Then she said again--What is the question and before I could
speak she went on--If there is no question then there is no answer.
Stein's biographers have naturally selected the superior "in that case
what is the question?" version. Strong narratives win out over weak
ones when no obstacle of factuality stands in their way. What Stein
actually said remains unknown. That Toklas cited the lesser version in
a letter of 1953 is suggestive but not conclusive.
Stein named writer and photographer
Carl Van Vechten
Carl Van Vechten as her literary
executor, and he helped to publish works of hers that remained
unpublished at the time of her death. There is a monument to Stein on
the Upper Terrace of Bryant Park, New York.
Sherwood Anderson in his public introduction to Stein's 1922
publication of Geography and Plays wrote:
For me the work of
Gertrude Stein consists in a rebuilding, an
entirely new recasting of life, in the city of words. Here is one
artist who has been able to accept ridicule, who has even forgone the
privilege of writing the great American novel, uplifting our English
speaking stage, and wearing the bays of the great poets to go live
among the little housekeeping words, the swaggering bullying
street-corner words, the honest working, money saving words and all
the other forgotten and neglected citizens of the sacred and half
In a private letter to his brother Karl, Anderson said, "As for Stein,
I do not think her too important. I do think she had an important
thing to do, not for the public, but for the artist who happens to
work with words as his material."
Other critics took a more negative view of Stein's work. F. W. Dupee
(1990, p. IX) defines "Steinese" as "gnomic, repetitive,
illogical, sparsely punctuated... a scandal and a delight, lending
itself equally to derisory parody and fierce denunciation".
Composer Constant Lambert (1936) compares Stravinsky's choice of "the
drabbest and least significant phrases" in L'Histoire du Soldat to
Gertrude Stein's in "Helen Furr and Georgine Skeene" (1922),
specifically: "[E]veryday they were gay there, they were regularly gay
there everyday." He writes that the "effect would be equally
appreciated by someone with no knowledge of English whatsoever",
apparently missing the pun frequently employed by Stein.
James Thurber wrote:
Anyone who reads at all diversely during these bizarre 1920s cannot
escape the conclusion that a number of crazy men and women are writing
stuff which remarkably passes for important composition among certain
persons who should know better. Stuart P. Sherman, however, refused to
be numbered among those who stand in awe and admiration of one of the
most eminent of the idiots, Gertrude Stein. He reviews her Geography
and Plays in the August 11 issue of the Literary Review of the New
York Evening Post and arrives at the conviction that it is a
marvellous and painstaking achievement in setting down approximately
80,000 words which mean nothing at all.
Katherine Ann Porter
Katherine Ann Porter provided her own estimation of Stein's
literary legacy: "Wise or silly or nothing at all, down everything
goes on the page with an air of everything being equal, unimportant in
itself important because it happened to her and she was writing about
History Professor Blanche Wiesen Cook, has written of Stein: "She was
not a radical feminist. She was
Jewish and anti-Semitic, lesbian and
contemptuous of women, ignorant about economics and hostile to
Writing for Vanity Fair magazine in 1923, eminent literary critic
Edmund Wilson presciently came to an evaluation similar to the one
made by Katharine Ann Porter some twenty years later, after Stein's
death. Wilson deemed that Stein's technique was one of flawed
methodology, using words analogous to the way
abstract forms in their artworks. As Wilson wrote, unlike the plastic
arts, literature deals with
"human speech [which] is a tissue of ideas. ... Miss Stein no
longer understands the conditions under which literary effects have to
be produced ... There is sometimes genuine music in the most
baffling of her works, but there are rarely any communicated
An elevated observer, perched high above everything below, he likened
Stein to a self-conceived "Buddha...registering impressions like some
Stein's literary output was a subject of amusement for her brother Leo
Stein, who characterized her writing as an "abomination". Later
detractors of Stein's work deemed her experimentation as the
serendipitous result of her alleged inability to communicate through
linguistic convention, deficient in the skills required "to deal
effectively with language, so that she made her greatest weakness into
her most remarkable strength".
Legacy and commemoration
Stein has been the subject of many artistic works. Stein and Toklas
merit their own line each in the song "Bosom Buddies" from the 1966
Broadway musical MAME, based on the stage play Auntie Mame, by
composer-lyricist Jerry Herman. In MAME, Vera Charles, Mame Dennis'
actress-confidante pal, sings: "...I'll always be Alice Toklas, if
you'll be Gertrude Stein." (Bea Arthur, who played the original Vera
Charles on Broadway, recreated the same role for the 1974 film version
of the musical.) In the 1998 Latin American literary classic Yo-Yo
Giannina Braschi pays homage to Stein as an imaginary
In 2005, playwright/actor
Jade Esteban Estrada portrayed Stein in the
solo musical ICONS: The Lesbian and
Gay History of the World, Vol. 1
at Princeton University. In 2006, theatre director/actor Luiz Päetow
created his solo, Plays, portraying Stein's 1934 homonymous lecture,
Brazil for several years. Loving Repeating is a
Stephen Flaherty based on the writings of Gertrude Stein.
Alice B. Toklas
Alice B. Toklas are both characters in the eight person
show. Stein is a central character in Nick Bertozzi's 2007 graphic
novel The Salon.
The posthumously published
Journals of Ayn Rand
Journals of Ayn Rand contain several highly
hostile references to Gertrude Stein. From Rand's working notes for
her novel The Fountainhead, it is clear that the character Lois Cook
in that book was intended as a caricature of Stein.
Stein (played by Bernard Cribbins) and Toklas (played by Wilfrid
Brambell) were depicted in the playful Swedish 1978 absurdist fiction
film Picassos äventyr (The Adventures of Picasso) by director Tage
Gösta Ekman as Picasso.
Stein was also portrayed in the 2011
Woody Allen film Midnight in
Paris by Kathy Bates. Her name is added to a list of great artists and
notables in the popular Broadway musical Rent in the song "La Vie
Boheme". She is also mentioned in the Fred Astaire - Ginger Rogers
1935 film Top Hat and in the song "Roseability" by the Scottish rock
Ricky Ian Gordon
Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Royce Vavrek's opera 27 about
Stein and Toklas premiered at
Opera Theatre of St. Louis in June, 2014
Stephanie Blythe as Stein.
Edward Einhorn wrote the play The Marriage of
Alice B. Toklas
Alice B. Toklas by
Gertrude Stein, a farce about their fantasy marriage that also told
the story of their life. It premiered in May 2017 at HERE Arts Center
in New York.
Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Three Lives (1909)
White Wines (1913)
Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms (1914) online at Bartleby
An Exercise in Analysis (1917)
A Circular Play (1920)
Geography and Plays (1922)
The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress
(written 1906–8, published 1925)
Four Saints in Three Acts
Four Saints in Three Acts (libretto, 1929: music by Virgil Thomson,
Useful Knowledge (1929)
An Acquaintance with Description (1929)
Lucy Church Amiably (1930). First Edition published by Imprimerie
Union in Paris. The First American edition was published in 1969 by
How to Write (1931)
They must. Be Wedded. To Their Wife (1931)
Operas and Plays (1932)
Matisse Picasso and
Gertrude Stein with Two Shorter Stories (1933)
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933a)
Blood on the Dining Room Floor (1933b)
Portraits and Prayers (1934)
Lectures in America (1935)
The Geographical History of America or the Relation of Human Nature to
the Human Mind (1936)
Everybody's Autobiography (1937)
Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights (1938)
The World is Round, illus.
Clement Hurd (1939)
Paris France (1940)
Ida A Novel (1941)
Three Sisters Who Are Not Sisters (1943)
Wars I Have Seen (1945a)
À la recherche d'un jeune peintre (Max-Pol Fouchet, ed., 1945b)
Reflections on the Atom Bomb (1946a)
Brewsie and Willie (1946b)
The Mother of Us All
The Mother of Us All (libretto, 1946c: music by Virgil Thompson 1947)
Gertrude Stein on Picasso (1946d)
Four in America (1947)
Mrs. Reynolds (1947)
Last Operas and Plays (Carl van Vechten, ed., 1949)
The Things as They Are (written as Q.E.D. in 1903, published 1950)
Patriarchal Poetry (1953)
Alphabets and Birthdays (1957)
Fernhurst, Q.E.D. and Other Early Writings (1971)
Stein, Gertrude; van Vechten, Carl (1986), Burns, Edward, ed., The
Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten, 1913–1946, New York:
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Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 44876-44877). McFarland
& Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition
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13, 2005): 148
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B000BTKGJK ASIN B000OK0YJS
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Truong, Monique. The book of salt, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,
2003. A novel about a young Vietnamese cook who worked in Stein's
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Alice B. Toklas Papers", Beinecke Rare Book and
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Three Lives, American Studies at the University of Virginia .
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placard), PBase .
Stein, Gertrude, What is a masterpiece? (manuscript), Z. Smith
Reynolds Library, Wake Forest University .
van Vechten, Carl,
Gertrude Stein (photographic portraits) .
Williams, William Carlos, The Work of Gertrude Stein, Center for book
culture, archived from the original on 2004-08-03 .
Four Saints in Three Acts, Music of the United States of America
The World of Gertrude Stein, Ellen's Place, archived from the original
on 2003-06-04 .
Gertrude Stein, Infography .
Gertrude Stein, Ubu , featuring a reading of If I Told Him: A
Completed Portrait of Picasso and A Valentine to Sherwood Anderson.
Gertrude Stein, Gradually ; readings from Autobiography of Alice
B. Toklas, Bee Time Vine, and more. Includes excerpts from Patriarchal
Poetry and layered-voice readings.
"The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant Garde"
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art (profile), NYC-Arts .
Gertrude Stein Reads from
The Making of Americans a rare recording
made in 1934 and 1935
Awards and achievements
Cover of Time magazine
11 September 1933
George F. Zook
ISNI: 0000 0001 2277 3352
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