Gertrude Stein

Alex Talley on “Gertrude Stein, the Contributor”

Gertrude Stein was at one point called, “the Mother of Modernism” (Owen) by other exiles and expatriates. She was one of the most well-known individuals during the era of American Modernism. She was not just a writer, but a collector, mentor, editor, and patron to the literacy and art of that time. A supporter of other expatriates that helped influenced literature during the 1920s-30s.

Stein began her self-imposed exile from America after quitting John Hopkins Medical School and moved to France with her brother in 1903 pursuing a literary career and collecting art. There she started to write novels, plays, poems, short-stories, articles and everything else in between. It was later that year she met her life-long companion, partner, and love, Alice B. Toklas. She would later open a salon in her apartment where she invited many writers and artists. Every week the apartment 27 rue de Fleurus would became a haven for many of the famous exiles and modernists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Malcolm Cowley, T.S. Eliot, and many others that would also become her friends (as mentioned in one of her titles, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas). It was there that the artists would display their newest pieces and the writers all collaborated together with their writings; reading, editing, learning from, and giving feedback on each other’s work.

Her style of writing really caught the attention of many of the writers in the Modernist era in both positive and negative ways. In the European Graduate School’s article they describe her style as “playfully repetitive and extremely idiosyncratic. At times the writing flows like an unrelenting stream-of-consciousness, at other times her text has clear syncopation… [She] tried to avoid words that had too many associations. Stein opted for short words, usually of Anglo-Saxon derivation. The reader is empowered to determine their relationship to the text because of her willingness express ambiguity” (European). Many critics however disliked the content and use of language in her writing seemed to almost sabotage traditional use of language. However many writers enjoyed and learned from her work like Sherwood Anderson, Fitzgerald, Richard Wright, and especially Hemingway who took time to really study Stein’s writing which would later influence his novels like For Whom the Bell Tolls (Nath).

What made her stand out from the other exiles was for one she did not take criticism to heart. Unlike most of the other writers like Hemingway who seemed to be exceptionally cruel and tried to show each other up Stein took criticism like it was advice and moved on even when they called her a “maladroit child” (Owen). The second thing that made her different from the other expatriates was her relationship with Alice B. Toklas. Unlike Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Cowley who all either suffered from failed, multiple marriages or had trouble with women in general Stein and Toklas had a positive relationship. They were as many historians have called them a “husband” and “wife” and were like any other normal couple even if they were lesbians. A good example is that during the weekly meetings as the salon Stein would entertain the male guests like a “man” or husband while Toklas entertained the female guests like the woman or wife. Though homosexuality was widely not accepted back in the 1920s and 30s they were treated with respect which was obviously shown in a lot of pictures with them seen together in the “Mini BIO” video. They were loving, respecting, trusting, and worked well together which I found personally an endearing difference that these two seem to have. The third thing at made her stand out is that even though she did not have as many best-sellers as the other writers did she was widely known as a supporter of the arts. She bought a lot art work to support artists. She opened her door to many writers of that time so that they could all work together to improve each other’s pieces as well as learned from each other. She served as a refuge, a mentor, an editor, and became one of the most influential individuals in the “Lost Generation.”

The works that she was well-known for was Three Lives in 1909 which is arguably a “minor” masterpiece (Famous Authors). Then it was her collection of short prose poems, Tender Buttons in 1914 which were considered abstract and mocking. Also there is The Making of Americans (1925) which was abstract as well. Finally, there is her most successful and famous work in 1933, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which she wrote in the point of view of her lover.

Stein continued to stay in France with Toklas for thirty years before going back and forth to America for lecture tours in which she was welcomed as iconic figure among the American readers and leading literacy figures in many institutions where she still continued giving advice and ideas. She later then died in 1946 with Toklas by her side forever being remembered by many modernists, historians, scholars, and readers as an influential and contributing presence with the expatriates.

Works Cited

“Gertrude Stein.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2014. Web. 02 Oct. 2014

“Gertrude Stein – Biography.” Gertrude Stein. The European Graduate School, 2012. Web. 02 Oct. 2014.

“Gertrude Stein.” Famous Authors., 2014. Web. 02 Oct. 2014.

“Mini BIO – Gertrude Stein.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2014.

Narth, Kristen. “Hemingway and Stein. Gertrude Stein’s Influence on Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.” GRIN. GRIN, 2005. Web. 2 Oct. 2014.

Stein, Gertrude. Everybody’s Autobiography. N.p.: First Vintage, 1973. Print.

“You’re a Lost Generation.” - Gertrude Stein. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2014.


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