Gertrude Stein (1874–1946)

The Woman Who Made Hemingway Uncomfortable

“A masterpiece may be unwelcome, but it will never be dull.”

  • Born in PA to wealthy German-Jewish immigrants and then spent much of her childhood in Europe. Eventually, her family moved to California.
  • Her mother died of cancer when she was 14 and her father died when she was 17.
  • Studied Psychology at Radcliffe College and Medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School, but didn’t receive a formal degree from either place.
  • In 1903 Stein moved to Paris to live with her brother. Together, they started collecting Post-Impressionist art and established a salon. Their home was considered by the New York Times to be, “the first museum of modern art”
  • She met Alice B. Toklas (American-born member of the Parisian avant-garde)  in 1909, who became her assistant and long-term companion/partner/lover. In fact, Stein’s autobiography is called, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.” (written about Stein from Alice’s point of view). Stein first “met” Alice through reading the letters she was sending to her friend Annette (a friend of Stein’s). Stein asked to read the letters as part of research she was doing for her own writing (she was “arranging the people she knew by personality traits as part of her writing”). They finally met the day Alice arrived in Paris and Stein began openly courting her, which made her family uncomfortable. Alice finally moved into the apartment Stein and brother Leo shared, making Leo uncomfortable and leading him to his choice to move to Italy.
  • Stein and Toklas hosted a dazzling array of the famous, the ambitious, the wealthy and the curious at their Paris homes for salons and lively debates–Ernest Hemingway, Carl Van Vechten, T.S. Eliot, Alfred North Whitehead, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thornton Wilder, Picasso, Matisse, Gris, Braque, Virgil Thomson, Charles Chaplin, Sherwood Anderson, Glenway Wescott, Paul Robeson, Jo Davidson, Pavel Tchelichev, Ford Maddox Ford, Sinclair Leis, Ezra Pound, and Richard Wright, to name some.
  • Stein coined the phrase “the lost generation” to describe the expatriate writers living abroad between the wars.
  • Art Collector, Publisher, Author, Poet, Journalist
  • The American art and literature obsessee who moved to Paris to obsess with the best
  • Worked as freelance playwright, author, poet, and memoirist
  • Employed the techniques of abstraction and Cubism in prose. Tender Buttons clearly showed the profound effect modern painting had on her writing. In these small prose poems, images and phrases come together in often surprising ways—similar in manner to cubist painting. Her writing, characterized by its use of words for their associations and sounds rather than their meanings, received considerable interest from other artists and writers, but did not find a wide audience.
  • Wrote some of the seminal books on lesbian love and lesbian sexuality
    • Quod Erat Demonstradum
    • Fernhurst
    • Tender Buttons

“It is well known that Stein’s writing is difficult to penetrate for the average reader, and this has been attributed to the idea that if she wrote clearly about homosexuality she would lose her ability to be published.”

  • She wrote librettos to two operas by Virgil Thomson:
    • Four Saints in Three Acts (1934)
    • The Mother of Us All (1947).
  • She wrote Doctor Faustus Lights the Light, which for avant-garde theatre artists from the United States, has formed something of a rite of passage—the Judson Poets’ Group, The Living Theatre, Richard Foreman, Robert Wilson, The Wooster Group, and Production Workshop at Brown University have all produced versions. The text is SUPER INTERESTING TO JESS!
  • Protested the Nazi Regime during her time living in Paris (and she was Jewish, so extra badass). She and Alice got a Ford they named “Auntie” which they used to deliver supplies to French hospitals.Together they also set up a supply depot, and opened a center for civilian relief.
  • She was hugely influential to Hemingway’s thinking and writing. In fact, he asked her to be his son’s godmother. When she called him “yellow” in her autobiography, he became angry. Their relationship deteriorated into a literary quarrel that spanned decades.
  • “I always wanted to be historical,” Gertrude Stein announced shortly before her death, “from almost a baby on, I felt that way about it. . .”
  • Homosexual
  • Hemingway said, “She used to talk to me about homosexuality and how it was fine in and for women and no good in men and I used to listen and learn and I always wanted to fuck her and she knew it and it was a good healthy feeling and made more sense than some of the talk.”