Gertrude Stein - Biography
Gertrude Stein, was an American writer and poet. She was born on February 3, 1874 and died on July 27, 1946. Although Gertrude Stein is known for her literary endeavors, she originally found her influence through her role as an avid collector of Modern art. Gertrude Stein spent her adult life in France where she began to write. She first achieved literary success with Three Lives. Experimental artists have embraced the works of Gertrude Stein; but the mainstream has been more reluctant to adopt her. Still, Gertrude Stein remains one of the most prominent voices of American Literature.
On February 3, 1874, Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. This community would later be absorbed by Pittsburgh. She was the youngest of five children. Her parents, Daniel and Amelia Stein, were of German Jewish extractions. They were well-educated and comfortably wealthy. Her father was executive for a railroad company. He had made his money investing in real estate and streetcar. The family moved to Europe when Gertrude Stein was still a young Girl. They lived first in Vienna and later in Paris. In 1878, the family returned to the United States. They moved to Oakland, California. Gertrude Stein began attending the Sabbath school at the First Hebrew Congregation of Oakland.
Gertrude Stein’s parents died when she was a teenager. Her mother passed away in 1888, and her father passed three years later. Her oldest brother took control of the families businesses. He sent Gertrude and her sister Bertha to Baltimore to live with some maternal relatives.
In Baltimore, Gertrude Stein made the acquaintance from Claribel and Etta Cone. The Cones hosted salons on Saturday evening. This model would inspire Gertrude Stein to host similar events after she had set up a household with Alice B. Toklas in Paris.
From 1893 until 1897, Gertrude Stein was enrolled in Radcliffe College. She studied under William James, a psychologist. William James supervised Gertrude Stein as she researched and performed experiments on Normal Motor Automatism, an occurrence that happens when a person’s attention is divided between two separate activities that require intelligent focus. These experiments resulted in stream of consciousness works— William James is given credit for coining this term. Many critics argue that there is a connection between these studies and Gertrude Stein’s own works. However, Gertrude Stein did not completely accept the concept of automatic writing. While attending Radcliffe College, Gertrude Stein met Mabel Foote Weeks. This friendship would last for the remainder of Gertrude Stein’s life.
In the summer 1897, Gertrude Stein traveled to Woods Hole, Massachusetts. At the Marine Biological Laboratory she studied embryology. In the two subsequent years, Gertrude Stein studied medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School. Gertrude Stein would leave without matriculating.
In 1903, Gertrude Stein moved to Paris. For eleven years after her arrival in France, Gertrude Stein lived with Leo Stein, another brother. Stein and her brother collected art. She collected many works by Pablo Picasso who would eventually paint Stein’s portrait. In responding to the manner of his depiction of Stein, Picasso would famously quip that if it didn’t look like the subject it would eventually.
In 1903, Gertrude Stein began to write libretti, novels, plays, poems, and stories after she had moved to Paris. Gertrude Stein’s style is playfully repetitive and extremely idiosyncratic. At times the writing flows like an unrelenting stream-of-consciousness, at other times her text has clear syncopation. Her style is a literary interpretation of Modernism’s attention to the material of her medium (text.) Gertrude Stein 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. Stein’s writing often focus' on the thrill of being.
The American author Sherwood Anderson praised Gertrude Stein, indicating that she had found a new way of using language. Her works would influence a wide range of authors including Richard Wright and Ernest Hemingway. Theorists and critics have argued that some of her works, such as Tender Buttons are not simple language experiments. These critics argue that the content and the use of language undermine traditional patriarchal language.
On September 8. 1907, Gertrude Stein met her lifelong lover and partner Alice B. Toklas. Starting in 1908, Gertrude Stein began to woo Alice B. Toklas from Harriet Lane Levy, with whom Toklas was living. Gertrude Stein would spend about half an hour everyday writing by hand. Alice B. Toklas would gather these loose sheets, type them, and handle the logistics of publication. Toklas started Plain Editions as a vehicle to distribute the literary works of Stein.
Gertrude Stein was introduce to Mabel Dodge Luhan by Mildred Aldrich in 1911. Mabel Dodge Luhan would use the influence her wealth brought her spread Stein’s reputation in the United States. Luhan was an eager supporter of Stein’s The Makings of Americans. This support was important since Stein had difficulty in arousing the interests of publishers. Stein was forced to self-publish her early volumes. Mabel Dodge Luhan wrote the first literary criticism of Gertrude Stein, “Speculations, or Post-Impressionists in Prose. Luhan was also instrumental in the promotion and logistics of the 69th Armory Show in 1913. Despite the support Luhan provided Stein, their personal relationship ended in 1912. Mabel Dodge Luhan feared Gertrude Stein was flirting with her which upset Stein's longtime lover Alice B. Toklas.
In 1914, Gertrude Stein purchased three pieces of work from the painter Juan Gris. Once the First World War began, the gallery from which Gertrude Stein had purchased the work had its stock seized. Gertrude Stein tried to work out an alternate arrangement with Juan Gris. Gertrude Stein offered to pay Juan Gris’s living expenses in exchange for future paintings. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas would traveled to Spain on the proceeds acquired from selling a Matisse painting. Leo Stein purchased the painting. In 1916, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas returned to France to assist with the war effort by driving supplies to the hospitals.
After the hostilities ended, Gertrude Stein was given credit for coining the term the Lost Generation.. In the 1920s, Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas hosted a salon that was visited by some of the most renowned names in twentieth century art and literature, including many writers from the Lost Generation. This salon would also provide the material Gertrude Stein would use in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. This work is often seen as maintaining Stein’s writings are at times hermetic but have generated an enduring influence. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was Gertrude Stein’s first broadly successful work. Stein inverted the expectations caused by the title. This work was really an autobiography of Gertrude Stein herself.
Towards the end of the 1930s, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas traveled throughout the United States on an extended lecture tour. On returning to France, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas stayed in their residence in Bilignin, Ain. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas were both Jewish, but they were shielded from Gestapo persecution by their friend Bernard Fay. Fay was a Nazi collaborator who was sentenced to hard labor after the end of the war. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas petitioned for his release and then donated money for Fay to escape prison. After the Second World War, Gertrude Stein was sought by many members of the American military as a cultural figure.
On July 27, 1946, Gertrude Stein died from complications from cancer of the stomach. Before she died, Gertrude Stein asked Alice B. Toklas, “What is the answer?” Toklas did not respond, so Gertrude Stein asked “In that case, what is the question?” Gertrude Stein was buried in Pere Lachaise in Paris.