Was Gertrude Stein?
Gertrude Stein was a prolific American writer. She is probably known
best for The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; Four Saints
in Three Acts, her opera collaboration with Virgil Thomson; the
circle of friends (Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, etc) who visited her
home at 27 Rue de Fleurus in Paris and who she helped promote; and quotations
such as: "rose is a rose is a rose" and "there is no there there."
Did She Live?
Gertrude Stein was born February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania
(now Pittsburgh). She died July 27, 1946, in Paris. She was buried in
Pere LaChaise Cemetery in Paris.
Did She Write?
Gertrude Stein wrote poetry, fiction, essays, memoirs, libretti, and
plays. Her fiction included portraits of people and their essence (what
she called Bottom Nature) in such work as The Making of Americans
and Three Lives. She wrote varying kinds of fiction from children's
story (The World is Round) to her murder mystery (Blood on
the Dining Room Floor). Because her list of published work is overwhelmingly
long, it's best if you check out her titles in a proper bibliography
either in print or on the Web.
Should I Read Stein?
The question is not why one should read Stein but what will be missed
in omitting her work from your list. Stein infuses joyful play into
the English word. She brings back the oral tradition. She scats before
it was invented by jazz singers. If you have been wondering where the
fractured point of view now seen in contemporary stories and film comes
from, try reading Stein. Stein took Picasso's Cubism (a figure seen
from all angles at once) as a writing approach. You get various aspects
of the same person or object in her writing. If you enjoy and welcome
a large landscape of imagination and invention, Stein opens all these
doors. If you just want to be the first person on your block to actually
read Gertrude Stein, you can still be a pioneer. She may have killed
the old writing ideas of the 19th century and brought in the 20th century,
but her work is going to lead us through the entire 21st. In my opinion
she writes in the style of the 4th Dimension. She just doesn't have
an equal in what she accomplished.
Is Her Writing Like?
Characteristic of her style is repetition, lack of literary allusion,
deceptive simplicity, use of accessible vocabulary, odd juxtapositions
of details, suspension of usual logic, contradiction, and words producing
a meditative, hypnotic, and harmonic effect on the reader. One of her
goals for her writing was to create the continuous present. She does
this by using 'ing' words. Trained as a scientific researcher (she did
her undergraduate studies under William James at Harvard/Radcliffe),
her approach to writing is methodical and grounded to things and people
most readers would be familiar with. Unlike other writers of her time,
her work shows no alienation, no social judgment, no anger, no fear.
As a writer Stein never manipulated her reader emotionally. What evolves
from the play Stein creates with words is a Cubistic perspective that
allows the reader to see more than one facet of an object or person
with all its humor, tragedy, and contradictions.
the Best Way to Experience Stein?
Read her work out loud. Hear Stein read selections from her work. There
is at least one recording of Stein reading short selections from some
of her famous people portraits like Picasso and a short vignette from
The Making of Americans. Get recordings of the Gertrude Stein/Virgil
Thomson operas Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of
Should I Read First?
Start slow and easy. Read The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
Stein plays more with the facts than the words in this work. Realize
this is not what Stein's writing career was all about but it gives the
reader a flavor of the antics she enjoyed in living. Follow this up
with Picasso which is very accessible. Then dip into the long
poems "Tender Buttons" and "Lifting Belly." Read all of The World
is Round out loud to a child. For something serious, try Three
Lives, particularly the story of Melanctha. If you want a book that
takes full responsibility for introducing you to Stein, try Judy Grahn's
Really Reading Stein.
Biographies Should I Read?
There are many excellent biographies written about Gertrude Stein. I
particularly liked The Third Rose by John Malcolm Brinnin, Charmed
Circle by James R. Mellow, and Gertrude and Alice by Diana
Souhami. If you love photos, check out Renate Stendhal's Gertrude
Stein In Words and Pictures.
Why has Stein sparked so much controversy?
Like many of the Modernists, Stein said she was a genius. Barbara Will in her book Gertrude Stein, Modernism, and the Problem of "Genius" gives deep insight into this aspect of Stein's personality. Because Stein is deceptively simple in her choice of words and outside the box in her writing style, her critics, many of whom have not done the homework and read her work, jump on Stein as a mere self-promoter. Also another point of controversy that has been talked about for years with lots of shoulder shrugging concerns her promotion of the head of the Vichey government during WWII and how Stein and Toklas sat out the war in southern France unharmed. Janet Malcolm touched on this in her book Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice but, again, Barbara Will has given a much broader and deeper look at this subject in her 2011 book Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Fa˙, and the Vichy Dilemma.
Other Theater Has Been Done on Gertrude Stein?
Part of the process of convincing a publisher or theatrical producer
to bring a creative work into public view is knowing what else has been
done with your subject and what the pitfalls are. In the case of Gertrude
Stein Invents A Jump Early On, an opera about the life and work
of an American literary radical who remains more a notorious figure
from our cultural history than a revered author, this question is an
ongoing research project as new works appear in public limelight. Read Karren Alenier's essay on this topic at scene4.com.
I'm interested in a workshop on Gertrude Stein. Any suggestions?
Periodically, Karren Alenier leads a workshop called Inspired by Gertrude Stein. Consider hiring her in your community.
Resource Links to
Overview of Stein as a writer. A
thoughtful essay on how to approach the writing and themes of Gertrude
Stein by Cynthia Secor.
On learning about Stein. Classroom Issues and Strategies for working with Gertrude Stein and her work.
Read Tender Buttons on this web page.
Recordings of Stein's work. Hear
Gertrude Stein read from The Making of Americans and other shorter works. The Making of Americans is also read in its entirety by a professional reader.
Stein Bibliography. This
page lists a bibliography of Stein's work with dates.
General resource website. This site has all sorts of odds and ends about Stein including a bibliography
of her work and a bibliography of articles about her work.
Connecting Stein to Popular Culture. An
essay by Jean E. Mills published in Americana, the Journal of American
Popular Culture 1900 to Present that says Stein's Four Saints
in Three Acts is the precussor to Rap.
Blog of Stein-Toklas memorabilia collector Hans Gallas. Various posts on Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, Leo Stein, and more.
Blog of Renate Stendhal, author of Gertrude Stein: In Words and Pictures. Learn about the Stein issues of the day.
Will has actively writren about Gertrude Stein.
Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma is creating a stir among follwers of Gertrude Stein with new documented details about Stein in WWII. Her book Gertrude Stein, Modernism, and the Problem of "Genius" connects
the dots with the sources that drove Stein for recogniztion. Check professor
Will's list of work periodicaly to keep current on her activities.
Links to Essays by Karren Alenier
--Books by Gertrude Stein
Stein's The Making of Americans--How to Read The Long Book.
"Gertrude Stein: Medievalist, Futurist or Both" based on Stein's so called children's story To Do: A Book of Alphabests and Birthdays.
--Books on Gertrude Stein
Review of Janet Malcolm's Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice.
"An Invitation to Gertrude Stein's Tea Pary," a review of Barbara Will's Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma
--Gertrude Stein & theater/opera
"Stein on Stage." Explore what she wrote for the stage and what others wrote that was inspired by Stein.
"Four Saints in Three Acts: The Most Influential American Opera?"
Understanding The Mother of Us All, based on a production by the San Francisco Opera.
John Sowle’s production of In Circles, Al Carmines’ musical setting of Gertrude Stein’s A Circular Play.
--Aspects of Gertrude Stein
Wanda Corn on Stein's 1934 American Lecture Tour.
"Otto Weininger: Gertrude Stein's Miscreant." Looking for a way to be a genius, Gertrude Stein lactched onto an abject anti-Semite and misogynistic.
In 2011, Gertrude Stein and her art in all its aspects--her life and her art collection--were the focus of two large art exhibitions. This essay focuses on "Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories."
Links to Essays Mentioning Karren Alenier & Gertrude Stein
Anthony Tommasini's review of Encompass New Opera Theatre's world production premier of Karren
Alenier and William Banfield's jazz opera Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On.
about Gertrude Stein, Modernism, and the Wooster Group's Stein piece
based on Gertrude's third opera Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights.
Karren Alenier, William Banfield, and Encompass New Opera Theatre are given a mention
in this article.