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Gertrude Stein

Stein, Gertrude, 1874–1946, American author and patron of the arts, b. Allegheny (now part of Pittsburgh), Pa. A celebrated personality, she encouraged, aided, and influenced—through her patronage as well as through her writing—many literary and artistic figures. After attending (1893–97) Radcliffe, where she was a student of William James, she began premedical work at Johns Hopkins. In 1902, relinquishing her studies, she went abroad and from 1903 until her death lived chiefly in Paris. For many years her secretary and lover was Alice B. Toklas. In Paris, Stein became interested in modern art movements; she encouraged and purchased the work of many new painters, including Picasso and Matisse. During the 1920s, she was the leader of a cultural salon that included such writers as Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, all of whose works she influenced. It was she who first coined the phrase "lost generation" for those post–World War I expatriates. During World War II she remained in France, and after the war her Paris home became a meeting place for American soldiers.

Stein's own innovative writing emphasizes the sounds and rhythms rather than the sense of words. By departing from conventional meaning, grammar, and syntax, she attempted to capture "moments of consciousness," independent of time and memory. Her first published work was Three Lives (completed 1905, pub. 1909), short stories in which she explored the mental processes of three women, but her most characteristic and probably most difficult narrative is the lengthy, dark, dense, and repetitive The Making of Americans (completed 1911, pub. 1925). The famous Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), a linear narrative written in relatively ordinary language, is the story of her own life presented as that of her companion. Stein's critical essays were published as Composition as Explanation (1926), How to Write (1931), Narration (1935), and Lectures in America (1935). Her many other works include the volume of poetry Tender Buttons (1914), a series of "cubist" verbal portraits; two librettos for the operas of Virgil Thomson, Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) and The Mother of Us All (1947); Wars I Have Seen (1945), some personal observations; and Brewsie and Willie (1946), about American soldiers in France.

See biographies by J. M. Brinnin (1959, repr. 1987) and J. Hobhouse (1975); D. Souhami, Gertrude and Alice (1992); B. Kellner, ed., A Gertrude Stein Companion (1988); A. B. Toklas, What Is Remembered (1963, repr. 1985); J. R. Mellow, Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein & Company (1974, repr. 1991); L. Simon, ed., Gertrude Stein Remembered (1994); B. Wineapple, Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein (1996); J. Malcolm, Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice (2007); studies by R. Dubnick (1984), J. L. Walker (1984), and U. E. Dydo (2003); bibliography by R. A. Wilson and A. Uphill (1999).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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