Stein's radical language experiments and central involvement in the Paris art world from the early 1900s to her death have made her work and life famous. Much of her writing remained unpublished in her lifetime, and she never received any awards, but writers, musicians, painters, filmmakers, and dancers have all found her work inspiring. Stein's favorite subject was the human experience of thinking, feeling, and doing, especially how they happen simultaneously; her favorite objects were America and family or power structures. After the 1950s, when the range of her work became better known, such poets as John ashbery and Lyn hejinian quickly recognized Steins importance. As for Steins own influences, she read Shakespeare, and novelists from the 18th and 19th centuries: Samuel Richardson and Laurence Sterne, George Eliot and Henry James. The contemporaries who helped shape her writing were theorists in psychology and science—including William James and Alfred North Whitehead—and painters, especially Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso.
Shortly after her birth in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Stein moved with her family to vienna, then Paris; her family returned to America in 1880. English was her third language (after German and French), and she grew into adulthood on both American coasts, in Oakland, California, and Baltimore, Maryland. in 1893
Stein began study for a degree in psychology and philosophy at Radcliffe; subsequently she studied medicine at Johns Hopkins (leaving in 1901, without finishing the degree). From 1903 until her death Stein was an expatriate, an American in France. When she settled in Paris with her brother Leo, Stein's identity was firmly marked as a woman, a Jew, and a lesbian. These attributes no doubt contributed to some of the negative response her publications have received, though they rarely determined the content of her work in an overt way. There are the long poems "Lifting Belly" (1915-17), an ode to a lesbian relationship, and "Patriarchal Poetry" (1927), though neither was published in her lifetime (see long and serial poetry). Stein's only "profession" was writing, but she made no money from it until the 1930s. She lived off family investments, and when necessary she sold some of the many famous paintings that she had collected. In 1910 Alice B. Toklas moved in with Gertrude and Leo, and in 1913 tensions between brother and sister resulted in Leo's move to Italy. Toklas had by 1913 become Gertrude's muse, typist, and essential partner in life.
Stein's writing can be divided into early (1903-11), middle (1910-31), and late (1932-46) periods. The early consists of the novels Q.E.D. (1903, published in 1950 as Things as They Are), Three Lives (1909), and The Making of Americans (1925). In her middle period Stein wrote poems, portraits, and plays, some of which were collected in Geography and Plays (1922). In the late period she wrote autobiography, opera, and lectures. Stein dispensed with the intention to represent reality in language; instead her writing embodies the reality of lived experience, something that both varies and repeats itself. Similar to the cubist painters, Stein experimented with perspective, the use of domestic materials, and writing without a "model." In tender buttons (1914), a book that declared the beginning of nonlinear writing, Stein announced: "Act so that there is no use in a centre." "Why is there a difference," asks Stein, "between one window and another, why is there a difference, because the curtain is shorter." The meaning of these windows is thus determined by their context (the curtains and their different lengths); rather than being inherent to the object, meaning is established relationally.
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