Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein

BOOK: Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein
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Copyright, 1945, 1946, © 1962, by Random House Inc Copyright, 1933, 1934, by Gertrude Stein. Copyright, 1934, 1935, by Modern Library, Inc. Copyright, 1940, by Atlantic Monthly, Inc. Copyright, 1945, by Random House, Inc. Copyright renewed, 1936, by Gertrude Stein. Copyright renewed, 1945, by Conde Nast Publications, Inc. Copyright renewed, 1960, 1961, 1962, by Alice B Toklas. Copyright renewed, 1967, by Daniel C. Joseph. Copyright renewed, 1974, by Joseph Solomon, Daniel Stein, Gabrielle Stein Tyler and Michael Stein.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto Originally published, in different form, by Random House, Inc in 1946. This edition was originally published by The Modern Library in 1962.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Stein, Gertrude, 1874–1946.

[Selections. 1990]

Selected writings of Gertrude Stem / edited, with an introduction and notes, by Carl van Vechten and with an essay on Gertrude Stein by F. W. Dupee. — Vintage Books ed.

p. cm.

Reprint. Originally published: Selected writings. New York.

Modern Library, c1962

eISBN: 978-0-307-82985-6

I. Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964. II. Title.

PS3537.T323A6 1990

818’ 5209—dc20 89-22658

The editor and publishers acknowledge their indebtedness to the Hogarth Press for
Composition as Explanation
, to
Vanity Fair
Have They Attacked Mary. He Giggled.
Political Caricature
), to
The Atlantic Monthly
The Winner Loses


A Message from Gertrude Stein

I always wanted to be historical, from almost a baby on, I felt that way about it, and Carl was one of the earliest ones that made me be certain that I was going to be. When I was around fourteen I used to love to say to myself those awful lines of George Eliot, May I be one of those immortal something or other, I havent the poem here and although I knew then how it went I do not now, and then later when they used to ask me when I was going back to America, not until I am a lion, I said, I was not completely certain that I was going to be but now here I am, thank you all. How terribly exciting each one of these were, first there was the doing of them, the intense feeling that they made sense, then the doubt and then each time over again the intense feeling that they did make sense. It was Carl who arranged for the printing of
Tender Buttons
, he knew and what a comfort it was that there was the further knowing of the printed page, so naturally it was he that would choose and introduce because he was the first that made the first solemn contract and even though the editor did disappear, it was not before the edition was printed and distributed, wonderful days, and so little by little it was built up and all the time Carl wrote to me and I wrote to him and he always knew, and it was always a comfort and now he has put down all his knowledge of what I did and it is a great comfort. Then there was my first publisher who was commercial but who said he would print and he would publish even if he did not understand and if he did not make money, it sounds like a fairy tale but it is true, Bennett said, I will print a book of yours a year whatever it is and he has, and often I have worried but he always said there was nothing to worry about and there wasnt. And now I am pleased here are the selected writings and naturally I wanted more, but I do and can say that all that are here are those that I wanted the most, thanks and thanks again.


Paris. June 18, 1946

General Introduction

There used to be something known to all readers as “Steinese.” Steinese was the peculiar literary idiom invented by Gertrude Stein around 1910 and made familiar to a large American public by her admirers and nonadmirers alike. Gnomic, repetitive, illogical, sparsely punctuated, this idiom became a scandal and a delight, lending itself equally to derisory parody and fierce denunciation. It had a formidable currency in writing and conversation throughout the teens, twenties, and thirties. “A rose is a rose is a rose” and “Pigeons on the grass alas” were encountered as frequently—almost—as the “Yes, we have no bananas,” a nonsense phrase—later a song—of popular origin which may actually have been inspired by Steinese. “My little sentences have gotten under their skins,” Gertrude Stein was at last able to say, with the pride of someone who craved recognition the more that she got mere notoriety. In other words, her little sentences, originally quoted in scorn, had come in time to be repeated from something like affection; and thus the very theory that underlay her technique of reiteration was proved: what people loved they repeated, and what people repeated they loved.

Simple-minded as she sounded to the public, Gertrude Stein did have her theories—few writers of note have had more stringent ones. If she was “the Mother Goose of Montparnasse,” as someone said (such attempts to characterize her in a witty phrase were constantly repeated, too), she was a Mother Goose with a mind. She had studied psychology with William James at Radcliffe; conducted laboratory experiments there with Hugo Münsterberg; come close to getting an M.D. at Johns Hopkins; and then, settling in Paris with her brother Leo, communed with Picasso in his Paris studio where a different kind of experiment was in progress: the plastic analysis of spatial relations which gave rise to Cubist painting.

Thus, behind the popular image of Gertrude Stein there came to be, as we all know by now, a woman of immense purpose, equipped with astonishing powers of assimilation, concentration and hard work—as well as, to be sure, relaxation (she liked to lie in the sun and stare right into it). Her meeting with Picasso was in itself purely fortuitous; such a meeting might have befallen any tourist with a mildly questing spirit and enough money to buy paintings which, in any event, went almost begging. Gertrude Stein converted this meeting into the basis of a vocation and a life. It became for her the major case—her acquaintance with William James was another—of genius by association. Her scientific interests now fused with a passion, at last fully awakened, for art and literature. Out of this union of the laboratory and the studio came a body of theory and writing like none before or after it. There were elements in it of the Naturalism that was just then (
1900) taking root in American literature. So far as these elements alone went, Gertrude Stein might have been a Dreiser
—except that, with her Cubist predilections, she became, as it were, post-Dreiser. Like Dreiser and other Naturalists she held quasi-scientific conceptions of race and individual character; life expressed itself best in forms of “struggle” (the word was frequently hers, as it was that of Dreiser’s generation: “the class struggle,” “the struggle for existence”). Her first mature work,
Three Lives
, was a triple portrait of the servant, a type of oppressed individual with a special appeal for the Naturalist novelist; in addition, her trio, two Germans and a Negro girl, belonged to ethnic minorities, another staple Naturalist subject.
Three Lives
proved to be a study in the language, syntax, and rhythms of consciousness rather than in the effects of oppression, social or cosmic. Here her aesthetic predilections checkmated and partially transformed the Dreisserian elements.
Three Lives
remains her most widely admired book.

The American writer who most attracted her was not Dreiser or any of his school, but Henry James. And there may have been personal as well as aesthetic reasons for her refusal of Naturalist pessimism and protest. Gertrude Stein felt no urgent identification with the oppressed; life was a struggle that she could very probably win. Her grandparents had been German-Jewish immigrants, but they had prospered in the United States; her parents, prospering too, had been beguiled by art, languages, and educational theory; as children, Gertrude Stein and her sister and brothers, like the young Jameses at an earlier period, had been transported to Europe for a prolonged stay in some of its great cities. Thus the impression left by the elder Steins, at least on Gertrude Stein, was that of people who, if they were not exactly free spirits, had to a degree done as they liked and made themselves at home equally in America and Europe. No doubt their example, as she conceived of it, fortified her own determination to do the same, do even better. Hence the impulse, so patiently and passionately followed by her, to root herself in a profession, in the city of Paris, in a society of her choosing. The consequences for her personality were, again, astonishing. In her maturity, she gave the impression, not merely of doing what she liked but of
almost anything she wanted to be. She seemed, as the many surviving likenesses of her suggest, at once female and male, Jew and non-Jew, American
pur sang
and European peasant, artist and public figure, and so on. She did not, however, create this intricate unity and sustain it without showing evidences of great strain. Her magnetic, almost magical, self-mastery was buttressed by frank self-indulgence and advertised to the world by a good deal of unashamed self-congratulation. A regular system of compensations characterized her life. Inclusions entailed exclusions in a virtually mechanical perfection of balance. For almost every idea she embraced, almost every person she befriended, there was some idea that remained pointedly alien to her, some person who was an outsider. Henry James had played something like this drama too, though with more compunction, it seems, and with himself often cast as the outsider. Gertrude Stein, never the outsider, seems not to have risen—or sunk—to the level of James’s flexibility. Thus her combined residence, salon, and art gallery in the rue de Fleurus, where she presided with the aid of the devoted Miss Toklas, presented the aspects, now of an infinitely charming refuge, now of a bristling fortress. The former aspect predominated; the wariest visitor was apt to be struck by things about Gertrude Stein which were more literally magical than her self-mastery—things that were not to be fully accounted for by will, intelligence, or the principle of genius by association: her magnificent head and features, her appealing voice, her elementally refreshing laugh.

BOOK: Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein
7.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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