Gertrude Stein: Operas and Plays

Literary career

While living in Paris, Stein began submitting her writing for publication. Her earliest writings were mainly retellings of her college experiences. Her first critically acclaimed publication was Three Lives. In 1911, Mildred Aldrich introduced Stein to Mabel Dodge Luhan and they began a short-lived but fruitful friendship during which the wealthy Mabel Dodge promoted Gertrude's legend in the United States.

Mabel was enthusiastic about Stein's sprawling publication The Makings of Americans and, at a time when Stein had much difficulty selling her writing to publishers, privately published 300 copies of Portrait of Mabel Dodge at Villa Curonia,[34] a copy of which was valued at $25,000 in 2007.[45] Dodge was also involved in the publicity and planning of the 69th Armory Show in 1913, "the first avant-garde art exhibition in America".[34]

In addition, she wrote the first critical analysis of Stein's writing to appear in America, in "Speculations, or Post-Impressionists in Prose", published in a special March 1913 publication of Arts and Decoration.[46] Foreshadowing Stein's later critical reception, Dodge wrote in "Speculations":

In Gertrude Stein's writing every word lives and, apart from concept, it is so exquisitely rhythmical and cadenced that if we read it aloud and receive it as pure sound, it is like a kind of sensuous music. Just as one may stop, for once, in a way, before a canvas of Picasso, and, letting one's reason sleep for an instant, may exclaim: "It is a fine pattern!" so, listening to Gertrude Stein's words and forgetting to try to understand what they mean, one submits to their gradual charm.[46]

Stein and Carl Van Vechten, the noted critic and photographer, became acquainted in Paris in 1913. The two became lifelong friends, devising pet names for each other: Van Vechten was "Papa Woojums", and Stein, "Baby Woojums". Van Vechten served as an enthusiastic champion of Stein's literary work in the United States, in effect becoming her American agent.[38]

Stein in America (1934–1935)

In October 1934, Stein arrived in America after a 30-year absence. Disembarking from the ocean liner in New York, she encountered a throng of reporters. Front-page articles on Stein appeared in almost every New York City newspaper. As she rode through Manhattan to her hotel, she was able get a sense of the publicity that would hallmark her US tour. An electric sign in Times Square announced to all that "Gertrude Stein Has Arrived."[47]

Her six-month tour of the country encompassed 191 days of travel, criss-crossing 23 states and visiting 37 cities. The lectures Stein prepared for each stop over conformed to a formal structure, and the audience was limited to five hundred attendees for each venue. She spoke, reading from notes, and provided for an audience question and answer period at the end of her presentation.[47]

The effectiveness of Stein as a lecture speaker provoked varying evaluations. At the time, some maintained that "Stein's audiences by and large did not understand her lectures." Some of those in the psychiatric community weighed in, judging that Stein suffered from a speech disorder, palilalia, which caused her "to stutter over words and phrases". The predominant feeling, however, was that Stein was a compelling presence, a fascinating personality who had the ability to hold listeners with the "musicality of her language".[47]

In Washington, D.C. Stein was invited to have tea with the President's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. In Beverly Hills, California, she visited with Charlie Chaplin who reportedly discussed the future of cinema with her.[47]

Stein left America in May 1935, a newly minted America celebrity with a commitment from Random House, who had agreed to become the American publisher for all future works.[47]

The Chicago Daily Tribune wrote after Stein's return to Paris: "No writer in years has been so widely discussed, so much caricatured, so passionately championed."[47]

Books

Q.E.D.

Gertrude completed Q.E.D. (Quod Erat Demonstrandum) on October 24, 1903.[48] This piece is discussed more completely later in this article at Lesbian relationships.

Fernhurst (1904)

In 1904 Stein began this fictional account of a scandalous three-person romantic affair involving a dean (M. Carey Thomas) and a faculty member (Mary Gwinn) from Bryn Mawr College and a Harvard graduate (Alfred Hodder).[49] Mellow asserts that Fernhurst "is a decidedly minor and awkward piece of writing".[50] It includes some commentary that Gertrude mentioned in her autobiography when she discussed the "fateful twenty-ninth year"[50] during which:

All the forces that have been engaged through the years of childhood, adolescence and youth in confused and ferocious combat range themselves in ordered ranks (and during which) the straight and narrow gateway of maturity, and life which was all uproar and confusion narrows down to form and purpose, and we exchange a great dim possibility for a small hard reality.

Also in our American life where there is no coercion in custom and it is our right to change our vocation so often as we have desire and opportunity, it is a common experience that our youth extends through the whole first twenty-nine years of our life and it is not till we reach thirty that we find at last that vocation for which we feel ourselves fit and to which we willingly devote continued labor.[51]

Mellow observes that, in 1904, 30-year-old Gertrude "had evidently determined that the 'small hard reality' of her life would be writing".[52]

Three Lives (1905–1906)

Stein attributed the inception of this work to the inspiration she received from a portrait Cézanne had painted of his wife and which was in the Stein collection. She credited this as a revelatory moment in the evolution of her writing style. Stein described:

that the stylistic method of (Three Lives) had been influenced by the Cézanne portrait under which she sat writing. The portrait of Madame Cézanne is one of the monumental examples of the artist's method, each exacting, carefully negotiated plane—from the suave reds of the armchair and the gray blues of the sitter's jacket to the vaguely figured wallpaper of the background—having been structured into existence, seeming to fix the subject for all eternity. So it was with Gertrude's repetitive sentences, each one building up, phrase by phrase, the substance of her characters.[53]

She began Three Lives during the spring of 1905, and finished it the following year.[54]

The Making of Americans (1902–1911)

Gertrude Stein stated the date for her writing of The Making of Americans was 1906–8. Her biographer has uncovered evidence that it actually began in 1902 and did not end until 1911.[55] Stein compared her work to James Joyce's Ulysses and to Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. Her critics were less enthusiastic about it.[56] First publication in Alfred Stieglitz's Camera Work (August 1912).

Further publication history

Stein wrote the bulk of the novel between 1903 and 1911, and evidence from her manuscripts suggests three major periods of revision during that time.[57] The manuscript remained mostly hidden from public view until 1924 when, at the urging of Ernest Hemingway, Ford Madox Ford agreed to publish excerpts in the transatlantic review.[58] In 1925, the Paris-based Contact Press published a limited run of the novel consisting of 500 copies. A much-abridged edition was published by Harcourt Brace in 1934, but the full version remained out of print until Something Else Press republished it in 1966. In 1995, a new, definitive edition was published by Dalkey Archive Press with a foreword by William Gass.[59]

Gertrude's Matisse and Picasso descriptive essays appeared in Alfred Stieglitz's August 1912 edition of Camera Work, a special edition devoted to Picasso and Matisse, and represented her very first publication.[60] Of this publication, Gertrude said, "[h]e was the first one that ever printed anything that I had done. And you can imagine what that meant to me or to any one."[60]

Word Portraits (1908–1913)

Stein's descriptive essays apparently began with her essay of Alice B. Toklas, "a little prose vignette, a kind of happy inspiration that had detached itself from the torrential prose of The Making of Americans".[61] Stein's early efforts at word portraits are catalogued in Mellow (1974, pp. 129–37) and under individual's names in Kellner, 1988. Matisse and Picasso were subjects of early essays,[62] later collected and published in Geography and Plays[63] and Portraits and Prayers.[64][65][66]

Her subjects included several ultimately famous personages, and her subjects provided a description of what she observed in her Saturday salons at 27 Rue de Fleurus: "Ada" (Alice B. Toklas), "Two Women" (The Cone sisters, Claribel Cone and Etta Cone), Miss Furr and Miss Skeene (Ethel Mars and Maud Hunt Squire), "Men" (Hutchins Hapgood, Peter David Edstrom, Maurice Sterne), "Matisse" (1909, Henri Matisse), "Picasso" (1909, Pablo Picasso), "Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia" (1911, Mabel Dodge Luhan), and "Guillaume Apollinaire" (1913).

Tender Buttons (1912)

Tender Buttons is the best known of Gertrude Stein's "hermetic" works. It is a small book separated into three sections—Food, Objects and Rooms each containing prose under subtitles.[67] Its publication in 1914 caused a great dispute between Mabel Dodge Luhan and Stein, because Mabel had been working to have it published by another publisher.[68] Mabel wrote at length about the bad choice of publishing it with the press Gertrude selected.[68] Evans wrote Gertrude:

Claire Marie Press... is absolutely third rate, & in bad odor here, being called for the most part 'decadent" and Broadwayish and that sort of thing... I think it would be a pity to publish with [Claire Marie Press] if it will emphasize the idea in the opinion of the public, that there is something degenerate & effete & decadent about the whole of the cubist movement which they all connect you with, because, hang it all, as long as they don't understand a thing they think all sorts of things. My feeling in this is quite strong.[68]

Stein ignored Mabel's exhortations, and eventually Mabel, and published 1,000 copies of the book, in 1914. An antiquarian copy was valued at over $1,200 in 2007. It is currently in print, and was re-released as Tender Buttons: The Corrected Centennial Edition by City Lights Publishers in March 2014.

In an interview with Robert Bartlett Haas in "A Transatlantic Interview - 1946", Stein insisted that this work was completely "realistic" in the tradition of Gustave Flaubert, stating the following: "I used to take objects on a table, like a tumbler or any kind of object and try to get the picture of it clear and separate in my mind and create a word relationship between the word and the things seen." Commentators have indicated that what she meant was that the reference of objects remained central to her work, although the representation of them had not.[69] Scholar Marjorie Perloff had said of Stein that "[u]nlike her contemporaries (Eliot, Pound, Moore), she does not give us an image, however fractured, of a carafe on a table; rather, she forces us to reconsider how language actually constructs the world we know."[69]


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