Three Lives

Reception and legacy

Stein sent copies to popular writers Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and John Galsworthy, and hoped the book would be a commercial success. Sales were sparse, but the book was talked about in literary circles. William James, her psychology teacher at Johns Hopkins, called it "a fine new kind of realism".[13]

Though restrained in comparison to the works to follow, the book was seen as radical in style. Writer Israel Zangwill wrote, "... I always thought [Stein] was such a healthy minded young woman, what a terrible blow this must be for her poor dear brother."[9]

A reviewer for the Chicago Record-Herald wrote in early 1910 of the "analogous methods" of Stein and the subtle works of Henry James, who "presents us the world he knows largely through ... conversations"; Stein’s "murmuring people are as truly shown as are James' people who not only talk but live while they talk".[14]

Stein sent copies of the book to African-American writers W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington.[13] African-American reactions to Stein's portrayal of Melanctha varied: novelist Richard Wright wrote that he could "hear the speech of [his] grandmother, who spoke a deep, pure Negro dialect", while poet Claude McKay "found nothing striking and informative about Negro life. Melanctha, the mulatress, might have been a Jewess."[9]

Three Lives continues to be the most widely taught of Stein's books, considered more accessible than her later works,[15] such as the "Cubist" Tender Buttons which followed in 1914.[2]


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