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Gertrude Stein

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Gertrude Stein
BornFebruary 3, 1874
BirthplaceAllegheny, Pennsylvania, USA
DiedJuly 27, 1946 (aged 72)
OccupationWriter, poet
Domestic partnerAlice B. Toklas
1907–1946 (Stein's death)

Gertrude Stein (February 3, 1874 – July 27, 1946) was an American writer of novels, poetry and plays. Born in West Allegheny (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and raised in Oakland, California, Stein moved to Paris in 1903, making France her home for the remainder of her life. A literary innovator and pioneer of Modernist literature, Stein’s work broke with the narrative, linear, and temporal conventions of 19th-century. She was also known as a collector of Modernist art.

In 1933, Stein published a kind of memoir of her Paris years, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, written in the voice of Toklas, her life partner. The book became a literary bestseller and vaulted Stein from the relative obscurity of cult literary figure into the light of mainstream attention.[1]

Alice B.Toklas Edit

Stein met her life partner Alice B. Toklas[2] on September 8, 1907, on Toklas's first day in Paris, at Sarah and Michael Stein's apartment.[3] On meeting Stein, Toklas wrote:

She was a golden brown presence, burned by the Tuscan sun and with a golden glint in her warm brown hair. She was dressed in a warm brown corduroy suit. She wore a large round coral brooch and when she talked, very little, or laughed, a good deal, I thought her voice came from this brooch. It was unlike anyone else's voice—deep, full, velvety, like a great contralto's, like two voices.[4][5]

Lesbian relationships Edit

Stein is the author of one of the earliest coming out stories, "Q.E.D" (published in 1950 as Things as They Are), written in 1903 and suppressed by the author. The story, written during travels after leaving college, is based on a three-person romantic affair she joined while studying at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The affair was complicated, as Stein was less experienced with the social dynamics of romantic friendship as well as her own sexuality and any moral dilemmas regarding it. Stein maintained at the time that she detested "passion in its many disguised forms". The relationships of Stein's acquaintances Mabel Haynes and Grace Lounsbury ended as Haynes started one with Mary Bookstaver (also known as May Bookstaver). Stein became enamored of Bookstaver but was unsuccessful in advancing their relationship. Bookstaver, Haynes, and Lounsbury all later married men.[6]

Stein began to accept and define her pseudo-masculinity through the ideas of Otto Weininger's Sex and Character (1906). Weininger, though Jewish by birth, considered Jewish men effeminate and women as incapable of self-hood and genius, except for female homosexuals who may approximate masculinity. As Stein equated genius with masculinity, her position as a female and an intellectual becomes difficult to synthesize and modern feminist interpretations of her work have been called into question.[7]

More positive affirmations of Stein's sexuality began with her relationship with Alice B. Toklas. Ernest Hemingway describes how Alice was Gertrude's "wife" in that Stein rarely addressed his (Hemingway's) wife, and he treated Alice the same, leaving the two "wives" to chat.[8]

The more affirming essay "Miss Furr and Miss Skeene" is one of the first homosexual revelation stories to be published. The work, like Q.E.D., is informed by Stein's growing involvement with a homosexual community,[8] though it is based on lesbian partners Maud Hunt Squire and Ethel Mars.[9] The work contains the word "gay" over one hundred times, perhaps the first published use of the word "gay" in reference to same-sex relationships and those who have them,[9] and, thus, uninformed readers missed the lesbian content. A similar essay of homosexual men begins more obviously with the line "Sometimes men are kissing" but is less well known.[9]

In Tender Buttons Stein comments on lesbian sexuality and the work abounds with "highly condensed layers of public and private meanings" created by wordplay including puns on the words "box", "cow", and in titles such as "tender buttons".[9]

References Edit

  1. http://www.nytimes.com, Books, Mellow, James R., "The Stein Salon Was the First Museum of Modern Art", December 1, 1968, retrieved October 13, 2012
  2. Alice Toklas”, The New York Times, March 1967, <http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/05/03/specials/stein-toklasobit.html?_r=1&oref=slogin> 
  3. Mellow (1974), p. 107
  4. Mellow (1974), pp. 107–8.
  5. “Alice B Toklas”, Books and Writers, Kirjasto sci-fi, <http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/toklas.htm> 
  6. Blackmer (1995), pp. 681–6.
  7. Ramsay, Tamara Ann (1998). Discursive departures: A reading paradigm affiliated with feminist, lesbian, aesthetic and queer practices (with reference to Woolf, Stein, and H.D.) (M.A. thesis) Wilfrid Laurier University
  8. 8.0 8.1 Grahn (1989)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Blackmer (1995)


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