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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

11. Modernist Portraits

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Sherwood Anderson
- Hart Crane
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Susan Glaspell
- Ernest Hemingway
- Nella Larsen
- Marianne Moore
- John Dos Passos
- Gertrude Stein
- Wallace Stevens
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

Portrait of Gertrude Stein
[4004] Carl Van Vechten, Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1935), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-103680].

Gertrude Stein Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Gertrude Stein lived most of her life in Europe, yet considered herself an American, famously declaring that "America is my country and Paris is my hometown." In 1903, after dropping out of medical school, she joined her brother Leo in Paris and began to write. She and her brother began collecting modern art; paintings by Matisse, Picasso, and other avant-garde artists hung on the walls of her studio. In Paris she developed friendships with some of the foremost artists and writers of her time: Picasso, Hemingway, Matisse, and Fitzgerald, among many others. Her home at 27 Rue de Fleurus became a well-known gathering place for the artistic avant-garde as well as intellectuals and up-and-coming writers, who received advice and encouragement from Stein. In 1913 her brother Leo moved out and they divided their art collection. Her longtime companion and lover Alice B. Toklas lived with her from 1909 until Stein's death in 1946, and the two traveled together and hosted artists and expatriates at their house in Paris. Together they served France in both world wars, amassed an impressive collection of modern art, and created a gathering place for literati and artists seeking one another in a time of artistic experimentation.

Her first published book, Three Lives (1909), was composed of three stories written while examining a Cezanne painting and struck her as being "the first definite step away from the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century in literature." In the five hundred novels, stories, articles, plays, and poems Stein would write in her lifetime, she remained committed to experimentation with language and to breaking away from the traditions of the past. Her radical outlook on art and the central role she played in the modern art world made Stein a celebrity in America and Europe, and following World War I, she gave lectures at Oxford and Cambridge, as well as in numerous American cities on a lecture tour in the 1930s.

Stein is known for her radical experiments with language; in The Making of Americans (1925) she employs stream-of-consciousness and repetition to draw readers' attention to her language. Tender Buttons (1914) likewise challenges readers: Stein invents her own system of language here, and often meaning is not possible to determine. Stein wished to separate language from its use in representing the world of objects in the same way that abstract painters tried to separate painting from representation.

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