Gertrude Stein

This essay has a total of 870 words and 7 pages.

Gertrude Stein








Gertrude Stein

"I know I am" (Burnett 51). This response form Gertrude Stein was given in answer to the
question "You think you are a genius?" posed to her by the French artist Henri Matisse.
This was the epitome of Stein.


Born in 1876, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Gertrude was the fifth child, and youngest, to
Daniel and Amelia Stein, German-Jewish immigrants. She was a bright girl, but was noted
for "her lifelong indifference to rules" (Gombar 41), especially in school. The early
death of her mother was the cause of this. Her father was the king of his castle, often
acting as a tyrant, and Stein "credited her lifelong aversion to all authorities and
father figures" (Gombar 41) to him.


Gertrude always had a close relationship to her older brother, Leo. They were fast friends
throughout their childhood, and into their adulthood. Though she had completed few years
of high school, and did not meet the requirements in Latin, when Leo attended Harvard in
1892, Gertrude followed in 1893, in the women's Harvard Annex. While at Harvard, she was
taken under the wing of noted psychoanalyst, William James. James had an effect on Stein's
later writings as well. His method of "automatic writing, in which subjects wrote down
their unedited, free-associative thoughts" (Gombar 42), was often the way Gertrude wrote
many of her literary pieces.


In 1897, she was denied her bachelor's degree, but the next year, she graduated magna cum
laude with the class of 1898. Because of high recommendations from James and her other
professors, she was granted admission to Johns Hopkins Medical School, where her brother
was also studying. They lived together in Baltimore, and Leo would gather friends on the
weekends for their infamous salons. Leo, from his familiar post leaning against the
bookcase, would direct discussions that lasted five to six hours. Life was pleasant in
their household, and Gertrude failed to notice Leo was changing. Within weeks, he was
packed and on his way to Europe. For a while, Gertrude lived with another roommate, but
she, too, got restless, and in 1903, she joined Leo in Europe.


After traveling in Europe and Africa, she settled with Leo in France. Their apartment at
27 rue de Fleurus was soon filled with paintings by the new Modernists, such as Pablo
Picasso, Paul Cezanne, and Henri Matisse. Being among the first to accept the Modernist
paintings, Gertrude and Leo became friends with the artists. Picasso was particularly
friendly with Gertrude, and in 1906, he painted a portrait of her that became one of his
best known.


Under the rich French culture, Gertrude's works flourished. "From 1906 to 1909, she wrote
The Making of Americans, a novel based on her own family's cultural history over three
generations. She devised a complex narrative style that abandoned formal plotting and
adopted a free prose with odd syntax and punctuation" ("Gertrude Stein" 19th Century
American History 1). Leo, however, was not at all pleased with his sister's methods. The
Cubist paintings that inspired her work left Leo regarding it with scorn. Regardless of
this, the apartment became a literary salon for many artists and writers in Paris, who
came to Gertrude for advice and criticism.


When Gertrude met Alice Toklas, a young woman from California, in 1909, she found a friend
who appreciated her work. She invited Alice to live with her and Leo. The rift between Leo
and Gertrude grew, and Leo moved out four years later. Alice was Gertrude's friend, lover,
and confidante for the rest of their lives. She helped Gertrude with typing, and even with
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