Stein, Gertrude (Drama Criticism)
Gertrude Stein 1874-1946
American playwright, biographer, poet, novelist, and essayist.
The following entry presents information on Stein's works through 1996.
Regarded as a major figure of literary Modernism and as one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, Stein wrote avant-garde compositions that continue to prove as radical as when her experimental prose, poetry, and drama first appeared. Uttering such famous expressions as “a rose is a rose is a rose” and coining the designation of American expatriates during the 1920s as “a lost generation,” Stein rejected tenets of nineteenth-century naturalism and developed an abstract manner of literary expression that emulates the principles of post-impressionism and cubism in the visual arts. In her plays, Stein emphasized language and word play above all else, eschewing such dramatic conventions as plot, character, and scenery. Consequently, producers were reluctant to mount productions of Stein's dramas, and only a few were performed during her lifetime. While most critics have acknowledged the contributions of Stein's radical innovations to the evolution of twentieth-century theater, her often cryptic style and radical structure have made her works less popular than those of her contemporaries Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Thornton Wilder.
The youngest daughter of wealthy American Jews, Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, but spent her infancy in Vienna, Austria, and Passy, France, before her family settled in Oakland, California, while she was a young girl. In 1893 Stein enrolled in the all-female Harvard Annex (later Radcliffe College) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she attended lectures by psychologist William James, who influenced her artistic development with his theories of perception and personality types. Upon graduation, Stein entered the medical school at Johns Hopkins University to study psychology, but becoming disaffected, she left in 1902 without a degree. In 1903, she moved to Paris with her brother, Leo, who later became a noted art critic. In 1907 Stein met her lifetime companion, Alice B. Toklas, who began residing with the siblings in 1909, the same year Stein published her first work, Three Lives. Meanwhile, the home at 27 rue de Fleurus became a salon for such leading artists as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Georges Braque, who later mingled after World War I with such prominent American expatriate writers as Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway. An early advocate of Cubism, Stein tried to mimic its theories in her diverse writings of the period, ranging from the poetry collection Tender Buttons (1914) to the sprawling novel The Making of Americans (1925). Between those works she wrote numerous experimental dramas but rarely saw them produced on stage. Stein eventually outlined her literary principles in the essay “Composition as Explanation” (1926), which she based on lectures she delivered at Oxford and Cambridge universities. As her social and literary influence flourished, a publisher friend urged Stein to write her memoirs, which led to the publication of her best-known and most popular work, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), which was actually Stein's own autobiography. In 1934, Stein's libretto Four Saints in Three Acts was scored by Virgil Thomson and produced as an opera in New York City to rave reviews, which prompted a celebrated American lecture tour through 1935. In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, Stein assumed the proportions of a legend in Paris where she befriended many of the American servicemen stationed there after the liberation of France and memorialized them in Brewsie and Willis (1946). On July 27, 1946, Stein died of cancer at the American Hospital at Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.
Stein's first play, What Happened (1913), resembles satire in comparison to conventional dramaturgical principles. Although the play has a traditional five-act structure, it is devoid of such elements of drama as plot, character development, scenery, and stage directions. In fact, What Happened is a play in which nothing happens. As in most of her other works, Stein experimented with language and syntax in her dramas, forcing the spectator to decode her meaning. Ladies' Voices (1916) focuses on a group of women who have gathered at Mallorca, Spain, for Carnival time. Through their conversations, they explore the world of spoken words. Stein's experimental style includes more than rejecting traditional narrative structures. A Circular Play (1920) epitomizes Stein's experiments with word play by using rhyme, repetition, alliteration, and homonyms. A List (1923) emphasizes the spatial relationships of words, featuring characters with names that start with “M” and arranging the dialogue to create visual order. Beginning in 1920 Stein worked at developing a concept of drama as “landscape.” These plays include As in Lend a Hand or Four Religions (1922), A Village Are You Ready Yet Not Yet (1923) and Capital Capitals (1923). These plays illustrate Stein's struggle with syntax and the relationship between sight and sound. One of the most-talked about theatrical productions of the Depression years as well as one of her few plays to be staged during her lifetime, Four Saints in Three Acts features the writing process as an integral part of the allegory punctuated with interruptions by the playwright's persona. Primarily set in sixteenth-century Spain, the play concerns St. Therese of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and two fictional saints, St. Settlement and St. Chavez. As the drama unfolds, the “plot” of the play is elaborated in terms of a garden plot. The Mother of Us All (1947), Stein's second collaboration with Thomson, concerns the woman suffrage movement of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, centering on the life and work of Susan B. Anthony.
Stein's plays have often challenged critics. Initially attacked by those who did not accept the validity of her artistic methods, Stein has gradually been treated with more temperate discussion of her work as her innovations have been mainstreamed by succeeding generations of writers. Because much of her drama violates basic formal and thematic conventions, certain interpretive methods, such as the close textual analysis favored by New Critics, have been of little use in approaching her work. Most of the commentary on Stein during her lifetime was evaluative rather than interpretive, either arguing her artistic merits or deriding her radical innovations. With the rise of structuralism and deconstruction in the 1960s and 1970s, critics have found a critical method suited to understanding Stein's work as she conceived it. Feminist critics have also provided a fresh perspective on Stein, discussing such issues as her treatment of human sexuality and her defiance of patriarchal literary traditions. Another topic often raised by commentators is Stein's relationship to post-impressionism and cubism. Consequently, many critics have called Stein a “literary cubist” for her ability to project a reality beyond visual reality. Some scholars have suggested that Stein's true worth as an artist is best indicated by her influence on other writers, both contemporary with her own era and subsequent to it.
A Curtain Raiser 1913
Old and Old 1913
What Happened. A Five Act Play 1913
He Said It. Monologue 1915
Captain Walter Arnold 1916
Every Afternoon. A Dialogue 1916
For the Country Entirely. A Play in Letters 1916
I Like It to Be a Play. A Play 1916
Ladies' Voices 1916
Turkey and Bones and Eating 1916
Counting Her Dresses 1917
An Exercise in Analysis 1917
A Circular Play. A Play in Circles 1920
A Movie 1920
Reread Another 1921
Accents in Alsace. A Reasonable Tragedy 1922
Objects Lie on a Table 1922
Saints and Singing 1922
Am I To Go or I'll Say So 1923
Capital Capitals 1923
A List 1923
A Bouquet. Their Wills 1928
A Lyrical Opera Made by Two 1928
At Present 1930
Film: Deux soeurs qui ne sont pas soeurs 1930
Louis XI and Madame Giraud 1930
Madame Recamier 1930
(The entire section is 242 words.)
Criticism: General Commentary
SOURCE: France, Richard. “Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein: A Correspondence.” Theatre History Studies 6 (1986): 72-86.
[In the following essay, France discusses Stein's relationship with composer Virgil Thomson, featuring a series of selected letters to each other.]
In December of 1925, Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) invited the American composer, George Antheil, to visit with her and Alice B. Toklas at 26, rue de Fleurus. Antheil, in turn, invited fellow composer Virgil Thomson (b. 1896) to accompany him. Thus began a friendship between Thomson and Stein that would last, despite its frequent tensions and several interruptions, until her death on 27 July 1946.
Their correspondence, which numbers in excess of 300 letters, began with a postcard from Thomson during the summer of 1926. It would end abruptly with a letter dated 1 July 1946 from the terminally ill Stein in which she announces that she and Toklas “will be going away [to Bernard Faÿ's country house at Luceau] for a month or so at the end of next week, do you want a consultation before we go.” Earlier in the year, and aware that she had cancer, Stein had completed the libretto for the second of the two operas that she would write with Thomson, The Mother of Us All,1 which premiered 9 May 1947 at Columbia University in New York City.
Despite having hit it off “like Harvard men” the year...
(The entire section is 6607 words.)
SOURCE: Mellow, James R. “Foreword: The Word Plays of Gertrude Stein.” In Operas and Plays, pp. 7-9. Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 1987.
[In the following essay, Mellow examines the writing style and structures of the plays in Operas and Plays.]
The theater of Gertrude Stein is as radical today as it was seventy or more years ago when, in the course of her early experiments, Stein started writing her odd word plays. These theatrical exercises—which began, she tells us, with What Happened: A Play; a play in which nothing happens—soon developed into a dramaturgy stripped bare of the essentials: plot, character development, scenery, stage directions. Even the dramatic structure, if it could be called that, did not clearly distinguish between scenes and acts. What was left was the actor (not always identifiable) and the written word.
The operas and plays of this volume [Operas and Plays] (first published in 1932 by Stein herself in her privately printed Plain Edition) range over the unconventional and controversial specimens of her work from 1913 to 1931. They are literally—and literarily—“word plays,” clear evidence of Stein's intention of making the word the prevailing element of her theatrical enterprise. It was also indicative of Stein's high spirits as a dramatist that she made extensive use of puns that are ingenious and/or banal: can tickle for...
(The entire section is 1220 words.)
SOURCE: Hutchison, Beth. “Gertrude Stein's Film Scenarios.” Film Literature Quarterly 17, no. 1 (1989): 35-8.
[In the following essay, Hutchison contrasts the forms and meanings of A Movie and Film.]
In “Portraits and Repetition” , Gertrude Stein related the carefully aggregated details characteristic of her word portraits to the raw material of film, the frame: “In a cinema picture no two pictures are exactly alike each one is just that much different than the one before, and so in those early portraits there was … no repetition” (177). Rather than repetition, a film shot consists of a vast number of almost duplicated images which combine in the memory to create the image of one object persisting through time. Such is the effect of Stein's early portraits; a few simple phrases are repeated, with slight changes, to imply the consistency of basic personal attributes. However, the cinema offered “a continuously moving picture … [in which] there is no memory of any other thing and there is that thing existing[;] it is in a way if you like one portrait of anything not a number of them” (176, emphasis added). Here Stein goes beyond the mere awareness of cinema as a succession of slightly changing still photographs and recognizes the importance of memory in creating meaning both within and between shots. She concludes that, by “doing what the cinema was doing” [in...
(The entire section is 2170 words.)
SOURCE: Pladott, Dinnah. “Gertrude Stein: Exile, Feminism, Avant-Garde in the American Theater.” In Modern American Drama: The Female Canon, edited by June Schlueter, pp. 111-29. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1990.
[In the following essay, Pladott assesses Stein's contribution to American drama in terms of her “exile” as an expatriate American woman, a Jew, and a lesbian.]
How does one live and create while in exile? The life and work of Gertrude Stein, exiled several times as an expatriate American woman, a Jew, and a lesbian, make the question especially pressing. Her decision to experiment with unprecedented forms of writing gives resonance to the notion of exile formulated by Julia Kristeva, also a double exile. In A New Type of Intellectual: The Dissident, Kristeva comments that physical banishment implies a dissenting metaphysics: “Exile is already a form of dissidence, since it involves uprooting oneself from a family, a country or a language.”1 According to Kristeva, this initial form of exile is compounded in women, who are excluded from participation “in the consensual law of politics and society.” A woman, argues Kristeva, is by definition “trapped within the frontiers of her body and even of her species, and consequently always feels exiled both by general clichés that make up a common consensus and by the very powers of...
(The entire section is 8638 words.)
SOURCE: Robinson, Marc. “Gertrude Stein, Forgotten Playwright.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 91, no. 3 (summer 1992): 621-43.
[In the following essay, Robinson evaluates Stein's plays in the context of her unique voice in the evolution of twentieth-century American theatrical conventions.]
While Gertrude Stein was quietly bringing out her first plays with an obscure Boston publisher in 1922, The Hairy Ape began performances in New York, establishing Eugene O'Neill as the nation's most serious, “difficult” playwright. A year later, Elmer Rice would announce his own reputation with The Adding Machine. Both plays were anxious efforts, written by authors fearless about exposing their characters' aggrieved interiors—the “soul” that this particular variety of American drama would quickly make its province. Stein traveled much the same region in Geography and Plays, the title of that first collection, but her voice was quieter, the temper bemused rather than raucous, and her approach to her characters a desultory appraisal instead of the earnest lunge that distinguished O'Neill and Rice. If these qualities weren't enough to isolate Stein from other playwrights of the day, and their audiences, certainly the small number of copies printed, and the absence of producers willing to stage her plays, made her entrance into American drama wholly forgettable even for her admirers....
(The entire section is 9031 words.)
SOURCE: Marranca, Bonnie. “Presence of Mind.” Performing Arts Journal 16, no. 3 (September 1994): 1-17.
[In the following essay, Marranca provides an overview of Stein's life and career.]
A few years ago, in the newly redesigned Bryant Park, adjacent to the New York Public Library in mid-town Manhattan, a statue of Gertrude Stein was set in place. The New York Times account of the event, not without a humorous aside, noted that, except for the monument to St. Joan of Arc further uptown at Riverside Park, this was the only sculpture of a woman in a New York City park, not counting Alice in Wonderland and Mother Goose. The bronze statue of Stein, in which she is seated in one of her long skirts, probably brown corduroy, legs wide apart, shoulders slightly hunched over, was made in 1923 by her friend Jo Davidson who admitted he had made her into a modern Buddha. Perhaps such female companions are not so extraordinary for a woman who loved saints and, well, lived in a kind of wonderland with her own Alice. Besides, as the “Mother Goose of Montparnasse,” she never hesitated to sprinkle a few nursery rhymes into her writing.
If city parks tend to be peopled with statues of the great men of history, so literary biographies are filled with the great men of letters. Still, when one looks out over the vast field of twentieth-century literature, Gertrude Stein inhabits a landscape...
(The entire section is 8902 words.)
SOURCE: Weiss, Allen S. “Stein's Stein: a tale from The Aphoristic Theatre.” The Drama Review (19 September 1996): 23-24.
[In the following essay, Weiss recounts incidents from Stein's life as a Radcliffe sophomore studying under noted American psychologist William James.]
Gertrude Stein was already one of William James' favorite students by the time she enrolled in Hugo Münsterberg's laboratory experimentation course during her sophomore year at Radcliffe in 1894. James, having just published his monumental The Principles of Psychology, was at that moment particularly interested in the relations between conscious and unconscious states of mind. Among his oblique and eccentric entries into the domain was a study of the spiritualist practice of trance—induced automatic writing, much to the dismay of his more rationalist colleagues. In this light, he initiated a series of psychological experiments in which the subject was tested according to varying degrees of fatigue and distraction. One of his subjects was Miss Stein, whom he was to describe as “the ideal student.” She recounts her own experience: Strange fancies begin to crowd upon her, she feels that the silent pen is writing on and on forever. Her record is there, she cannot escape it and the group about her begin to assume the shape of mocking friends gloating over her imprisoned misery. Bizarre as this might be, it...
(The entire section is 952 words.)
Criticism: Accents In Alsace
SOURCE: Giesenkirchen, Michaela. “Where English Speaks More Than One Language: Accents in Gertrude Stein's Accents in Alsace.” The Massachusetts Quarterly (spring 1993): 45-62.
[In the following essay, Giesenkirchen describes the multilingual dimension of Stein's style in Accents in Alsace, contrasting her famous preference for the English language with her sensitivity to the conversational aspect of other languages exhibited in the play.]
Gertrude Stein's central relationship was with the English language. She called English her “only language,” the first language she learned to read, the only language she ever learned to speak and write perfectly, the language in which she composed.1 However, as Stein was exposed to a good deal of French and German in her youth and then spent most of her adult life in France, she developed a distinct multilingual sensitivity which was primarily of an aural nature. Claiming that vision was the essential perceptual faculty underlying her compositions, Stein denied any interest in languages other than English (SW, [Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein] 65-66). Her work, however, reveals as programmatic simplifications both the absolute predominance she claimed that her visual perception of language had over her aural, as well as the total insignificance she said languages other than English had for her work.
(The entire section is 6675 words.)
Criticism: Four Saints In Three Acts
SOURCE: Skinner, Richard Dana. Review of Four Saints in Three Acts, by Gertrude Stein. The Commonweal 19, no. 19 (9 March 1934): 525.
[In the following review, Skinner discusses the writing style and casting decisions of the 1934 New York City production of Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts.]
Deeply imbedded in the cryptograms of Gertrude Stein's alleged prose “cadences,” there is a consistent pattern binding together the many parts of Four Saints in Three Acts. Virgil Thomson's music, which is far from modernistic, and Miss Stein's libretto, which is so modern as to be almost psychopathic, would, of themselves and in combination mean little or nothing. But someone—whether Miss Stein, or Mr. Thomson, of John Houseman as director or Maurice Grosser as writer of the scenario—someone, I say, who must remain unidentified, has brought the semblance of order and design into the completed production.
We know that it was Mr. Thomson's idea to use an all Negro cast. We do not know who assigned actions to accompany Miss Stein's verbal progressions. Certainly the words themselves indicate no outer action, and the printed version of the libretto not only fails to attribute most of the words to any given character but is utterly innocent of any stage directions whatever. Yet the “opera” achieves form, in spite of the fact that it actually concerns two saints in four acts...
(The entire section is 1134 words.)
SOURCE: Review of Four Saints in Three Acts, by Gertrude Stein. Theatre Arts Monthly (April 1934): 246-48.
[In the following excerpt, the critic comments on the linguistic dimension of Four Saints in Three Acts.]
The pleasantest event of the month, and the most harmonious, was undoubtedly Four Saints in Three Acts, called “an opera to be sung”, with words by Gertrude Stein and music by Virgil Thomson. If, after saying that, you add that the words were only partially successful, even judging them by their own intention, and that the music was at best happily reminiscent and well-adapted to the form of the performance, and if you go on to say that Four Saints is not, as the authors call it, an opera to be sung, but a sung dance, you may lay yourself open to the charge of straining as violently for effect as this violently artificial production itself did; and you are bound to defend such a judgment.
The words, as anyone knows who knows Gertrude Stein, intentionally make no sense. They are supposed to be rhythmic, evocative, and by their sound to lend themselves easily to song. Since the words are the basis of the whole production, they must be credited with having evoked in the collaborating artists the working ideas for the delightful scheme, but to a listener they seemed, after the first few moments, and except for a few shining phrases, dully repetitive in...
(The entire section is 794 words.)
SOURCE: Garvin, Harry R. “Sound and Sense in Four Saints in Three Acts.” The Bucknell Review 5, no. 1 (1954): 1-11.
[In the following essay, Garvin analyzes the dramatic action of Four Saints in Three Acts in terms of Stein's so-called “portrait” style and the play's relative significance among the playwright's other works.]
The delight of Broadway audiences with the two productions of Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts was enthusiastic, genuine, but superficial. The spectators were blithely free of any prior notions about the plot and the meanings of the opera. The program notes for the second production, by not giving even enticing clues, helped the spectators enjoy their innocence boldly. Though surely only about one in five thousand spectators in either 1934 or 1952 had read Miss Stein's libretto through, it was apparently assumed that only Philistines would actually need any explanation of—among other mysteries—the connection between the first and the fourth acts of Four Saints in Three Acts. Comfortable in all this rare purity, the New York audiences and reviewers simply were charmed by the pageant and the ingenious music of Virgil Thomson, and they chuckled whenever a lucky concatenation of words made some playful sense. The Parisian audiences in 1952 were also unaware of the unique struggles of this American lady with the language of sound and...
(The entire section is 3965 words.)
SOURCE: Bowers, Jane. “The Writer in the Theater: Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts.” In Critical Essays on Gertrude Stein, edited by Michael J. Hoffman, pp. 210-25. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1986.
[In the following essay, Bowers demonstrates how Stein made the writing process a part of the performance of Four Saints in Three Acts.]
Gertrude Stein approached drama as she did every genre: She examined the genre's conventions, found them inadequate, and proceeded to redefine the genre as she worked within it. By the time she began writing Four Saints in Three Acts in 1927, Stein had grappled with the redefinition of drama in over sixty plays.1
Reading these plays, one can see that Stein rejected the conventional definition of drama as articulated later on, for example, by Eric Bentley. According to Bentley:
The drama everyone agrees presents character in action. Human actions become “an action” in the drama when they are arranged effectively, when that is, they are given what we can recognize as a proper and praiseworthy structure.2
Stein's earliest plays, the dialogue plays of 1913 to 1919, lack that arrangement of action which convention sanctions as the “proper and praiseworthy structure” of drama. Not only did Stein eliminate a...
(The entire section is 7522 words.)
SOURCE: Marranca, Bonnie. “St. Gertrude.” Performing Arts Journal 16, no. 1 (January 1994): 107-112.
[In the following essay, Marranca examines the significance of Stein's sense of geography and space to the structure, themes, and language of Four Saints in Three Acts.]
“Through a window with a grate covered by a veil, I spoke with those who came to visit me,” St. Therese of Avila described convent life in her Book of Foundations. The sense of a framed life would appeal to Gertrude Stein who brought together the painterly and the literary, changing nouns to verbs. In her Four Saints in Three Acts, in which St. Therese has more than three-dozen companions, St. Ignatius is always worrying about who is “to be windowed.” Nuns should observe enclosure he had decreed in sixteenth-century Spain. “How many windows and doors and floors are there in it,” asks St. Therese herself in the middle of the opera. She wants to know what kind of space will frame her.
Stein took great pleasure in the transcendent moments of human existence which St. Therese, her literary sister, had called “spiritual delights.” Inspired by her favorite saints—Therese, Ignatius and Francis—Stein, a Jew, participated in the secularization of the spiritual, the long-lasting project of modernism, by aligning spiritual energy and creative power as acts of...
(The entire section is 3046 words.)
SOURCE: Albrinck, Meg. “‘How can a sister see Saint Therese suitably’: Difficulties in Staging Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts.” Women's Studies, Special Issue: Studies in 20th-Century American Literature, Criticism, and Art 25, no. 1 (1995): 1-22.
[In the following essay, Albrinck analyzes how the scenario written for the 1934 production of Four Saints in Three Acts manipulates the meaning and themes of Stein's libretto by showing how the scenario's framework compromises both the “fluidity” and “powerful female vision” of the original.]
Most critical studies of Gertrude Stein's opera Four Saints in Three Acts have either focused solely upon the original 1927 libretto or the 1934 stage production of the opera. Although these studies are helpful in understanding each version of the libretto, they fail to analyze how the scenario manipulates the meanings and themes of the original text. While Virgil Thomson's musical score and Maurice Grosser's scenario do provide additional layers of meaning to Four Saints, they also construct an interpretive framework that often fails to correspond to the theories implicit within Stein's original work. In this essay, I will analyze how the narrative framework of the Grosser scenario reduces the fluidity and free play of the original libretto, and in doing so, discounts the powerful female vision of the 1927 version...
(The entire section is 9547 words.)
Criticism: Doctor Faustus Lights The Lights
SOURCE: Savran, David. “Whistling in the Dark.” Performing Arts Journal, no. 43 (January 1993): 25-7.
[In the following review, Savran assesses a 1992 New York City production of Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights in terms of director Robert Wilson's contemporary associations with the play's critique of Western rationalism.]
Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights has an immaculate pedigree in the American theatrical avant-garde. Although originally written as an opera libretto on the eve of World War II, in 1938, Gertrude Stein's text was first performed in the United States in 1951 as the inaugural production of the Living Theatre. In 1979, as directed by Larry Kornfeld with music by Al Carmines, it graced the final years of the Judson Poets Theatre. Under Richard Foreman's direction, it was performed at the Festival d'Automne in Paris in 1982. Most recently, in July 1992, Robert Wilson brought his own new production, mounted in collaboration with Berlin's Hebbel Theater, to New York's Serious Fun! festival.
Doctor Faustus's popularity with the avant-garde is not difficult to gauge. One of Stein's more conventionally plotted and accessible plays, it is a particularly rich text for a director intent upon reimagining Stein's own reimagining of a decisive moment for the production of Western culture. Unlike Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, which focuses on the conflict...
(The entire section is 1021 words.)
SOURCE: Neuman, Shirley. “‘Would a viper have stung her if she had only had one name?’: Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights.” In Gertrude Stein and the Making of Literature, edited by Shirley Neuman and Ira B. Nadel, pp. 168-93. Boston: Northeastern University Presses, 1988.
[In the following essay, Neuman details the historical and literary circumstances surrounding the composition and staging of Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights.]
IDA A NOVEL BECOMES AN OPERA
‘[I]n a kind of a way novels are still a puzzle to me',1 Gertrude Stein explained as she began Ida a Novel. The puzzle proved difficult. Between mid-May and December 1937 she wrote at least three brief and unsatisfactory drafts of an opening for Ida.2 By early December she thought that a conversation with Thornton Wilder had given her ‘a scheme for Ida which [would] pull it together’.3 But when, after Christmas festivities and a move to a new apartment, she resumed work in the beginning of February 1938, it was not Ida but Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights that occupied her (GS-CVV, II, p. 590): ‘Ida has become an opera, and it is a beauty, really is, an opera about Faust', she would report.4
Stein read some of the libretto to Gerald Berners, who was to score the opera, when he visited Paris in April5...
(The entire section is 10855 words.)
Criticism: The Mother Of Us All
SOURCE: Winston, Elizabeth. “Making History in The Mother of Us All.” Mosaic 20, no. 4 (fall 1987): 117-29.
[In the following essay, Winston explains the metaphorical implications of the proper names, literary allusions, and historical quotations that Stein used in The Mother of Us All to reflect her development as a literary woman.]
Gertrude Stein's last major work, The Mother of Us All (1946), is an opera about Susan B. Anthony, the champion of woman suffrage.1 Yet like other writing by Stein, it is also “disguised autobiography.”2 In dramatizing Anthony's campaign to win the vote for women, Stein relives her own struggle to make a name for herself as a writer and contemplates her growth from literary novice to experienced artist and mentor. According to Elizabeth Fifer, Stein in her early erotic poetry devised “a witty code” of metaphors drawn from domestic life, nature, religion and sports to describe her relationship with Alice Toklas (472-83). In The Mother of Us All, she again uses a code—this time composed of proper names, literary allusions and historical quotation—to explore her development as a woman and writer.
The Mother of Us All depicts Susan B. Anthony's lifelong fight to promote women's self-government both as individuals and as part of the body politic. The action shifts between public gatherings...
(The entire section is 6670 words.)
Albright, Daniel. “An Opera with No Acts: Four Saints in Three Acts.” Southern Review 33, no. 3 (summer 1997): 574-604.
Gives a positive assessment of the writing style in Four Saints in Three Acts.
Brinnin, John Malcolm, ed. Introduction to Selected Operas and Plays of Gertrude Stein, by Gertrude Stein, pp. xi-xvii. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970.
Provides an overview of Stein's career and works.
Fifer, Elizabeth. “Rescued Readings: Characteristic Deformations in the Language of Gertrude Stein's Plays.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 24, no. 4 (winter 1982): 394-428.
Dissects the language of Stein's drama.
Harris, David. “The Original Four Saints in Three Acts.” Drama Review 26, no. 1 (spring 1982): 102-30.
Appraises the dramatic merits of the 1927 libretto for Four Saints in Three Acts.
Van Vechten, Carl, ed. “Introduction: ‘How Many Acts Are There in It?’.” In Last Operas and Play By Gertrude Stein, by Gertrude Stein, pp. vii-xix. New York: Rinehart, 1949.
Recalls Stein's efforts as a novice playwright.
Watson, Steven. “Four Saints in Three Acts Is Born.” Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review 6, no. 2...
(The entire section is 271 words.)