Any attempt to separate Gertrude Stein’s novels from her other kinds of writing must be highly arbitrary. Stein thought the novel to be a failed literary form in the twentieth century, claiming that no real novels had been written after Marcel Proust, even including her own novelistic efforts in this assessment. For this and other reasons, it might be claimed that few, if any, of Stein’s works are novels in any traditional sense. In fact, very few of Stein’s more than six hundred titles in more than forty books can be adequately classified into any traditional literary forms. Her philosophy of composition was so idiosyncratic, her prose style so seemingly nonrational, that her writing bears little resemblance to whatever genre it purports to represent.
Depending on one’s definition of the novel, Stein wrote anywhere between six and twelve novels, ranging in length from less than one hundred to 925 pages. The problem is that none of Stein’s novels has a plot in any conventional sense, that few have conventionally developed and sustained characters, and that several seem almost exclusively autobiographical, more diaries and daybooks than anything else.
It is not any easier to categorize Stein’s other pieces of writing, most of which are radically sui generis. If references to literary forms are made very loosely, Stein’s work can be divided into novels, autobiographies, portraits, poems, lectures, operas, plays, and explanations. Other than her novels, her best-known works are The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933); Tender Buttons (1914); Four Saints in Three Acts (pr., pb. 1934); Lectures in America (1935); Everybody’s Autobiography (1937); and Portraits and Prayers, 1934.