Gertrude Stein: A Biography Critical Context - Essay

Howard Greenfeld

Critical Context

It has taken quite a while for Stein’s writing to be viewed seriously, although a resurgence of interest in her has grown from some Hemingway scholarship that clearly indicated this writer’s debt to Stein in shaping his dialogue. Rosalind S. Miller’s Gertrude Stein: Form and Intelligibility (1949) marked a promising beginning in assessing Stein’s work. Donald Sutherland’s Gertrude Stein: A Biography of Her Work (1951) often allows Stein’s personality to overwhelm her literary achievement. Elizabeth Sprigge’s Gertrude Stein: Her Life and Work (1957) added much bi-ographical information to that unearthed by Miller and Sutherland. Sprigge’s nicely illustrated book was followed by John Malcolm Brinnin’s The Third Rose: Gertrude Stein and Her World (1959) and James R. Mellow’s Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company (1974), both illustrated.

These books are fascinating to read, but they require more of the reader than Greenfeld’s book. The young adult reader might profitably proceed to them after having read this biography and should certainly consult them for their excellent and profuse illustrations. Perhaps the most enticing presentation of Stein and her work is found in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), which Stein herself wrote from the persona of her companion. The information in this book is not wholly dependable, but the presentation is beguiling and shows Stein’s wit and puckishness at their best.