Gertrude Stein Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

From the time of her arrival in Paris in 1903 until her death in 1946, Stein strove to be a central figure in modern literature. She directed a movement that broke with the past and sought fresh forms of literary expression. A bold explorer of prose, she broke away from the nineteenth century’s reliance on plot, character, and conventional description to demonstrate how awareness and identity could be evoked through simple words. She deliberately chose an unliterary style and emphasized the power of words by arranging them in unusual ways.

Although her autobiographical works about France are best remembered, Stein left her mark on modern literature through her influence on writers such as Hemingway and Anderson. The cadence and artlessness of much contemporary writing echoes her early experiments in modern prose.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

When Daniel Stein and Amelia Keyser were married in 1864, the seeds of Gertrude Stein’s future independence were sown, for the couple had some unusual ideas about child rearing and family life. Perhaps most psychologically damaging to the children was the parents’ firm decision to have five children—no more and no fewer. Consequently, Gertrude’s beloved older brother Leo and she were conceived only after the deaths of two other Stein children. In Everybody’s Autobiography Stein says that the situation made her and her brother feel “funny.” Knowing that one’s very existence depends on the deaths of others surely would have some psychological effect, and some biographers attribute Stein’s lifelong interest in identity to her knowledge of her parents’ decision about family size.

Daniel Stein was apparently as quarrelsome and independent as his daughter was to become. Having operated a successful cloth and clothing business in Baltimore with his brothers, Daniel and another brother broke up the partnership by moving out to Pittsburgh to open a new business. When Daniel had earned enough money, he moved the family across the Ohio to Allegheny, and it was there that Gertrude Stein was born in 1874. She was the last child the Steins were to have, completing the unit of five children. Michael Stein was the oldest child (born in 1865); Simon was next (1867); then came Bertha (1870) and Leo (1872). When Allegheny was hit with fire and flood, Daniel once again moved the family, this time to Austria, having decided that the older children needed the benefits of a European education.

The family went first to Gemünden and then to Vienna. Although not wealthy, they lived well and were able to afford a nurse, a tutor, a governess, and a full domestic staff. The children were exposed to music and dancing lessons, and they enjoyed all the sights and activities of the upper middle class in Europe at the time. In his concern for the education of his children, Daniel resembled Henry James, whose educational theories also featured the advantages of the European experience to a developing mind. During this period, letters from Amelia and her sister Rachel Keyser, who accompanied the Steins, reveal that the baby was speaking German and experiencing an apparently contented, pampered, and protected infancy.

The roaming continued. In 1878, the family moved to Paris, and Stein got her first view of the city she would later make her home. When the Steins returned to the United States in 1879, they lived at first with the Keyser family in Baltimore, but Daniel was set on living in California. By 1880, the family had relocated to Oakland, where they stayed for some time (until 1891), long enough for the artist to develop an attachment to the place. It was Oakland that Stein always thought of as home.

The unsettled life of the Steins continued with the death of Amelia when the artist was fourteen. Three years later (in 1891), Daniel died, leaving Michael head of the family. He moved the family to San Francisco that year, but by the following year the family was dispersed—Michael and Simon remaining in San Francisco, Gertrude and her sister Bertha going back to Baltimore to live with their mother’s sister, and Leo transferring from the University of California at Berkeley to Harvard. In the fall of 1893, Gertrude Stein herself entered Harvard Annex (later renamed Radcliffe College), thus rejoining the brother to whom she had grown so attached. Their strong bond was to survive into adulthood, being broken only by Gertrude’s lifelong commitment to Alice B. Toklas and her ascendancy in Parisian art circles.

Stein was at Harvard during a wonderful period in that institution’s history. She had the good fortune to study under William James, whose theories of psychology intrigued the young woman and initiated a lifelong interest in questions of personality, identity, and consciousness. Stein’s later attempts to present in her writing awareness of a continuing flux in the present, the immediacy of present existence, and the...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Gertrude Stein was born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, but she was seven years old before her family settled into permanent residence in Oakland, California, the city she was later to describe as having “no there there.” Her birth itself was contingent on the deaths of two of her five brothers and sisters: Her parents had decided to have only five children, and only after two children had died in infancy were Gertrude and her older brother, Leo, conceived. Identity was to become one of the central preoccupations of her writing career, and the tenuous nature of her own birth greatly influenced that concern.

Stein’s early years were comfortably bourgeois and uneventful. Her father, a vice president...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

ph_0111206444-Stein.jpg Gertrude Stein. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

America made her, Gertrude Stein claimed once, but Paris made her an artist. After her aborted career as a psychiatrist, trained by William James at Harvard, and her first unrequited love for a woman, she followed her brother to France in 1903, always on the search for novelty, change, and education. Her American past still haunted her: Her first book, deeply psychological and immediately successful, was Three Lives. Her most ambitious early project, The Making of Americans, expands her stream-of-consciousness style from the personal to the public: Stein intended to write a history of the human mind through a family saga based on all possible character types.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Stein’s fame and artistic influence soared. Her salon in Paris housed paintings of Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, and others. Her innovative books, her literary mentorships, and her circle of friends made her famous. She published widely, and with her “wife,” Alice B. Toklas, she entertained such prominent American expatriate writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, and Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway later criticized her eccentric style, which employs words for their rhythmic and musical qualities instead of their meanings, as writerly arrogance. Her use of simple words and sentence structures influenced his style. Stein’s other literary friends, however, admired her literary commitment and perseverance against critical disapproval. Her ambition thrived on such unconditional admiration more than on such diversions as literary disputes with her rivals.

Stein’s best-seller, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, covered the early years of the Cubist revolution and the literary squabbles of the 1920’s. Her subsequent tour of the United States was announced by all major dailies, and her lectures on art, poetry, and grammar attracted the masses. Back in Paris, Stein found herself under German occupation during World War II, which for her as a Jew, a lesbian, and an American, could have become deadly. She recorded her wartime anxieties and experiences in Paris France and in her memoir Wars I Have Seen.


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

Author Profile

In 1903, Gertrude Stein moved to France, where she befriended great artists such as Pablo Picasso and inspired writers such as Ernest Hemingway to forge a new American style. Stein wrote the experimental novels Three Lives (1909), a three-part work focusing on women, and The Making of Americans (1925), a family chronicle, and she told her own story in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). Stein’s most explicitly feminist work is The Mother of Us All (1947), a play about women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony.


Bowers, Jane Palatini. Gertrude Stein. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. A succinct,...

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, on February 3, 1874. Her grandfather, Michael Stein, came from Austria in 1841, married Hanna Seliger, and settled in Baltimore. One of his sons, Daniel, Gertrude’s father, was in the wholesale wool and clothing industry. Daniel was mildly successful and very temperamental. He married Amelia Keyser in 1864 and had five children, Michael (born in 1865), Simon (1867), Bertha (1870), Leo (1872), and Gertrude (1874). In 1875, the family moved to Vienna, and three years later, Daniel returned to the United States, leaving his family for a one-year stay in Paris. In 1879, the family moved back to the United States and spent a year in Baltimore with Amelia Keyser’s family. In 1880,...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gertrude Stein, who studied psychology under William James (1842-1910) at Harvard University and went to medical school at The Johns Hopkins University, became one of the United States’ most celebrated expatriates. Abandoning her medical studies just months short of graduation, Stein moved to Paris in 1903 and, except for occasional brief visits, she never returned to the United States.

Stein spent her childhood in Europe and until her teens was more comfortable speaking French and German than English. Her parents—Daniel Stein, a businessman who became vice president of the Omnibus Cable Company in San Francisco, and Amelia Keyser Stein—were both dead before Gertrude Stein went east in 1893. Stein left Oakland,...

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(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, on February 3, 1874 to Daniel and Amelia (Keyser) Stein, Gertrude Stein became a voice for the avant-garde...

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(Short Stories for Students)

Born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Gertrude Stein was the youngest child of upper-middle-class, Jewish-American parents....

(The entire section is 885 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, on February 3, 1874, the youngest of five children in a well-to-do Jewish family of German descent. Before she was a year old, her family began a sojourn in Austria and France that would last five years. Stein’s early exposure to the sound of English, German, and French may account for her conviction that words possess a weight and shape of their own.

Her childhood and adolescence were spent in Oakland, California, on a ten-acre farm where she grew up close to nature and the simple domestic objects that would make up the vocabulary of much of her later experimental writing. Her formal education was haphazard, but she read the works of William Shakespeare, Mark...

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