In the United States, Gertrude Stein is perhaps better known for her eccentric personality and her artistic relationships with Pablo Picasso, Sherwood Anderson, and Ernest Hemingway than for her own literary compositions. Stein’s encyclopedic novel, The Making of Americans, warrants, however, comparison with other modernist masterworks, such as Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (1913-1927), James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), and John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. (1938). In Everybody’s Autobiography (1937), Stein herself recognizes the significance of The Making of Americans and insists that “everybody ought to be reading at it or it.”
The Making of Americans has had a tortuous publishing history. Although Stein’s ambitious project was written and revised sporadically from 1903 to 1911, it was not published until 1924, when about 150 pages of it appeared in serial form in Ford Madox Ford’s Transatlantic Review. An abridged edition of 416 pages was published in 1934 and republished in 1966. Stein cited this abridged text during her tour of the American lecture circuits, and it offers the most readable text for students.
Those who have read The Making of Americans can understand an editor’s trepidation when confronted with Stein’s excessive book. Its tortuous publishing history is understandable. Its length aside, The Making of Americans does not progress according to a plot, but develops laterally by rhythm and repetition. The initial section of the story focuses on the Dehnings and the Herslands, but Stein quickly abandons the Dehnings...
(The entire section is 680 words.)