Stein, Gertrude

gertrude stein and alice b. toklas

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) is one of the most significant writers of the early twentieth century. Though some consider her writing incoherent, others view it as a singular voice. Born to a well-to-do family in Pennsylvania, Stein lived most of her adult life in Paris, where she and her brother (Leo Stein) amassed an important art collection.

She and her life partner, Alice B. Toklas, opened their apartment as a salon for artists and writers. She coined the term “The Lost Generation” to describe the writers of the 1920s, including Joyce, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway, for whom she served as an almost maternal figure.

Her poems were unlike any others—each almost like a piece of abstract art to experience throughout the senses. Stein’s most popular work was The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, whichis written through Alice’s point of view. Aside from poetry and novels, Stein also wrote plays, operas, and gave many lectures.

Fascinating Facts about Gertrude Stein

  • Stein went to college at Radcliffe and then studied medicine for four years at Johns Hopkins University. But she was bored by exams and was only interested in the learning itself, not the results.
  • She loved playing baseball and formed a small team with female friends

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Gertrude Stein Quotes

Gertrude Stein“Whenever you get there, there is no there there.”

“If you can’t say anything nice about anyone else, come sit next to me.”

“In the morning there is meaning, in the evening there is feeling.” (Tender Buttons, 1914)

“Why should a sequence of words be anything but a pleasure?”

“Writers only think they are interested in politics, they are not really, it gives them a chance to talk and writers like to talk but really no real writer is really interested in politics.” (How Writing is Written: Previously Uncollected Writings, Vol.II, 1974)

“Disillusionment in living is finding that no one can really ever be agreeing with you completely in anything.” (The Making of Americans, 1925)

“I do want to get rich, but I never want to do what there is to get rich.” (Everybody’s Autobiography, 1937)

“The creator of the new composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic.” (Composition as Explanation, 1926)

“For a very long time everybody refuses and then almost without a pause almost everybody accepts. In the history of the refused in the arts and literature the rapidity of the change is always startling.” (Composition as Explanation, 1926)

“It always did bother me that the American public were more interested in me than in my work. And after all there is no sense in it because if it were not for my work they would not be interested in me so why should they not be more interested in my work than in me. That is one of the things one has to worry about in America.” (Everybody’s Autobiography, 1937)

“When you are writing before there is an audience anything written is as important as any other thing and you cherish anything and everything that you have written. After the audience begins, naturally they create something that is they create you, and so not everything is so important, something is more important than another thing.” (What are Masterpieces and Why Are There So Few of Them, 1936)

“The thing that differentiates man from animals is money.”

“It is the human habit to think in centuries from a grandparent to a grandchild because it just does take about a hundred years for things to cease to have the same meaning as they did before.” (Narration: Four Lectures by Gertrude Stein, 1935)

“There is no such thing as repetition. Only insistance.”

“Nothing is more interesting than that something that you eat.”

“The whole duty of man consists in being reasonable and just… I am reasonable because I know the difference between understanding and not understanding and I am just because I have no opinion about things I don’t understand. (Manuscript, 1903; published in Q.E.D. Book 1, from Q.E.D., and Other Early Writings, 1971)

“A little artist has all the tragic unhappiness and the sorrows of a great artist and he is not a great artist.” (The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933)

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in the 1930s

“War is never fatal but always lost. Always lost.” (Wars I Have Seen, 1945)

“It is the soothing thing about history that it does repeat itself.”

“One does not get better but different and older and that is always a pleasure.” (From a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, May 22, 1925; published in Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up, 1945)

“When they are alone they want to be with others, and when they are with others they want to be alone. After all, human beings are like that.”

“After all everybody, that is, everybody who writes is interested in living inside themselves in order to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really. The second one is romantic, is is separate from themselves, it is not real but it is really there.” (Paris France, 1940)

“Anything one does every day is important and imposing and anywhere one lives is interesting and beautiful.”

“You are extraordinary within your limits, but your limits are extraordinary!” (Everybody’s Autobiography, 1937)

“You will write if you will write without thinking of the result in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery, which is to say that creation must take place between the pen and the paper, not before in a thought or afterwards in a recasting… It will come if it is there and if you will let it come.”

“It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.” (Everybody’s Autobiography, 1937)

“It is nice that nobody writes as they talk and that the printed language is different from the spoken otherwise you could not lose yourself in books and of course you do you completely do.”

“We are always the same age inside.”

“For a very long time everybody refuses and then almost without a pause almost everybody accepts.”

“Writing and reading is to me synonymous with existing.”

“A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears.” (As quoted by Robert Haas in a January 1946 interview)

“I have always noticed that in portraits of really great writers the mouth is always firmly closed.” (As quoted by Robert Haas in a January 1946 interview)

“The artist works by locating the world in himself.”

“One must dare to be happy.”

“I have been the creative literary mind of the century.”

“If the communication is perfect, the words have life, and that is all there is to good writing, putting down on the paper words which dance and weep and make love and fight and kiss and perform miracles.”

“A very important thing is not to make up your mind that you are any one thing.”

“We are always the same age inside.” (quoted in The American Treasury, 1455-1955; 1955)

“Silent gratitude isn’t very much use to anyone.”

“You look ridiculous if you dance. You look ridiculous when you don’t dance. So you might as well dance.”

“Nothing is really so very frightening when everything is so very dangerous.”

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. They listen so much that they forget to be natural. This is a nice story.” (Reflections on the Atom Bomb, 1946)

“I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences.” (Lectures in America, 1935)

“Everybody knows if you are too careful you are so occupied in being careful that you are sure to stumble over something.”

“It takes a heap of loafing to write a book.”

“The one thing that everybody wants is to be free…not to be managed, threatened, directed, restrained, obliged, fearful, administered, they want none of these things they all want to feel free … The only thing that any one wants now is to be free, to be let alone, to live their life as they can, but not to be watched, controlled and scared, no no, not.” (September, 1943)

“Literature — creative literature — unconcerned with sex, is inconceivable.”

“The minute you or anybody else knows what you are you are not it, you are what you or anybody else knows you are and as everything in living is made up of finding out what you are it is extraordinarily difficult really not to know what you are and yet to be that thing.”

“A diary means yes indeed.”

“Argument is to me the air I breathe. Given any proposition, I cannot help believing the other side and defending it.” (“Form and Intelligibility,” from The Radcliffe Manuscripts, 1949; written in 1895 as an undergraduate at Radcliffe College

Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, 1921

Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, 1921

“I always say that you cannot tell what a picture really is or what an object really is until you dust it every day and you cannot tell what a book is until you type it or proof-read it. It then does something to you that only reading it never can do.” (The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933)

“Artists do not experiment. Experiment is what scientists do; they initiate an operation of unknown factors to be instructed by its results. An artist puts down what he knows and at every moment it is what he knows at that moment.”

“Before one is successful that is before any one is ready to pay money for anything you do then you are certain that every word you have written is an important word to have written and that any word you have written is as important as any other word and you keep everything you have written with great care.” (Everybody’s Autobiography, 1937)

“One of the pleasant things those of us who write or paint do is to have the daily miracle. It does come.”

 

 

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