Saturday, October 22, 2016

October 22 - Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein

A leading figure in modernist literature, Gertrude Stein is perhaps best known for her friendships with the Parisian elite of the 1920s such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picaso, Ernest Hemingway, Henri Matisse, and Ezra Pound. What started as an impromptu gallery of sorts for Matisse eventually blossomed into a weekly meeting where artists and writers would share work and ideas, forming the foundational voice of what Stein famously called the "Lost Generation." Though born and raised in America, Stein moved to Paris in 1903 and lived most of the rest of her life there. She met her partner, Alice B. Toklas, in 1907, and she would become a huge influence on Stein's writing. Stein is credited with writing one of the very first coming out stories, Q.E.D., which was not published until after her death. She is now described as "modernist," portraying everyday people and objects in her writing, and Tender Buttons (1914) is probably the best example of such. Stein's most popular work, however, was her sort-of memoir, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, a memoir of Toklas's and Stein's lives written by Stein as if in the voice of Toklas. It is significant for its open portrayal, in the 1930s, of a lesbian relationship; it is ranked by Modern Library as one of the greatest nonfiction books of the 20th century. Her time living as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France is also of some interest to historians; it has been guessed that Stein saved her own life (and her partner's) through a collaboration with the Vichy government, in which she aided the condemnation of other Jews in exchange for her freedom. Stein died of stomach cancer in 1946.

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