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A Selection of Quotes from Gertrude Stein's Work

Alex Chams By Alex Chams Published on January 14, 2018
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Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas

Born in a neighborhood of Pittsburgh in 1874, Gertrude Stein grew up in northern California and moved to Paris in 1903, where she stayed for the rest of her life. She had studied science and medicine, but in Paris she focused on collecting art with her brother, Leo. She hosted gatherings with artists and writers and wrote herself, in stream of consciousness experiments that critics loved to interpret, laud and despise. Her earlier works, such as Three Lives, published in 1909, about three women, Anna, Melanctha and Lena, were in recognizable English but the speech patterns, their rhythms and inflections were already deeply fashioned. By 1912 the work she produced was in a Steinian language of her own, which some called literary insanity, indeed, some readers felt they were going batty when reading her. A 1946 article from The New York Times put it aptly: “The punctuation and the lack of it is of a kind best calculated to drive the members of any proof room to the snake pit. There is an intricate counterpoint to the arrangement as characters appear and disappear and reappear to continue their endless conversations. The devout will trace Miss Stein's cloudy harmonies happily. The profane -- just as happily -- will say: ‘Thank God one thing hasn't changed on this changing earth. I still can't understand Gertrude Stein!’”

But The New York Times critic was a little harsh, because in 1933, at age 58, Stein had written a perfectly intelligible and charming book that became a bestseller, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, in which she took on the persona of her longtime companion. Her autobiographical writing that she published during her later years became far more accessible, differing from her earlier works in which the prose was repetitive, humorous and highly idiosyncratic.

Without further ado, here is a sampling of quotes from Stein’s various works, which directly or indirectly influenced a number of major modern writers.

He was thin dark, alive with big pools of eyes and a violent but not rough way. He was sitting next to Gertrude Stein at dinner and she took up a piece of bread. This, said Picasso, snatching it back with violence, this piece of bread is mine. She laughed and he looked sheepish. That was the beginning of their intimacy. 

From The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

Melanctha Herbert always loved too hard and much too often. She was always full with mystery and subtle movements and denial, and vague distrusts and complicated disillusions. Then Melanctha would be sudden and impulsive and unbounded in some faith, and then she would suffer and be strong in her repression.
Melanctha Herbert was always seeking rest and quiet, and always she could only find new ways to be in trouble. 

From Three Lives

Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle. So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again.

From Tender Buttons

She is putting everything away and taking everything out every day and taking everything out  and putting everything away as many times a day as there was time in the day.|| What did you say...

From Blood on the Dining Room Floor

A dog said that he was going to learn to read. The other dogs said he could learn to bark but he could not learn to read. They did not know that dog, if he said he was going to learn to read, he would learn to read. He might be drowned dead in water but if he said that he was going to learn to read he was going to learn to read.

From The Gertrude Stein First Reader & Three Plays


Journalist, globe trotter and food lover