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Writings 1903-1932

Gertrude Stein

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Writings 1903-1932

Title: Writings 1903-1932
Author: Gertrude Stein
Genre: Various
Written: 1903-32
Length: 913 pages
Availability: Writings 1903-1932 - US
Writings 1903-1932 - UK
Writings 1903-1932 - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : an excellent collection, a good introduction to Stein's work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Globe A 22/3/1998 Linda Simon
The Hudson Review . Fall/1998 Thomas M. Disch
The New Republic . 8/6/1998 Richard Poirier
The NY Times Book Rev. A 3/5/1998 Richard Howard
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/1999 Ray Lewis White
Virginia Quarterly Rev. A- Winter/1999 .

Note: These reviews all refer to both volumes of The Library of America edition (Writings 1903-1932 and Writings 1932-1946).

Please note also that Richard Poirier, reviewing this book for The New Republic (by far the most useful and extensive review), is Chairman of the Board of The Library of America (publisher of these volumes) .

  Review Consensus:

  An important selection of works by an important author.

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Library of America's edition contains a fair and judicious sampling of Stein's experimental and popular works." - Linda Simon, Boston Globe

  • "Memoir, philosophical speculation, literary criticism and theory, all sorts of briefer forms that are hard to account for but easy to marvel at and even to delight in, pack these volumes, and constitute, as the editors surely intended us to discover, the most consistently achieved representation of new ways of responding to life and new possibilities of getting experience into words that American literature has to show. How lucky we and Gertrude Stein are, now to have it so compactly to hand -- so splendidly balanced in the choice of texts that it is a varying enchantment to read against texts it is a consistent chore to read." - Richard Howard, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The first volume of this new edition collects the most useful and possibly most accessible of the early Stein material" - Ray Lewis White, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "(T)he pleasures of seeing most of Stein all at once (along with some excellent photographs, a copy of a manuscript page, and the like), far outweigh the mild irritation at being hustled from one selection to another in these jam-packed volumes." - Virginia Quarterly Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Convinced of her own genius and importance Gertrude Stein would surely have argued that she deserved to be included in The Library of America collection long before volume 99 (this one). A significant though complex figure, her lasting influence on American letters is undeniable. Not that that necessarily means that she is much read. The Library of America has now collected much of her writing in two volumes, covering 1903-32 (this volume) and 1932-46 (review forthcoming) -- though it would take several more similarly sized editions to cover this prolific author's entire output. Notable omissions from this volume include her magnum opus, The Making of Americans (fortunately available in a new edition from the Dalkey Archive Press), while the second volume omits pieces such as Everybody's Autobiography.
       Nevertheless, the editors have chosen well in presenting an interesting variety of Stein's work here. The Library of America eschews scholarly annotation or even simple introductions so the reader is left pretty much to his or her own devices -- perhaps a bit much to ask when confronted with a complex author such as Stein. An excellent chronology at the end of the volume does offer some clues, as do the few notes provided, but otherwise readers are on their own.
       Stein can be an overwhelming presence Fortunately she started off simply enough, and readers are eased into her writing in this volume. The first novella, Q.E.D., written in 1903 but not published until 1950 (in a limited edition, and under a different title), is a fairly straightforward narrative, straining too hard to follow in nineteenth century tradition. A careful telling of a love story (of sorts) between three women, closely based on Stein's actual experience, it is an interesting youthful literary experiment. Format, dialogue, and plot are strained, forced into unnatural strictures by Stein. More than anything the tale is told warily, Stein neither as exuberant nor as daring as she later would become. A short novella, it is an interesting period piece (especially as a "lesbian" novel) -- a curiosity
       Three Lives, Stein's 1906 collection of three novellas, is already much more (see our review). Very much realist stories of the lives of three common women it is a fine book, and the longest piece, Melanctha, is very good indeed.
       The next, and longest section of this collection is devoted to Portraits and Other Short Works, including many of Stein's shorter works from the period 1903-1932. Notable among them is Ada (an early paean to Alice B. Toklas), portraits of various artists, already written in Stein's more distinctive, often repetitive style, the groundbreaking Tender Buttons (see our review), the affectionate Lifting Belly, and the libretto Four Saints in Three Acts. (The latter, with music by Virgil Thomson, famously premiered in Hartford, in an all-black production directed by John Houseman in 1934.)
       The variety is helpful, though 400 pages of such material is trying under the best circumstances. The pieces are best enjoyed piecemeal. Carefully wrought, they are often worth closer consideration, revealing themselves only when more carefully perused. On the other hand the repetition sometimes proves to be simply baffling and wearisome.
       From simple poems such as Erik Satie to the playful A Book Concluding with As a Wife Has a Cow A Love Story to the essays on composition and Patriarchal Poetry there should be enough here to be of interest to any reader (and, conversely, also to annoy any reader). The pieces on description, whether as applied in Tender Buttons or explained in some of the essays and lectures, are of particular interest, as they help explain Stein's method.
       Stein hit the big time with her memoir, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (see our review). A bestseller upon publication, it is a modern classic. Breezily written, it includes an impressive array of characters: Stein knew everyone who was anyone in Paris and they all seem to figure prominently in this entertaining book. More names are dropped per paragraph than in almost any other book we know, but that is part of the fun -- and they are, after all, impressive names. Accessible and informative, it continues to be her most popular work.

       Stein is a fascinating, often maddening literary figure. One should be familiar with her work, and this volume is certainly a good, varied introduction to it. Readers should be aware what they are getting themselves into, though with Three Lives and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas they at least have two of her most accessible works among the more demanding rest. Certainly recommended.

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Writings 1903-1932: Reviews: Gertrude Stein:
  • Other works by Gertrude Stein under review: Other books of interest under review:

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    About the Author:

           American author Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) is best known for works such as The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and Three Lives. She was an influential literary figure who spent much of her life in Europe.

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