Ernest Hemingway — Gertrude Stein

Steve Newman Writer
6 min readJun 10, 2021

And the Paris of the early 1920s

Gertrude Stein. Image: rdnarts.com

Hemingway introduced himself (with the help of a letter from Sherwood Anderson) to Gertrude Stein, who immediately lectured him (while her lover and secretary, Alice B. Toklas, fed Hadley tea and cakes in a separate room) on what it was to be a writer, on what it was to be a painter, to be a musician, to be a dancer, to be, to be…

Hemingway knew, when he looked at Stein’s impressive collection of Cezannes, and Monets, and Picassos, that he wanted to write the way they had painted, and were painting: with a clarity, and a vision, and with all the colours, the smells, and the tastes, and, and, well everything.

Gertrude Stein was born in Pennsylvania in 1874 into a progressive, wealthy, and intellectual family of German-Jewish origin. She studied psychology at Radcliffe College and then the anatomy of the brain at John Hopkins. In 1902 she went with her brother Leo — with whom she later fell out — to Paris where she settled into a first- floor apartment in the Rue de Fleurus, just off the Luxembourg Gardens.

Her home soon became a literary salon and art gallery, and a centre of the emerging avant-garde. Her lover, the strange bird-like Alice B.Toklas, was born in San Francisco in 1877 and was a thin, beak-nosed woman, whereas Stein was short and very stout. Stein became the great authority on art and literature without doing very much, that is until Hemingway encouraged her. In the end she wrote several lasting works, most notably The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933).

Like James Joyce, whom she never met (whose work she didn’t like), she was a master of the long unpunctuated sentence, and one of the originators — along with Proust and Joyce — of the stream-of-consciousness style of prose writing, of which Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake is now the best known, and perhaps the least accessible example. Stein is often credited with inventing the phrase: ‘The Lost Generation’ which, for her, describes best the destruction of the young men who fought and died in the First World War, and those who survived, who, as far as she was concerned, were also lost. Hemingway informed her forcibly on more than one occasion that he was not, in any way ‘lost’.

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