Also, the title was basically the summary of my experience with Gertrude Stein in college: my professor all but prefaced the discussion of her with this statement. Let's just say that undergraduate teachers start the Stein discussion with a deep sigh and the comment, "All right...about Gertrude Stein..."
A better way to describe Stein is that she marched to the beat of her own drum. And in a way, this is exciting. Some people do better conforming to the accepted boundaries within society; some do better pushing on these boundaries or even leaping outside them altogether. In many cases, Stein did the latter. Whether or not she was a great author or artist is debatable, but I love that she did things in a way that suited her.
As I mentioned yesterday, Stein was the source of the description "lost generation" for the young people who lived through World War I. She was born in Allegheny, PA, to a wealthy German-Jewish family. By the time she was three, her family had become fairly itinerant (her father worked for railroads): she moved to Vienna, then to Paris, then to Oakland (CA), then to Baltimore. In her early adulthood, she moved back to Paris where she lived with her brother Leo who was an art critic.
Stein became active in the artistic world of Paris: she and her brother favored the work of the more "avant-garde" painters -- Picasso, Cezanne, Daumier, Matisse -- and she also began writing. She was a prolific writer: see here for a list of her works. She also embraced a stream of consciousness style of writing that she may or may not have pulled off very well. (I once read a few pages of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and developed a migraine.) But Stein can be credited with influencing a number of writers, and she made a point in being active in things about which she was passionate. Stein's home became a gathering-place for writers and artists of the day (including people like Hemingway and Ezra Pound). Stein filled her home with the art that interested her. She wrote about the art that she loved. Politically, she was open about her conservative views, and she was also open about her sexuality. Stein wasn't a woman to fit into a tidy little box.
In the unlikely event that you decide to dive into Stein, the link provided above should get you started. Otherwise, here's a sample of her writing. (I suspect this will tell you everything you need to know about Stein's style.)
-- "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." (Apparently, one possible inspiration for the title of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.)
-- "The change of color is likely and a difference a very little difference is prepared. Sugar is not a vegetable." (Yes, those two sentences go together. No, I haven't a clue.)
-- "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." (I had exactly the same thought yesterday.)
-- "Eating and sleeping are not like loving and breathing. Washing is not like eating and sleeping. Believing is like breathing and loving. Religion can be believing, it can be like breathing, it can be like loving, it can be like eating or sleeping, it can be like washing, it can be something to fill up a place when someone has lost out of them a piece that it was not natural for them to have in them." (I was with her through the third sentence. Then, she lost me.)
-- "A FEATHER. A feather is trimmed, it is trimmed by the light and the bug and the post, it is trimmed by little leaning and by all sorts of mounted reserves and loud volumes. It is surely cohesive." (Of course.)
-- "It is a very strange feeling when one is loving a clock that is to every one of your class of living an ugly and a foolish one and one really likes such a thing and likes it very much and liking it is a serious thing, or one likes a colored handkerchief that is very gay and every one of your kind of living thinks it a very ugly or a foolish thing and thinks you like it because it is a funny thing to like it and you like it with a serious feeling, or you like eating something that is a dirty thing and no one can really like that thing or you write a book and while you write it you are ashamed for every one must think you a silly or a crazy one and yet you write it and you are ashamed, you know you will be laughed at or pitied by every one and you have a queer feeling and you are not very certain and you go on writing. Then someone says yes to it, to something you are liking, or doing or making and then never again can you have completely such a feeling of being afraid and ashamed that you had then when you were writing or liking the thing and not any one had said yes about the thing." (Well...sure...)
Whether you get her or not (with the latter category probably having far more representatives), Gertrude Stein was a force to be reckoned with and an important part of the expatriate movement.
If nothing else, she's loads of fun. And I think she would have liked that.