Gertrude Stein

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I am writing for myself and strangers. This is the only way that I can do it. Everybody is a real one to me, everybody is like some one else to to me. No one of them that I know can want to know it and so I write for myself and strangers.
Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.

Gertrude Stein (3 February 187427 July 1946) was an American expatriate writer, poet, feminist, and playwright, who lived most of her life in Europe. She is famous for her "flow-of-thought" and sometimes "cyclical" or "circular" manner of expressing things.


One does not get better but different and older and that is always a pleasure.
It is awfully important to know what is and what is not your business.
  • From the very nature of progress, all ages must be transitional. If they were not, the world would be at a stand-still and death would speedily ensue. It is one of the tamest of platitudes but it is always introduced by a flourish of trumpets.
    • "Form and Intelligibility," from The Radcliffe Manuscripts (1949); written in 1894 as an undergraduate at Radcliffe College
  • Argument is to me the air I breathe. Given any proposition, I cannot help believing the other side and defending it.
    • "Form and Intelligibility," from The Radcliffe Manuscripts (1949); written in 1895 as an undergraduate at Radcliffe College
  • The whole duty of man consists in being reasonable and just... I am reasonable because I know the difference between understanding and not understanding and I am just because I have no opinion about things I don’t understand.
    • Manuscript (1903), published in Q.E.D. Book 1, from Q.E.D., and Other Early Writings (1971)
  • A beauty is not suddenly in a circle. It comes with rapture. A great deal of beauty is rapture. A circle is a necessity. Otherwise you would see no one. We each have our circle.
    • "A Circular Play," from Last Operas and Plays (1949) [written in 1920]
  • It is always a mistake to be plain-spoken.
    • "As Eighty," from Bee Time Vine (1953, Yale University Press); written in 1923
  • No sense in no sense innocence of what of not and what of delight. In no sense innocence in no sense and what in delight and not, in no sense innocence in no sense no sense what, in no sense and delight, and in no sense and delight and not in no sense and delight and not, no sense in no sense innocence and delight.
    • "Are There Arithmetics" (28 May 1927) [written in 1923]
  • One does not get better but different and older and that is always a pleasure.
  • Before the flowers of friendship faded friendship faded.
    • This phrase was used as the title of a work published in 1931, but was originally used in Ch. LXII of A Novel of Thank You, written in 1925-1926, but not published until 1958 by the Yale University Press
  • All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation... You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death.
  • When I sleep I sleep and do not dream because it is as well that I am what I seem when I am in my bed and dream.
    • Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded Friendship Faded (1931)
  • Grammar little by little is not a thing. Which may gain.
    There. Make twenty-five be a woman. The meaning of that does not interest me. It is a complexion that interests that makes ridiculous because that does not make it something else. But it does make them which is again me.
    Make twenty-five be a woman. I do not lose it. The color is there. Do you see. Dependent entirely upon how one word follows another. Who knows how Howard likes hearing. I can do it so easily it always makes grammar but is it grammar. Forget grammar and think about potatoes. Grammar after all has to do with why they were presented.
  • Let me listen to me and not to them
    May I be very well and happy
    May I be whichever they can thrive
    Or just may they not.
    They do not think not only only
    But always with prefer
    And therefore I like what is mine
    For which not only willing but willingly
    Because which it matters. They find it one in union.
    In union there is strength.
    • Stanzas in Meditation (1932) Stanza VII
  • It is awfully important to know what is and what is not your business.
    • "What Is English Literature?" (1935)
  • The deepest thing in any one is the conviction of the bad luck that follows boasting.
    • Mrs. Reynolds and Five Earlier Novelettes (1952) Pt. 1 (written 1940-1943)
  • All the world knows how to cry but not all the world knows how to sigh. Sighing is extra.
    • Mrs. Reynolds and Five Earlier Novelettes (1952) Pt. 1 (written 1940-1943)
  • I just tell you and though I dont sound like it I've got plenty of sense, there aint any answer, there aint going to be any answer, there never has been any answer, that’s the answer.
    • Brewsie and Willie (1946), Ch. 7
  • Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.
    • Reflections on the Atom Bomb (1946)
  • We are always the same age inside.
    • As quoted in The American Treasury, 1455-1955 (1955) edited by Clifton Fadiman, p. 946
  • Do you know because I tell you so, or do you know, do you know.
    • Libretto for the opera The Mother Of Us All by Virgil Thomson (1947), from Last Operas and Plays (1949)
  • Ladies there is no neutral position for us to assume.
    • Libretto for the opera The Mother Of Us All by Virgil Thomson (1947), from Last Operas and Plays (1949)
  • Communists are people who fancied that they had an unhappy childhood.
    • Quoted by Thornton Wilder, interview (December 14-15, 1956) with Richard Goldstone, The Paris Review: Writers at Work, First Series (1958)
  • "What is the answer?" [ I was silent ] "In that case, what is the question?"
    • Last words (27 July 1946) as told by Alice B. Toklas in What Is Remembered (1963)
  • It bothers a lot of people, but like you said, it's nobody's business, it came from the Judeo-Christian ethos, especially Saint Paul the bastard, but he was complaining about youngsters who were not really that way, they did it for money, everybody suspects us or knows but nobody says anything about it.
    • Stein's comment about homosexuality and homophobia, from a conversation with Samuel Steward recounted in Dear Sammy: Letters from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (1977)
  • A writer must always try to have a philosophy and he should also have a psychology and a philology and many other things. Without a philosophy and a psychology and all these various other things he is not really worthy of being called a writer. I agree with Kant and Schopenhauer and Plato and Spinoza and that is quite enough to be called a philosophy. But then of course a philosophy is not the same thing as a style.
  • Human nature, human nature acts as it acts when it is identified when there is an identity but it is not human nature that has anything to do with that it is that anybody is there where they are, it is that that has to do with identity, with government and propaganda with history with individualism and with communism but it has nothing nothing to do with the human mind … because the human mind writes what there is and what has identity go to do with that … nothing at all.
  • I've been rich and I've been poor. It's better to be rich.
    • As quoted in Red Rabbit : A novel (2002) by Tom Clancy, p. 153
  • When General Osborne came to see me just after the victory, he asked me what I thought should be done to educate the Germans. I said there is only one thing to be done and that is to teach them disobedience, as long as they are obedient so long sooner or later they will be ordered about by a bad man and there will be trouble. Teach them disobedience, I said, make every German child know that it is its duty at least once a day to do its good deed and not believe something its father or its teacher tells them, confuse their minds, get their minds confused and perhaps then they will be disobedient and the world will be at peace. The obedient peoples go to war, disobedient people like peace, that is the reason that Italy did not really become a good Axis, the people were not obedient enough, the Japs and the Germans are the only really obedient people on earth and see what happens, teach them disobedience, confuse their minds, teach them disobedience, and the world can be peaceful. General Osborne shook his head sadly, you'll never make the heads of an army understand that.
    • Off we all went to see Germany. In: LIFE Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 6, August 6, 1945, S.56, ISSN 0024-3019. google books

Geography and Plays (1922)

  • They were regular in being gay, they learned little things that are things in being gay, they learned many little things that are things in being gay, they were gay every day, they were regular, they were gay, they were gay the same length of time every day, they were gay, they were quite regularly gay.
    • "Miss Furr and Miss Skeene"
    • This story about two lesbians, written in 1911, and published in Vanity Fair magazine in July 1923, is considered to be the origin of the use of the term "gay" for "homosexual", though it was not used in this sense in the story.
  • Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
    • "Sacred Emily"
    • This statement, written in 1913 and first published in Geography and Plays, is thought to have originally been inspired by the work of the artist Sir Francis Rose; a painting of his was in her Paris drawing-room.
    • See also the Wikipedia article: Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose
    • Nigel Rees explains the phrase thus: "The poem 'Sacred Emily' by Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) is well-nigh impenetrable to the average reader but somehow it has managed to give a format phrase to the language. If something is incapable of explanation, one says, for example, 'a cloud is a cloud is a cloud.' What Stein wrote, however, is frequently misunderstood. She did not say 'A rose is a rose is a rose,' as she might well have done, but 'Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose' (i.e. no indefinite article at the start and three not two repetitions.) The Rose in question was not a flower but an allusion to the English painter, Sir Francis Rose, 'whom she and I regarded' wrote Constantine Fitzgibbon, 'as the peer of Matisse and Picasso, and whose paintings — or at least painting — hung in her Paris drawing-room while a Gauguin was relegated to the lavatory.'" - Sayings of the Century, page 91

The Making of Americans (1925)

Written 1903-1911
  • I am writing for myself and strangers. This is the only way that I can do it. Everybody is a real one to me, everybody is like some one else too to me. No one of them that I know can want to know it and so I write for myself and strangers.
  • There are many that I know and I know it. They are many that I know and they know it. They are all of them themselves and they repeat it and I hear it. Always I listen to it. Slowly I come to understand it. Many years I listened and did not know it. I heard it, I understood it some, I did not know I heard it. They repeat themselves now and I listen to it. Every way that they do it now I hear it. Now each time very slowly I come to understand it. Always it comes very slowly the completed understanding of it, the repeating each one does to tell it the whole history of the being in each one, always now I hear it. Always now slowly I understand it.
  • Disillusionment in living is finding that no one can really ever be agreeing with you completely in anything.
  • Repeating then is in every one, in every one their being and their feeling and their way of realizing everything and every one comes out of them in repeating. More and more then every one comes to be clear to some one.
  • It is hard living down the tempers we are born with. We all begin well, for in our youth there is nothing we are more intolerant of than our own sins writ large in others and we fight them fiercely in ourselves; but we grow old and we see that these our sins are of all sins the really harmless ones to own, nay that they give a charm to any character, and so our struggle with them dies away.

Composition as Explanation (1926)

  • The creator of the new composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic.
  • No one is ahead of his time, it is only that the particular variety of creating his time is the one that his contemporaries who are also creating their own time refuse to accept... For a very long time everybody refuses and then almost without a pause almost everybody accepts. In the history of the refused in the arts and literature the rapidity of the change is always startling.

Useful Knowledge (1928)

  • Romance is everything.
    • "Advertisement"
  • Suppose no one asked a question, what would be the answer.
    • "Near East or Chicago A Description"

Operas and Plays (1932)

  • To know to know to love her so.
    Four saints prepare for saints.
    • Four Saints in Three Acts (1927)
  • A saint is one to be for two when three and you make five and two and cover.
    A at most.
    Saint saint a saint.
    • Four Saints in Three Acts (1927)
  • Pigeons on the grass alas.
    Pigeons on the grass alas.
    Short longer grass short longer longer shorter yellow grass.
    Pigeons large pigeons on the shorter longer yellow grass alas pigeons on the grass.
    • Four Saints in Three Acts (1927)

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933)

  • Gertrude Stein, in her work, has always been possessed by the intellectual passion for exactitude in the description of the inner and outer reality. She has reproduced simplification by this concentration, and as a result the destruction of associational emotion in poetry and prose. She knows that beauty, music, decoration, the result of emotion should never be the cause, even events should never be the cause of emotion nor should they be the material of poetry or prose. Nor should emotion itself be the cause of poetry and prose. They should consist of an exact reproduction of either an outer or inner reality.
    • p. 259
  • I like a view but I like to sit with my back turned to it.

Four in America (1933)

written 1933, published 1947
  • A real failure does not need an excuse. It is an end in itself.
  • Clarity is of no importance because nobody listens and nobody knows what you mean no matter what you mean, nor how clearly you mean what you mean. But if you have vitality enough of knowing enough of what you mean, somebody and sometime and sometimes a great many will have to realize that you know what you mean and so they will agree that you mean what you know, what you know you mean, which is as near as anybody can come to understanding any one.

Lectures in America (1935)

  • Poetry is I say essentially a vocabulary just as prose is essentially not. And what is the vocabulary of which poetry absolutely is. It is a vocabulary based on the noun as prose is essentially and determinately and vigorously not based on the noun. Poetry is concerned with using with abusing, with losing with wanting with denying with avoiding with adoring with replacing the noun. It is doing that always doing that, doing that doing nothing but that. Poetry is doing nothing but using losing refusing and pleasing and betraying and caressing nouns. That is what poetry does, that is what poetry has to do no matter what kind of poetry it is. And there are a great many kinds of poetry. So that is poetry really loving the name of anything and that is not prose.
    • "Poetry and Grammar"
  • When I said. "A rose is a rose is a rose." And then later made that into a ring I made poetry and what did I do? I caressed completely caressed and addressed a noun.
    • "Poetry and Grammar"

What Are Masterpieces and Why Are There So Few of Them (1936)

Picasso once remarked I do not care who it is that has or does influence me as long as it is not myself.
  • A master-piece … may be unwelcome but it is never dull.
  • If you do not remember while you are writing, it may seem confused to others but actually it is clear and eventually that clarity will be clear, that is what a master-piece is, but if you remember while you are writing it will seem clear at the time to any one but the clarity will go out of it that is what a master-piece is not.
  • Nothing could bother me more than the way a thing goes dead once it has been said.
  • Picasso once remarked I do not care who it is that has or does influence me as long as it is not myself.
  • When you are writing before there is an audience anything written is as important as any other thing and you cherish anything and everything that you have written. After the audience begins, naturally they create something that is they create you, and so not everything is so important, something is more important than another thing.

Afterword of a later edition

As quoted by Robert Haas in a January 1946 interview:
  • The difference between a thinker and a newspaperman is that a thinker enters right into things, a newspaperman is superficial.
  • I like a thing simple but it must be simple through complication. Everything must come into your scheme, otherwise you cannot achieve real simplicity.
  • Human beings are interested in two things. They are interested in the reality and interested in telling about it.
  • A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears.
  • I have always noticed that in portraits of really great writers the mouth is always firmly closed.

The Geographical History of America (1936)

  • In the United States there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is. This is what makes America what it is.
  • Growing has no connection with audience.
    Audience has no connection with identity.
    Identity has no connection with a universe.
    A universe has no connection with human nature.

An American and France (1936)

  • It is not what France gave you but what it did not take from you that was important.
  • Adventure is making the distant approach nearer but romance is having what is where it is which is not where you are stay where it is.
  • America is my country and Paris is my home town and it is as it has come to be.
  • And so I am an American and I have lived half my life in Paris, not the half that made me but the half in which I made what I made.

Everybody’s Autobiography (1937)

  • Everybody knows if you are too careful you are so occupied in being careful that you are sure to stumble over something.
    • Ch.1
  • As there was never any question there was never any answer.
    • Ch.1
  • Before one is successful that is before any one is ready to pay money for anything you do then you are certain that every word you have written is an important word to have written and that any word you have written is as important as any other word and you keep everything you have written with great care.
    • Ch. 2
  • If anything is a surprise then there is not much difference between older and younger because the only thing that does make anybody older is that they cannot be surprised.
    • Ch. 2
  • Suddenly it was all different, what I did had a value that made people ready to pay, up to that time everything I did had a value because nobody was ready to pay. It is funny about money. And it is funny about identity. You are you because your little dog knows you, but when your public knows you and does not want to pay for you and when your public knows you and does want to pay for you, you are not the same you.
    • Ch. 2
  • It always did bother me that the American public were more interested in me than in my work. And after all there is no sense in it because if it were not for my work they would not be interested in me so why should they not be more interested in my work than in me. That is one of the things one has to worry about in America.
    • Ch. 2
  • Anything scares me, anything scares anyone but really after all considering how dangerous everything is nothing is really very frightening.
    • Ch. 2
  • The earth is the earth as a peasant sees it, the world is the world as a duchess sees it, and anyway a duchess would be nothing if the earth was not there as the peasant tills it.
    • Ch.2
  • The two things most men are proudest of is the thing that any man can do and doing does in the same way, that is being drunk and being the father of their son.
    • Ch. 2
  • And identity is funny being yourself is funny as you are never yourself to yourself except as you remember yourself and then of course you do not believe yourself.
    • Ch. 2
  • It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.
    • Ch. 2
  • Would I if I could by pushing a button would I kill five thousand Chinamen if I could save my brother from anything. Well I was very fond of my brother and I could completely imagine his suffering and I replied that five thousand Chinamen were something I could not imagine and so it was not interesting.
    One has to remember that about imagination, that is when the world gets dull when everybody does not know what they can or what they cannot really imagine.
    • Ch. 3
  • The minute you or anybody else knows what you are you are not it, you are what you or anybody else knows you are and as everything in living is made up of finding out what you are it is extraordinarily difficult really not to know what you are and yet to be that thing.
    • Ch. 3
  • Everybody thinks that this civilization has lasted a very long time but it really does take very few grandfathers’ granddaughters to take us back to the dark ages.
    • Ch. 3
  • I rarely believe anything, because at the time of believing I am not really there to believe.
    • Ch. 3
  • A saint a real saint never does anything, a martyr does something but a really good saint does nothing, and so I wanted to have Four Saints who did nothing and I wrote the Four Saints In Three Acts and they did nothing and that was everything.
    Generally speaking anybody is more interesting doing nothing than doing something.
    • Ch.3
  • If the stars are suns and the earth is the earth and there are men only upon this earth and anything can put an end to anything and any dog does anything like anybody does it what is the difference between eternity and anything.
    • Ch. 3
  • I was talking like this to the Princeton professor and he said well if these are the facts there is no hope and I said well what is hope hope is just contact with the facts.
    • Ch. 3
  • Counting is the religion of this generation it is its hope and its salvation.
    • Ch. 3
  • I do want to get rich but I never want to do what there is to do to get rich.
    • Ch. 3
  • It is a difficult thing to like anybody else's ideas of being funny.
    • Ch. 3
  • Explanations are clear but since no one to whom a thing is explained can connect the explanations with what is really clear, therefore clear explanations are not clear. Now this is a simple thing that anybody who has ever argued or quarreled knows perfectly well is a simple thing, only when they read it they do not understand it because they do not see that understanding and believing are not the same thing.
    • Ch. 4
  • I dislike it when instead of saying Jew they say Hebrew or Israelite, or Semite, I do not like it and why should a Negro want to be called colored. Why should we want to lose being a Negro... I have stated that a noun to me is a stupid thing, if you know a thing and its name why bother about it but you have to know its name to talk about it. Well its name is Negro if it is a Negro and Jew if it is a Jew and both of them are nice strong names and so let us keep them.
    • Ch. 4
  • Since it could be done what was the use of doing it, and anyway you always have to stop doing something sometime.
    • Ch. 4
  • Alice Toklas' father had almost once had an oil well they dug and dug but naturally the oil did not gush, naturally not these things never do happen to any one one knows, if it could happen to them you would not be very likely to know them most naturally not.
    • Ch. 4
  • After all human beings have to live dogs too so as not to know that time is passing, that is the whole business of living to go on so they will not know that time is passing, that is why they get drunk that is why they like to go to war, during a war there is the most complete absence of the sense that time is passing a year of war lasts so much longer than any other year. After all that is what life is and that is the reason there is no Utopia, little or big young or old dog or man everybody wants every minute so filled that they are not conscious of that minute passing. It's just as well they do not think about it you have to be a genius to live in it and know it to exist in it and express it to accept it and deny it by creating it.
    • Ch. 4
  • They wanted to know how I succeeded in getting so much publicity, I said by having a small audience, I said if you have a big audience you have no publicity, this did seem to worry them and naturally it would worry them they wanted the publicity and the big audience, and really to have the biggest publicity you have to have a small one, yes all right the biggest publicity comes from the realest poetry and the realest poetry has a small audience not a big one, but it is really exciting and therefore it has the biggest publicity, all right that is it.
    • Ch. 4
  • She took us to see her granddaughter who was teaching in the Dominican convent in San Raphael, we went across the bay on a ferry, that had not changed but Goat Island might just as well not have been there, anyway what was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there.
    • Ch. 4, p. 289
  • I was clear, Alice Toklas says and very often mistaken but anyway I am clear I am a good American, I am slow-minded and quickly clear in expression, I am certain that I see everything that is seen and in between I stand around but I do not wait, no American can wait he can stand around and do nothing but he cannot wait, that is why he is not like Milton who served by standing and waiting, Americans can neither serve nor wait, they can stand and sit down and get up and walk around but they can neither serve nor wait.
    • Ch. 5
  • The head-lines which do not head anything they simply replace something but they do not make anything.
    • Ch. 5
  • Perhaps I am not I even if my little dog knows me but anyway I like what I have and now it is today.
    • Ch. 5

Picasso (1938)

  • A creator is not in advance of his generation but he is the first of his contemporaries to be conscious of what is happening to his generation.
    A creator who creates, who is not an academician, who is not someone who studies in a school where the rules are already known, and of course being known they no longer exist, a creator then who creates is necessarily of his generation. His generation lives in its contemporary way but they only live in it. In art, in literature, in the theatre, in short in everything that does not contribute to their immediate comfort they live in the preceding generation.
  • The surrealists still see things as everyone sees them, they complicate them in a different way but the vision is that of everyone else, in short the complication is the complication of the twentieth century but the vision is that of the nineteenth century. Picasso only sees something else, another reality. Complications are always easy but another vision than that of all the world is very rare.

Paris France (1940)

Page numbers are from Liveright edition (1970)
  • After all, everybody, that is, everybody who writes is interested in living inside themselves in order to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really. The second one is romantic, it is separate from themselves, it is not real but it is really there.
    • p. 2
  • The reason why all of us naturally began to live in France is because France has scientific methods, machines and electricity, but does not really believe that these things have anything to do with the real business of living.
    • p. 8
  • There is no pulse so sure of the state of a nation as its characteristic art product which has nothing to do with its material life.
    • p. 12
  • But now well democracy has shown us that what is evil are the grosses têtes, the big heads, all big heads are greedy for money and power, they are ambitious that is the reason they are big heads and so they are at the head of the government and the result is misery for the people. They talk about cutting off the heads of the grosses têtes but now we know that there will be other grosses têtes and the will be all the same.
    • p. 28
  • Propaganda is not French, it is not civilized to want other people to believe what you believe because the essence of being civilised is to possess yourself as you are, and if you possess yourself as you are you of course cannot possess any one else, it is not your business.
    • p. 56
  • But as they all say if we sell our home what will we have for it, money, and what is the use of that money, money goes and after it is gone then where are we, beside we have all we want, what can we do with money except lose it, money to spend is not very welcome, if you have it and you try to spend it, well spending money is an anxiety, saving money is a comfort and a pleasure, economy is not a duty it is a comfort, avarice is an excitement, but spending money is nothing, money spent is money non-existent, money saved is money realised...
    • p. 103
  • The family is always the family but during vacations it is an extended family and that is exhausting
    • p. 107
  • After all, human beings are like that. When they are alone they want to be with others, and when they are with others they want to be alone.
  • One of the pleasant things those of us who write or paint do is to have the daily miracle. It does come.
  • Politeness does not interfere with facts, politeness is just another fact.

Wars I Have Seen (1945)

Written in 1943 and 1944
  • It often makes me know that as a cousin of mine once said about money, money is always there but the pockets change; it is not in the same pockets after a change, and that is all there is to say about money.
    • p. 27
  • A nice war is a war where everybody who is heroic is a hero, and everybody more or less is a hero in a nice war. Now this war is not at all a nice war.
    • Statement about World War II (written in 1943), p. 77
  • Is it worse to be scared than to be bored, that is the question.
  • It is the soothing thing about history that it does repeat itself.
  • War is never fatal but always lost. Always lost.
  • Even the propagandists on the radio find it very difficult to really say let alone believe that the world will be a happy place, of love and peace and plenty, and that the lion will lie down with the lamb and everybody will believe anybody.
  • The idea of enemies is awful it makes one stop remembering eternity and the fear of death. That is what enemies are. Possessions are the same as enemies only less so, they too make one forget eternity and the fear of death.
  • It is funny that men who are supposed to be scientific cannot get themselves to realize the basic principle of physics, that action and reaction are equal and opposite, that when you persecute people you always rouse them to be strong and stronger.
  • The nineteenth century believed in science but the twentieth century does not.
  • The thing that is most interesting about government servants is that they believe what they are supposed to believe, they really do believe what they are supposed to believe.
  • Now they can do the radio in so many languages that nobody any longer dreams of a single language, and there should not any longer be dreams of conquest because the globe is all one, anybody can hear everything and everybody can hear the same thing, so what is the use of conquering.
  • One of the things that is most striking about the young generation is that they never talk about their own futures, there are no futures for this generation, not any of them and so naturally they never think of them. It is very striking, they do not live in the present they just live, as well as they can, and they do not plan. It is extraordinary that whole populations have no projects for a future, none at all. It certainly is extraordinary, but it is certainly true.
  • A vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables.

How Writing Is Written: Previously Uncollected Writings, vol.II (1974)

  • I don’t envisage collectivism. There is no such animal, it is always individualism, sometimes the rest vote and sometimes they do not, and if they do they do and if they do not they do not.
  • A novel is what you dream in your night sleep. A novel is not waking thoughts although it is written and thought with waking thoughts. But really a novel goes as dreams go in sleeping at night and some dreams are like anything and some dreams are like something and some dreams change and some dreams are quiet and some dreams are not. And some dreams are just what any one would do only a little different always just a little different and that is what a novel is.
    • "The Superstitions of Fred Anneday, Annday, Anday; a Novel of Real Life" (1935)
  • The contemporary thing in art and literature is the thing which doesn't make enough difference to the people of that generation so that they can accept it or reject it.
    • "How Writing is Written," Choate Literary Magazine (February 1935)
  • Americans are very friendly and very suspicious, that is what Americans are and that is what always upsets the foreigner, who deals with them, they are so friendly how can they be so suspicious and they are so suspicious how can they be so friendly but they just are.
    • "The Capital and Capitals of the United States of America," New York Herald Tribune (9 March 1935)
  • Writers only think they are interested in politics, they are not really, it gives them a chance to talk and writers like to talk but really no real writer is really interested in politics.
    • "The Situation in American Writing," Partisan Review (Summer 1939)

Quotes about Stein

It will take her years to understand the things she's said tonight. ~ Alice B. Toklas
  • I fell in love with Gertrude Stein when I was in high school-ninth or tenth grade. My mother bought me everything she could find, everything that was available, and I read Stein and tried to copy her, tried to write like her. Then I gave up for a while. But the earliest work I ever wrote, which no one will ever see because I lost it, is noticeably Stein.
  • I'll always be Alice Toklas if you'll be Gertrude Stein.
    • Sung by Vera Charles, played by Beatrice Arthur in the musical number "Bosom Buddies" from Mame (1974)
  • Gertrude Stein, all courage and will, is a soldier of minimalism. Her work, unlike the resonating silences in the art of Samuel Beckett, embodies in its loquacity and verbosity the curious paradox of the minimalist form. This art of the nuance in repetition and placement she shares with the orchestral compositions of Philip Glass.
  • A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose said my old friend Gertrude Stein.
    • Poe, "A Rose is a Rose"
  • I use the title, "The Making of More Americans," from Gertrude Stein, because when I read The Making of Americans, I thought, "Yes, she is creating a language that is the American language; and she is doing it sentence by sentence. I am trying to write an American language that has Chinese accents; I will write the American language as I speak it." So, in a way, I was creating something new, but at the same time, it's still the American language, pushed further.
  • It will take her years to understand the things she's said tonight.
  • Unsurprisingly, Gertrude Stein was not a fan of the question mark. Are you beginning to suspect—as I am—that there was something wrong at home?
  • There's a wonderful family called Stein,
    There's Gert and there's Epp and there's Ein;
    Gert's poems are bunk,
    Epp's statues are junk,
    And no-one can understand Ein.
    • Anonymous
    • Quoted in Frank Muir, "The Frank Muir Book; An irreverent companion to social history" (1976)
  • I was interested in Gertrude Stein. I loved the stories. They had drama in them.
    • 1981 interview in Conversations with Grace Paley edited by Gerhard Bach and Blaine Hall (1997)
  • I loved Three Lives. Those three things had a very strong sound for my ear.
    • 1980 interview in Conversations with Grace Paley edited by Gerhard Bach and Blaine Hall (1997)
  • This book is in every way except actual authorship Alice Toklas's book; it reflects her mind, her language, her private view of Gertrude, also her unique narrative powers. Every story in it is told as Alice herself had always told it. … Every story that ever came into the house eventually got told in Alice's way, and this was its definitive version.
    • Virgil Thomson, comments on The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in "A Portrait of Gertrude Stein", from An Autobiography of Virgil Thomson, p. 176-177
  • American self-confidence, Emerson argued, should be grounded not in a narrow chauvinistic claim about the superiority of the American way but rather in a mature affirmation of America's gifts to the world as well as candid acknowledgment of the "most un-handsome part of our condition." Cheap American patriotism not only reflects an immaturity and insecurity, he warned, but also is an adolescent defense mechanism that reveals a fear to engage the world and learn from others. Narrow nationalism is a handmaiden of imperial rule, he argues-it keeps the populace deferential and complacent. Hence it abhors critics and dissenters like Emerson who unsettle and awaken the people. His shining example of democratic intellectual work is a challenge to us today. This challenge has been taken up through the years by a stream of Emersonian voices-from Walt Whitman to William James, Gertrude Stein. W. E. B. Du Bois, and Muriel Rukeyser...Gertrude Stein democratized her sentences in her conversational novels (like Tender Buttons) by putting a premium on verbs that dethrone the hierarchy of the conventional grammar and creating an interior monologue for her characters that got beneath superficial banter.
    • Cornel West, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism (2004)
  • Most of us balk at her soporific rigmaroles, her echolaliac incantations, her half-witted-sounding catalogues on numbers; most of us read her less and less. Yet, remembering especially her early work, we are still always aware of her presence in the background of contemporary literature— and we picture her as the great pyramidal Buddha of Jo Davidson's statue of her, eternally and placidly ruminating the gradual developments of the process of being, registering the vibrations of a psychological country like some august human seismograph whose charts we haven't the training to read.
  • Then soon after my delight with Stein was jolted; a political critic of the reddest persuasion condemned Stein in a newspaper article, calling her decadent, implying that she reclined upon a silken couch in Paris smoking hashish day and night and was a hopeless prey to hallucinations. I asked myself if I were wrong or crazy or decadent. Being simple minded, I decided upon a very practical way of determining the worth of the prose of Stein, a prose I had accepted without qualms or distress. I gathered a group of semi-illiterate Negro workers into a Chicago basement and read them Melanctha aloud. They were enthralled, interrupting me constantly to tell where and when they had met such a strange and melancholy gal. I was convinced and Miss Stein's book never bothered or frightened me after that. If Negro stockyard workers could understand the stuff when it was read aloud to them, then surely anybody else could if they wanted to read with their ears as well as their eyes. For the prose of Stein is but the repetitive contemporaneousness of our living speech woven into a grammarless form of narrative...
    • Richard Wright, "Gertrude Stein's Story is Drenched in Hitler's Horrors," rough draft of a review of Wars I Have Seen (1946), Beinecke Library, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
  • As I read it, my ears opened up for the first time in my life and I began to hear Negroes... Above all, I began to hear for the first time the pure, deep dialect of my grandmother. And from that moment on, in all my attempts at writing I was able to tap that vast reservoir of living speech that went on about me.


  • When this you see remember me.
    • Though Stein famously used these words among some of her poems and writings, including Four Saints in Three Acts (1927) where they are lyrics to a hymn of communion, the phrase itself is far older and was published among anonymous "Love Posies" in 1596. It was a phrase often used in short letters, and also seems to have become incorporated into common epitaphs, one for Sarah Bryan in 1803 including it:
When I am dead and in my grave
And all my bones are rotten,
When this you see, remember me,
Let me not be forgotten.
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