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North Side: Gertrude Stein

Scanned_image_of_a_letter_from_Gertrude_Stein.


Gertrude Stein
BORN: 3 February 1874.(3)
DIED: 27 July 1946.(4)
BURIED: Pere Lachaise Cemetery, France.(5) 

  •                                         Bilignin
                                            Par Belley
                                            Ain
                                            France
                                            7th June 1935
    My dear Mr. Jansen,
    Miss Gertrude Stein has written the following para-
    graph in answer to your request of the twenty-fifth
    of May to contribute a word or two [sic] the symposium
    you are gathering for publication in a newspaper on
    "What the World Thins [sic] of Pittsburgh";
    
         I only saw it from the air so what can I
      say except that I was born in Alleghany [sic].
    
                        I am very sincerely yours,
                        Secty.
                        A. B. Toklas
    

  • "In the United States there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is.
    This is what makes America what it is." (6)

  • Gertrude Stein Forgotten or Unknown in North Side Area Where She Was Born.
    A dozen members of Pittsburgh's oldest aristocracy have cemented a lurking notion that Gertrude Stein, world's foremost female exponent of "What's It All About" literature, is the daughter Pittsburgh forgot.
    Maybe you, too, are unacquainted with the lyricist of the latest American opera, dubbed "Four Saints in Three Acts," which was a bust when the Friends and Enemies of Modern Music sponsored it at the Hartford Athenium, but which is now rolling 'em in the aisles at Broadway's "Empire" and threatens to come to Pittsburgh before long.
    She was born at 71 Beech Avenue, North Side, an even 60 years ago. Little was it suspected at that remote date, that Pittsburgh's own Gertrude would some day slay the world with sentences like "And after that what changes what changes after that, and after that what changes and what changes after that..."
    But She 'Slayed the World.'
    But slay the world she did, and rose to such fame that her Paris house has for years been the rendezvous of the art world's top-rung giants. An inmate of the same literary reformatory with James Joyce of "Ulysses" fame and T. S. Eliot, Miss Stein turned out reams of work before she finally came out, last year, with a book somebody could understand.
    It was "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas," in which Miss Stein stood in her secretary Alice's boots, so to speak, and wrote about herself. But all her work has been read around the world, and while some high critics have acclaimed it the acme of futuristic greatness, others have complained they didn't know what she was talking about and neither did Gertrude.
    The old house where she lived has since been torn down and the family who now inhabit the site, yesterday were unaware that the great Gertrude Stein had once lived there. In fact they didn't even know who the great Gertrude was.
    But Gertrude is very well known. In fact she and Edward Stein and Mr. Einstein were once linked together in the same poem, no small honor to each. Here it is:
    I don't like the family Stein,
    There is Gert, there is Ed, there is Ein:
    Gert's poems are bunk.
    Ed's statues are punk.
    And nobody understands Ein.
    Family Here 12 Years.
    Despite the fact that Gertrude's father Daniel and her Uncle Solomon lived 12 years in Pittsburgh, mostly in the "bon-ton" section around Western Avenue, the bluebloods consulted upon the matter mostly failed to remember them, and certainly didn't know that Gertrude, the famed writer had been born no farther from their back yards than you can throw an apple.
    Said Mrs. John Penney, whose family has lived in the old colonial house at 1116 Western Avenue, for an even century: "Gertrude Stein? Oh yes. I accidentally tuned in when they were broadcasting her opera. It was the most terrible drivel. No, I certainly didn't know she was born in this vicinity. I don't remember any such name."
    Mrs. Penney is not alone in her opinion of Miss Stein's work. William Lyon Phelps of Yale, is on the same side of the fence, and many others.
    Down through the list of the old aristocrats, the answer was always the same: "No, I didn't know anybody named Stein."
    Mrs. Enoch Rauh, Mrs. Minnie Affelder, Ella Wetheimer, all of whose families lived in the Steins' neighborhood when Western Avenue was the most high-hat street in town, said they knew nothing of the family Stein.
    Recalled by Mrs. Dupuy.
    One person only recalled them. That was Mrs. Herbert Dupuy of Morewood Avenue.
    "I remember the Steins," she said. "Two brothers. They built two houses on Western Avenue."
    The houses were at 181 and 183, by the old system of numbers. Mrs. Dupuy also remembered that the brothers, who together conducted a clothing business at Fourth Avenue and Wood Street, quarreled over some difference and went different ways. "There were two little Stein girls in the family," Mrs. Dupuy remembered further. "One of them might have been Gertrude."
    It is true that the Stein brothers split up, after being business partners and sharing the same houses for years, and left Pittsburgh in 1874, the same year Gertrude was born. Daniel took his family to Vienna, then Paris, and then back to Oakland, Cal. Gertrude was about six months old when she left Pittsburgh, and there is no evidence that she ever came back. She has been living at 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris, for many years.
    When little Gertrude and her family left Pittsburgh, they were, it appears, promptly forgotten. Gertrude remembers Pittsburgh, however, to the extent of mentioning it three or four times in "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas."
    Queer Climb to Fame.
    Miss Stein's climb to fame has been a queer one. Sticking through thick and thin to the text that conventions are hampering, she has risen to fame and fortune on the wings of such sentences as: "All who will live to peal nuts and even not mean to leave any one or rather in the autumn seeing nuts lie will stoop and get them or else not may be said to be resembling to George Washington in respect to their birthday being in the month of February."
    As Gertrude, herself, has coyly said: "My sentences do get under their skin."
    Her opera, "Four Saints in Three Acts," was done in collaboration with Virgil Thomson, who did the music.
    It is replete with such lissome verses as the following:
    "Pigeons on the grass, alas; pigeons on the grass, alas;
    "Short longer grass short longer short longer shorter yellow grass. Pigeons large pigeons on the shorter longer yellow grass alas pigeons on the grass. If they were not pigeons what were they?" The answer is not known. The opera has an all-Negro cast. Maybe she was thinking of the squawking birdies around the old North Side jailhouse. But then again no. (7)

  • Search for photographs of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in the Carl Van Vechten Photographs Collection at the Library of Congress.


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