A Moveable Feast

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Gertude Stein Character Analysis

Gertrude Stein is an American writer who lives in Paris with her partner, Alice B. Toklas. Their home, 27 rue de Fleurus, is a hub of creative and intellectual activity, and Stein exerts a strong influence on the artistic and literary expatriate community. Stein serves as a mentor to Hemingway and she coins the phrase “lost generation” to describe men of Hemingway’s age who served in the First World War.

Gertude Stein Quotes in A Moveable Feast

The A Moveable Feast quotes below are all either spoken by Gertude Stein or refer to Gertude Stein. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Creation vs. Critique Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Scribner edition of A Moveable Feast published in 2010.
Chapter 2 Quotes

The wives, my wife and I felt, were tolerated. But we liked Miss Stein and her friend, although the friend was frightening, and the paintings and the cakes and the eau-de-vie were truly wonderful. They seemed to like us too and treated us as though we were very good, well-mannered and promising children and I felt that they forgave us for being in love and being married––time would fix that––and when my wife invited them to tea, they accepted.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Hadley Hemingway, Gertude Stein, Alice B. Toklas
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has introduced the characters of Gertrude Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, although he never mentions Toklas’ name, instead referring to her only as Stein’s “friend.” He has noted that when Stein and Toklas entertain at their house the guests are separated into the men (who are usually famous artists and writers) and their wives. While Stein speaks to the men, Toklas attends to the wives. In this passage, Hemingway writes that, although there are distinct differences between himself and Hadley and Toklas and Stein, they still get along well and enjoy spending time together.

One of these differences is the strict gender division, and Hemingway implies that he and Hadley dislike the fact that the wives are merely “tolerated.” However, there is arguably something a little disingenuous about this claim, considering that Hemingway has very few female friends himself and is often thought of as being rather misogynistic. In addition, while Hemingway suggests that he and Hadley are more progressive when it comes to the equality of husbands and wives, it is clear that he also differs with Stein regarding homosexuality. Hemingway does not acknowledge that Stein and Toklas are a couple, instead referring to Toklas as Stein’s “friend.” While this was a rather common practice at the time, Hemingway’s refusal to give Toklas’ name suggests that his attitude toward wives is perhaps far less egalitarian than he indicates at the beginning of the passage.

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Chapter 7 Quotes

She did not like to hear really bad nor tragic things, but no one does, and having seen them I did not care to talk about them unless she wanted to know how the world was going. She wanted to know the gay part of how the world was going; never the real, never the bad.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Gertude Stein
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway gets into the habit of visiting Gertrude Stein at 27 rue de Fleurus. Stein is always happy to see Hemingway, and she offers him delicious things to eat and drink. Hemingway notes that “she loved to talk about people and places and things and food,” but in this passage he clarifies that Stein only likes hearing about happy things, not “the real” or “the bad.” This characterization of Stein is intriguing; only wanting to hear about happy and funny things suggests that Stein is frivolous and even ignorant. Although Stein’s sense of humor and playfulness is well-known, elsewhere in the book Hemingway represents her as someone who took herself, her work, and the work of others very seriously.

It is clear from this passage that Hemingway equates “the real” with the sad and tragic side of life. This is significant, as Hemingway emphasizes that representing the truth is the most important goal in writing. Hemingway’s belief that the truth of the world is “bad” and even tragic arguably emerges from his experiences of the war, therefore fulfilling Stein’s assertion that he is part of a “lost generation” who have a nihilistic view of life.

In the three or four years that we were good friends I can not remember Gertrude Stein ever speaking well of any writer who had not written favorably about her work or done something to advance her career except for Ronald Firbank and, later, Scott Fitzgerald. When I first met her she did not speak of Sherwood Anderson as a writer but spoke glowingly of him as a man and of his great, beautiful, warm Italian eyes and of his kindness and his charm. I did not care about his great beautiful warm Italian eyes but I liked some of his short stories very much.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Gertude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has already described being annoyed by Stein’s dismissals of authors he admires, but he has also noted that he enjoys her book recommendations tremendously. In this passage, he notes that Stein’s comments about writers they know tend to be dictated by whether or not they have advanced her own career. Generally, unless a writer has supported Stein’s career, she focuses on their personal qualities and avoids discussing their work. Like many of Hemingway’s descriptions of the characters in the book, this is a rather harsh assessment (even if it is also true).

Hemingway expresses a sense of disapproval of this habit of Stein’s, particularly when noting that he himself does not “care about [Anderson’s] great beautiful warm Italian eyes but I liked some of his short stories very much.” This statement echoes Hemingway’s earlier suggestion that Stein has frivolous tendencies. At the same time, throughout A Moveable Feast Hemingway himself gives detailed descriptions of people’s physical appearances, including his fixation with hair. One of the defining attributes of the book is Hemingway’s attention to the ordinary lives and physical presence of the famous artists and writers he lives among in Paris. Hemingway’s comments about Stein thus arguably reflect his own anxieties about the politics of navigating an enriching (yet occasionally competitive and shallow) artistic milieu.

She was angry at Ezra Pound because he had sat down too quickly on a small, fragile and, doubtless, uncomfortable chair, that it is quite possible he had been given on purpose, and had either cracked or broken it. That finished Ezra at 27 rue de Fleurus. That he was a great poet and a gentle and generous man and could have accommodated himself in a normal-size chair was not considered. The reasons for her dislike of Ezra, skillfully and maliciously put, were invented years later.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Gertude Stein, Ezra Pound
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has argued that Stein only praises the writing of people who advance her own career, and that she absolutely refuses to discuss James Joyce due to her intense feeling of competition with him. In this passage, Hemingway notes that Stein also developed a powerful grudge against Ezra Pound after he broke one of her chairs, even though it’s possible that she gave it to him in the hope that he would break it. Once again, Hemingway expresses disapproval of Stein’s seemingly arbitrary rejection of Pound, arguing that Stein “invented” reasons for disliking him years after deciding to do so.

Hemingway clearly thinks that Stein behaves in an unfair manner to Ezra, who Hemingway characterizes as being “gentle and generous,” not to mention a talented writer. It is also possible to detect a note of resentment in Hemingway over how much control Stein wields in the artistic and literary community in which they both operate. Because so much of the creative activity of Paris at the time orbits around her home at 27 rue de Fleurus, Stein is able to manipulate this community with greater control than perhaps any other individual. It only takes one fragile chair in order to excommunicate a person from this circle, which almost certainly made Hemingway feel that his own place in Stein’s good graces was precarious.

"All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation…”

"Really?" I said.
"You are," she insisted. “you have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death. . .”
"'Was the young mechanic drunk?” I asked.
"Of course not."
"Have you ever seen me drunk?”
"No. But your friends are drunk.”
"I've been drunk" I said. “But I don’t come here drunk.”

"Of course not. I didn't say that.”
"The boy's patron was probably drunk by eleven o’clock in the morning." I said. “That’s why he makes such lovely phrases. "
"Don't argue with me, Hemingway,” Miss Stein said. “It does no good at all. You're all a lost generation, exactly as the garage keeper said."

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Gertude Stein (speaker)
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Gertrude Stein’s car breaks down, and when she takes it to the garage she complains that the mechanic there has done a poor job. She tells Hemingway that the garage keeper mentioned that all men of the garage keeper’s (and Hemingway’s) age are members of a “lost generation,” a sentiment Stein agrees with. She tells Hemingway that men his age who served in the First World War have developed a nihilistic worldview and “drink yourselves to death.” Hemingway is evidently somewhat resentful of this assessment, and Stein’s refusal to let him argue with her is rather patronizing. After all, Stein herself did not serve in the war, yet she haughtily implies that she is better than the disrespectful, self-destructive, and nihilistic young men.

Despite this tension, however, the “lost generation” is one of the most well-known and influential ideas to emerge from the book. This term is now universally used, both in the sense that Stein uses it here—to describe men of Hemingway’s generation—and, perhaps more often, to describe the particular group of artists and writers Hemingway lived among in Paris at the time. Indeed, the characteristics that Stein attributes to the mechanic—including a lack of “respect” and tendency for destructive drinking—are also true of most of the artists and writers depicted in the book, including Hemingway himself.

When I got home and into the courtyard and upstairs and saw my wife and my son and his car, F. puss, all of them happy and a fire in the fireplace, I said to my wife, “You know, Gertrude is nice, anyway…”
"Of course, Tatie.”
"But she does talk a lot of rot sometimes.”
"I never hear her,” my wife said. “I’m a wife. It’s her friend that talks to me.”

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Hadley Hemingway (speaker), Jack “Bumby” Hemingway, Gertude Stein, Alice B. Toklas
Page Number: 62-3
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has spent the day with Gertrude Stein, during which time she made her comment about the “lost generation.” Hemingway feels irritated by her words, thinking: “who is calling who a lost generation?” However, when he gets home to his family he takes a gentler tone, reminding himself (and Hadley) that he does like Stein, even if she “talks a lot of rot.” Hadley’s response underlines the sharp gender divide that governs life at 27 rue de Fleurus.

Although Stein and Toklas are both women, Stein insistently elevates herself to the level of the male artists and writers by insisting that Hadley and the other “wives” socialize only with Stein’s own “wife,” Toklas. While this may seem unjust, it is also arguably itself the product of the homophobic and sexist culture that forced Stein to fight bitterly to put herself on an equal footing with the straight men.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Ezra Pound was always a good friend and he was always doing things for people. The studio where he lived with his wife Dorothy on the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs was as poor as Gertrude Stein's studio was rich. It had very good light and was heated by a stove and it had paintings by Japanese artists that Ezra knew. They were all noblemen where they came from and wore their hair cut long. Their hair glistened black and swung forward when they bowed and I was very impressed by them but I did not like their paintings. I did not understand them but they did not have any mystery, and when I understood them they meant nothing to me. I was sorry about this but there was nothing I could do about it.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Gertude Stein, Ezra Pound, Dorothy Pound
Related Symbols: Hair
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the opening of Chapter 11, entitled “Ezra Pound and the Measuring Worm.” Ezra Pound is one of the few characters whom Hemingway represents in an almost entirely sympathetic, admiring way, and it is clear that Hemingway aspires to be as good a friend as Ezra (even as he acknowledges that he is not quite as generous and open-hearted). This passage is also a key example of Hemingway’s fixation with hair. The hair of the Japanese painters is alluring insofar as it is outside of the customs that Hemingway is used to, and is thus akin to a new and avant-garde form of art.

Hemingway’s resistance to the Japanese painters’ work, though, suggests that he is not as open-minded as Ezra. He claims that there is “nothing I could do about it,” but is this really true? Such a statement appears suspect, particularly in the environment in which Hemingway is living, in which artistic, social, political, and moral conventions were constantly being questioned and people were adamant about experimenting with new ways of being. Hemingway’s words indicate that, even though he is open to embracing unfamiliarity in certain contexts, he is still somewhat restricted and traditional in his worldview.

Chapter 12 Quotes

The way it ended with Gertrude Stein was strange enough. We had become very good friends and I had done a number of practical things for her such as getting her long book started as a serial with Ford and helping type the manuscript and reading her proof and we were getting to be better friends than I could ever wish to be. There is not much future in men being friends with great women although it can be pleasant enough before it gets better or worse, and there is usually even less future with truly ambitious women writers.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Gertude Stein, Ford Madox Ford
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the opening of Chapter 12, entitled “A Strange Enough Ending.” On one level the end of Stein and Hemingway’s friendship is surprising: up until this point in the book they have appeared to be very close, even if there are occasionally tensions between them (such as those arising from Stein’s comment about the “lost generation”). However, in this passage Hemingway presents the end of his and Stein’s relationship in a rather casual way and even implies that it was inevitable. Hemingway emphasizes that he does favors for Stein, not mentioning how or if she does the same for him. This creates an image of their friendship as rather one-sided, which contradicts the historical fact that Stein was a generous and supportive mentor to Hemingway.

Furthermore, Hemingway’s comment that his friendship with Stein was doomed from the beginning due to gender confirms his misogynist tendencies. While elsewhere in the book he criticizes Stein for separating the men and their wives at 27 rue de Fleurus, in this passage it is clear that Hemingway does the same in his personal life, albeit perhaps in a less formal way. Not only does Hemingway believe that friendships between men and women can’t last, he is also specifically suspicious of Stein for being a “truly ambitious woman writer.”

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Gertude Stein Character Timeline in A Moveable Feast

The timeline below shows where the character Gertude Stein appears in A Moveable Feast. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Miss Stein Instructs
Creation vs. Critique Theme Icon
Hunger vs. Consumption Theme Icon
Success, Gossip, and Fame Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
...enough” to put this lesson into words. After the museum, Hemingway goes to see Gertrude Stein at 27 rue de Fleurus. Stein and the “friend” she lives with (Alice B. Toklas)... (full context)
Creation vs. Critique Theme Icon
Success, Gossip, and Fame Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Hemingway notes that Stein looks like an Italian peasant woman and that she has “lovely, thick, alive immigrant hair.”... (full context)
Creation vs. Critique Theme Icon
Success, Gossip, and Fame Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Happiness and Sadness Theme Icon
Stein also teaches the Hemingways about buying art. She advises them to avoid spending money on... (full context)
Creation vs. Critique Theme Icon
Success, Gossip, and Fame Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
When Hemingway first meets Stein, she had published only “three stories that were intelligible to anyone.” However, she has won... (full context)
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Happiness and Sadness Theme Icon
Stein then moves on to teaching Hemingway about sex. Hemingway admits Stein thinks he is “a... (full context)
Chapter 7: “Une Génération Perdue”
Creation vs. Critique Theme Icon
Hunger vs. Consumption Theme Icon
Success, Gossip, and Fame Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Happiness and Sadness Theme Icon
Hemingway makes a habit out of going to Gertrude Stein’s house in the afternoons. Stein is “always friendly” and she enjoys discussing “people and places... (full context)
Creation vs. Critique Theme Icon
Success, Gossip, and Fame Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Stein goes on to denounce D.H. Lawrence as “impossible… pathetic and preposterous.” She advises Hemingway to... (full context)
Creation vs. Critique Theme Icon
Hunger vs. Consumption Theme Icon
Success, Gossip, and Fame Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Happiness and Sadness Theme Icon
On one occasion, the ignition of Stein’s Model T Ford is not working, and the mechanic who attempts to fix it does... (full context)
Chapter 8: Hunger Was Good Discipline
Creation vs. Critique Theme Icon
Hunger vs. Consumption Theme Icon
Success, Gossip, and Fame Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Happiness and Sadness Theme Icon
...to spell Hemingway’s name wrong. He thinks about another story, “Up in Michigan,” which Gertrude Stein called “inaccrochable.” It is now lying in a drawer. (full context)
Chapter 11: Ezra Pound and the Measuring Worm
Creation vs. Critique Theme Icon
Hunger vs. Consumption Theme Icon
Success, Gossip, and Fame Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
...today,” but Hadley doesn’t want to hear about it just before dinner. A week later, Stein tells Hemingway that she calls Lewis “the Measuring Worm,” because he measures good paintings and... (full context)
Chapter 12: A Strange Enough Ending
Hunger vs. Consumption Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Happiness and Sadness Theme Icon
Hemingway and Stein develop a close friendship, but Hemingway feels that friendships between men and women are ultimately... (full context)
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Hemingway then hears Stein’s voice in the distance, repeating the following words: “Please don’t. Please don’t, pussy.” Hemingway immediately... (full context)