Gender and Genre in Gertrude Stein

Gender and Genre in Gertrude Stein

Gender and Genre in Gertrude Stein

Gender and Genre in Gertrude Stein


Gertrude Stein's works encompass a variety of genres. She explicitly called many of her works "plays," "operas," or "novels" intending her works to be read with certain generic expectations in mind, be it only to have them undermined. Although many writers depart from generic norms, Stein's generic transgressions are radical and are related to gender-specific traits of her writing. This work examines Stein's questions about gender hierarchies, classifications, and categories, and brings to light the direct relationship between gender and genre in her works. Gygax looks at a number of Stein's texts, including Ida A Novel, A Circular Play, Everybody's Autobiography, The Geographical History of America, and Blood on the Dining-Room Floor, which Stein called a "detective story."


As already illustrated, Gertrude Stein will often use a generic label only to produce a work that does not conform to the main characteristics one would expect of a particular genre. This incongruity can also be found in her autobiographies. Works with explicit titles such as The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas or Everybody's Autobiography cannot be taken as genuine autobiographies because their generic classification can be debated, and because there are other works by Stein that are also autobiographies. The definition of this genre with regard to Stein's texts is further complicated in that Stein's critics subsume different works under the autobiography genre.

Feminist genre theory has recently contributed a great deal to the revived discussion about the criteria of autobiography. One of the important issues in this discussion concerns the position of the female autobiographer and aspects of (her) subjectivity. Observations about the female subject and its representations have shown that there is a tendency in women's writing to blur genres or to use various discourses, among them, frequently, the autobiographical mode. As a consequence the so-called traditional criteria for one specific genre can no longer be applied; they have to be questioned and tested, especially with regard to gender. Moreover, as autobiography seems to be a genre often used by women writers, we have to explore the reasons for this preference.

Although deconstructionist theory has claimed that we must do away with notions of a centered self that is not shattered, split, or destabilized, we must seriously ask ourselves whether and in how far this can be applied to the female self, which has never been considered to be whole at all. How then can it become shattered? And we must pay heed to the warning given by Sidonie Smith:

Already elided, woman now confronts the impossibility of ever finding a space through which to insert/assert her own agency. Thus while we celebrate certain ramifications of . . .

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