Online reading group: Ada by Gertrude Stein

As part of my residency, I’ll be sharing one text by a modernist woman every fortnight for us to read, share and discuss.

Why? Because the novel I’m working on throughout the residency is set in 1920s Paris, where women writers, artists and creators gathered together to live independent lives – professionally, creatively and sexually. These extraordinary women were pushing literary boundaries as well as personal ones. Their modernist work was just as exciting and innovative as anything being made by the Big Men of Modernism. And yet, all too often, their work is sidelined or ignored or marginalised. My novel aims to reinvigorate an interest in these women. And through this reading group, I can share with you why I love them and what makes their work so fascinating and experimental.

We’re going to get started with Gertrude Stein who was perhaps the most influential woman working in Paris at the time – if not the most influential writer.

Ada is Gertrude Stein’s word-portrait of her ‘wife’ Alice B Toklas. It is absolutely one of my favourite things. It’s a story of love and finding love – of escaping into the life you want to live. It uses all of Stein’s trademark repetition and is just marvellous.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a way of sharing the text with you on the internet! But have found a reading on YouTube.

Here’s an extract, published in this great article on Brainpickings 

She came to be happier than anybody else who was living then. It is easy to believe this thing. She was telling some one, who was loving every story that was charming. Some one who was living was almost always listening. Some one who was loving was almost always listening. That one who was loving was almost always listening. That one who was loving was telling about being one then listening. That one being loving was then telling stories having a beginning and a middle and an ending. That one was then one always completely listening. Ada was then one and all her living then one completely telling stories that were charming, completely listening to stories having a beginning and a middle and an ending. Trembling was all living, living was all loving, some one was then the other one. Certainly this one was loving this Ada then. And certainly Ada all her living then was happier in living than any one else who ever could, who was, who is, who ever will be living.

Enjoy reading Ada and do share your thoughts in the comments section.

Questions to think about are:

  • Why does Stein call this a word-portrait?
  • What is the significance of the repetition?
  • How does Stein express love (and sexuality) in the piece?

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