Recommend to your Librarian

Gertrude Stein, Modernism, and the Problem of 'Genius'

Barbara Will

Hardback (Printed to Order)

Gertrude Stein frequently called herself a genius, but what did this term really mean for her? Stein's claims to genius are legendary, appearing frequently throughout her texts and public lectures. Were they the signs of excessive egotism, of desperate self-advertisement, or of something else entirely? This book examines the centrality and the specificity of the idea of 'genius' to Stein's work and to the aesthetic ideals and contradictory intellectual affiliations of high modernism in general. Through a chronological reading, it maps Stein's move from an early investment in an essential and essentializing notion of 'genius' to her later use of the term to describe an anti-essentialist, democratic textual process. It considers how this revisionary idea of 'genius' came to correspond with Stein's identification of herself as Jewish, queer and American. And it ends with Stein's seemingly paradoxical decision to call a text about being a genius in America, Everybody's Autobiography. Drawing upon a wide range of literary theory, cultural criticism and historical evidence, and offering new readings of previously unexamined texts by Stein, Barbara Will challenges received understandings of Stein's claims to 'genius' and of modernist literary hermeticism by reconceptualising the textual practice of this exemplary modernist writer.

Key Features

  • A scholarly study of a writer who is receiving ever-increasing critical attention
  • The first major scholarly study to deal with Gertrude Stein's central claim to being a genius
  • Offers new insight into debates over modernism, mass culture, and postmodernism
  • Combines a historical approach with a theoretical reading inflected by postmodern thinking
  • Original, theoretically informed and consistently well-written.

Gertrude Stein, Modernism, and the Problem of 'Genius' was winner of the Choice Outstanding Academic Title award in 2001.


Will's superb book argues for the centrality of a complex and shifting notion of 'genius' in Stein's work. Will reads Stein chronologically, providing a rich historical context for understanding Stein's various assertions on genius in herself and others...Extending understanding of Stein's postmodern aesthetic, this book's intellectual engagement and well-sustained analysis place Will among Stein's best critics...An important work of literary criticism and intellectual history.
- Choice
Excellent ... the most observant account of Steinian difficulty I have seen in a long time.