Three Lives consists of three stories set in the fictional town of Bridgepoint: The Good Anna, Melanctha, and The Gentle Lena—straightforward portraits of women living in the early twentieth century.
The Good Anna describes a demanding German house servant.
Melanctha explores the love affair of an African-American woman.
The Gentle Lena narrates the fate of a serene German maid.
Since its initial publication, Three Lives, has caused much controversy, due to the unabashedly racist remarks and stereotypical representations of African Americans in her story, Melanctha.
Yet these are daring and remarkable prose experiments—that reflect Gertrude Stein’s revolt against the standard narrative style of realism.
As she composed these works, Stein sought to emulate the aesthetic of such innovative painters as Cezanne, Picasso, and Matisse.
She was rejecting the more traditionally literary emphasis on social order and plot, replacing them with a focus on language, tone, and description.
Despite its racist depiction of African Americans, Three Lives is a simple yet stunning view of the lives of three distinct women that catapulted Stein to the forefront of the influential American Modernist movement, which inspired such later novelists as Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac.
GERTRUDE STEIN (1874-1946) was one of the most important and innovative American writers of literary modernism, as well as one of the great art collectors and salon hosts of the period. A pioneering lesbian writer, Stein lived most of her life in Paris and became famous in the U.S. with the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). Many poets and novelists, including William Gass, Sherwood Anderson, E. E. Cummings, and Ernest Hemingway, cited her as an influence.