Hemingway and Stein. Gertrude Stein's Influence on Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls

by Kirsten Nath (Author) Kathrin Matthes (Author)

Seminar Paper 2005 18 Pages

American Studies - Literature



1. Introduction

2. Hemingway’s First Encounter with Gertrude Stein

3. Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls

4. Gertrude Stein’s Influence on For Whom the Bell Tolls
4.1 Personal Influence
4.2 Stylistic Influence
4.3 Gertrude Stein’s Quote in For Whom the Bell Tolls

5. Conclusion

6. Works Cited

1. Introduction

“I wrote some pretty good poems lately in Rhyme. We love Gertrude Stein”, wrote Ernest Hemingway in a letter to Sherwood Anderson in 1922.[1] Hemingway had only recently met Stein in Paris following a letter of recommendation Stein had received from Anderson. Gertrude Stein was an American expatriate who had been living in Paris for eighteen years. She was well-known among contemporary artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne, Henry James, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her salon in 27, Rue de Fleurus was a private gallery of modern art and, consequently, a well-liked meeting-point for discussions on modernism. Stein herself had decided to experiment with the English language instead of writing common fiction. She practiced a kind of ‘cubist writing’ which was based on rhythm, rhyme and repetition rather than on a sense-making plot.[2] Nevertheless, she gave helpful advice to other writers when needed and was mentor for some of them. Hemingway, being one of those who often frequented her salon, began to admire Stein and her work; he soon realized that he could learn much from her. He was impressed by her “continuous present tense and her steady repetition of key phrases that created meanings larger than the words themselves” and considered it useful to acquire those techniques.[3] Hemingway asked for and gladly accepted Stein’s advice for a few years but their relationship slowly crumbled because both of them felt insulted by the other.[4] In the later years, Hemingway began to even deny the influence Stein had on him.

This paper will deal with Gertrude Stein’s influence on Hemingway, focusing on his style and the Spanish woman Pilar in For Whom the Bell Tolls (FWBT), published in 1940. While Stein’s general influence on Hemingway has been discussed and proven many times and her specific influence on this novel has only been seen in the figure of Pilar or in parts of Hemingway’s style[5], Stein’s overall influence on FWBT has not yet been primary subject of research. However, Robert Jordan’s utterance “A rose is a rose is an onion”[6] struck us as being very straight forward and thus led us to further investigation on the significance of Gertrude Stein in FWBT.

We will begin our analysis with an explanation of the relationship between Stein and Hemingway since it is crucial to be informed about their relationship and their mutual experiences. Throughout the paper we will provide explicit text passages from FWBT, some of which exemplify certain stylistic means that are typically found in Stein’s work, others which underline the personal influence Stein had on Hemingway. These text passages will help to give a complete picture of our topic and they will support our thesis. The research here will be limited to FWBT because the novel was a great success “at the end of a decade of attacks on [Hemingway’s] work and his person”.[7] Additionally, FWBT is one of Hemingway’s later works composed at a point at which he and Stein were no longer on friendly terms: although Hemingway had not talked to Stein for years she is very present in this novel. Whether his allusions to Gertrude Stein in FWBT were meant ironically or insulting is of no importance for this analysis. The focus will be on the overall influence that Gertrude Stein had on FWBT which can be found in the description of Pilar, in Hemingway’s style, and even in a direct quote from her work.

2. Hemingway’s First Encounter with Gertrude Stein

In December 1921, twenty-two year-old Ernest Miller Hemingway and his first wife Hadley came to Paris where he worked for the Toronto Star; however, this was only a provisional job for him. He planned on becoming a serious writer and soon used Anderson’s letter of recommendation to introduce himself to the widely-known writers Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein.[8] In February 1922 Hemingway met Stein and her companion Alice B. Toklas for the first time. He was immediately very fond of her and their friendship developed quickly. She read his first works and became his mentor. Stein taught Hemingway about structure and composition with the example of cubist paintings as a guide and model for the organization of poetry and prose.[9] Having in mind that he could use his teachers, Pound and Stein, for his career, he readily gave them his work for revision and accepted their advice and recommendations concerning style and publication.[10] In journalism Hemingway had already developed his declarative style which he refined with stylistic elements acquired from Stein.[11] He enjoyed reading her Three Lives and reviewing her The Making of Americans; Hemingway even organized the publication of the latter in The Transatlantic Review where he had become assistant editor in late 1923. Edmund Wilson, one of Hemingway’s critics and friends, states that “Hemingway [had] felt the genius of Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives and [had] evidently been influenced by it”.[12] Wilson even says that Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Sherwood Anderson formed a school of their own at the time. Each one of them used simple colloquial language, avoiding description and decorative adjectives. This, they thought, increases the quality of a story because the emotion evoked in the reader will be stronger; additionally they were of the opinion that a trait of an excellent writer is to convey emotion through omission. Hemingway, being by far the youngest of the three, learned much from his mentors. Nonetheless, he had developed a style of his own in which he hides the ‘Steinian’ stylistic elements in a way that they enforce emotion but do not affect the intelligibility of his work.[13]


[1] Carlos Baker (ed.). Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917-1961. Granada: Granada Publishing, 1981. 63.

[2] Richard Ruland and Malcolm Bradbury. From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature. New York: Viking Penguin, 1991. 251.

[3] Michael Reynolds. Hemingway: The Paris Years. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989. 37.

[4] See: Stefana Sabin. Gertrude Stein. Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuchverlag, 1996.

[5] See: Jaqueline Vaught Brogan. “Parody or Parity: A Brief Note on Gertrude Stein and For Whom the Bell Tolls.” The Hemingway Review. Spring 1996.

[6] Ernest Hemingway. For Whom the Bell Tolls. London: Arrow Books, 1994. 308.

[7] Rena Sanderson. “Hemingway and gender history.” The Cambridge Companion to Hemingway. Ed. Scott Donaldson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 186-7.

[8] J. Gerald Kennedy. “Hemingway, Hadley, and Paris: The persistence of desire.” The Cambridge Companion to Hemingway. Ed. Scott Donaldson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 197-8.

[9] See: Leonard J. Leff. Hemingway and His Conspirators: Hollywood, Scribners, and The Making of Americans Celebrity Culture. Lanham, Boulder, New York, Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999.

[10] Jackson J. Benson. Hemingway: The Writer’s Art of Self-Defense. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969. 91.

[11] James R. Mellow. Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein & Company. London: Phaidon Press, 1974. 264.

[12] Edmund Wilson. The Shores of Light: A Literary Chronicle of the Twenties and Thirties. London: W. H. Allen, 1952. 119.

[13] See: Ibid.


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University of Hamburg – Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Hemingway Stein Gertrude Stein Influence Ernest Hemingway Whom Bell Tolls Proseminar Hemingway Spanish Period



Title: Hemingway and Stein. Gertrude Stein's Influence on Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls