Paris France is a novel written by Gertrude Stein and published in 1940 on the day that Paris fell to Germany during World War II. The book blends Stein's childhood memories with a commentary on French people and culture.
The novel Paris France is a text written in the “stream of consciousness” style about Gertrude Stein’s view of France as a country, the French as a people, and French as a state of being or state of existence. Throughout the novel, the idea of France as Stein has interpreted is communicated in a confident, matter of fact way. Stein refers often to fashion, autonomy, logic, tradition and civilization as crucial parts of the French state of being, any straying of which would be straying from being French, regardless of actual nationality. Stein places the state of France within the context of past wars and the possible impending war and the war’s effect on the “Frenchness” of the French, as well as the ideal/real French reaction to war. Stein nonchalantly recalls anecdotes she deems relevant to the topic at hand, each bringing reference to other anecdotal stories having a purpose and place within the progression of the novel. Stein freely follows the tangents of thoughts and life stories (or stories from others’ lives) but always returns to the driving purpose of the novel, identifying the French qualities and paying homage to England and France.
Among her meditations on French character and “civilisation,”
Gertrude Stein’s Paris France (1940) includes a quick dismissal
of the “sur-realist crowd”:
That was really the trouble with the sur-realist crowd, they missed
their moment of becoming civilized, they used their revolt, not
as a private but as a public thing, they wanted publicity not
civilisation, and so really they never succeeded in being peaceful
Gertrude Stein is considered to be an avant-garde of surrealism, so this statement may seem contradictory. But Stein employs two literary styles in order to make this claim and stay within the sur-realist crowd.
This first style, surrealism, is a style of art and literature developed principally in the 20th century, stressing the subconscious or nonrational significance of imagery arrived at by automatism or the exploitation of chance effects, unexpected juxtapositions, etc.
The second style is where Stein detracts from surrealism for a while to raise her opinions. This “Steinianism” is like surrealism in that it embraces the role in creating literary history, but instead of obsessing over revolt and originality it is concerned with the ideal of “civilization.”
Both of these styles enable Stein to maintain a surrealist backdrop while still voicing her own ideals.
Logic in the novel is mostly based off of Stein's interpretation from her own experiences in Paris, France. She also uses points of view from her maid, and her general aquaintances. Much of France's wartime history is also used in describing her reasons behind life in Paris.
Gertrude Stein references in the book a process in order for the French people to assimilate into the French culture, or in her terms, to become "civilised". The novel parallels the life of a human to the temperment of a century. At fist a century goes through it's childhood years. During this time a century is hopeful and calm. Then come the turbulent adolescent years. It experiences war, and is unsure of it's direction. A century then becomes civilized, and settles down.
Relationship to Stein's personal life
The novel is entirely connected to Stein's personal life. She begins the novel with hear earliest memories of Paris and anything French she experienced throughout her childhood in San Francisco. She lived in Paris France her entire adult life and it is quite obvious that she is deeply connected to the city, country and entire culture. Though, throughout the novel it is obvious that she has made several incorrect stereotypes about the French culture that maybe have helped aided with her obsession with France.
There are constant statements about how the French are logical and fashionable while also saying that they are civilized and everything is exciting and calm. The war is also something that was obviously a significant part of her life in France because there are constant references to it throughout the book. At one point she refers to war 14 times in four pages. The book does not make it quite clear what time during the war she is talking about, because the book was published in 1940 and the war made official in France in 1940 but Poland was invade in 1939. It is clear with the constant referral throughout the entire book that the war had a great impact on her life, but with only a year in between the invasion of Poland and publishing of the book there is no real way to determine what parts of it she is referring to.