Sara Speidel

Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Steven Evans

Second Committee Member

Patricia Burnes

Third Committee Member

Gregory Howard


The thesis offers an in-depth analysis of the themes Gertrude Stein wrote for a required course in English composition during her sophomore year at Radcliffe College (1894- 95). Although the themes are Stein’s earliest writings, they have received little serious attention from critics, and the only published version of the manuscripts contains numerous errors in transcription. The current study reassesses the place of the Radcliffe themes in Stein’s work, based on a new transcription of the manuscripts, which are part of the Stein archive in the Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It examines the themes in relation to methods of writing instruction Stein encountered at Harvard, including the principles of composition formulated in Barrett Wendell’s textbook English Composition. Wendell taught writing at Harvard from 1880-1917 and was the developer of a course entitled Daily Themes, whose procedures strongly influenced composition pedagogy at Harvard and other universities in the United States. A close reading of the daily themes Stein wrote for English 22, in relation to Wendell’s text and the comments of her instructor William Vaughn Moody, suggests that both the material practices of writing instruction and Wendell’s articulation of theoretical principles in English Composition had a lasting effect on her poetics. Moody’s markings on the pages of the longer themes call attention to sites of “error” in Stein’s writing—places where he discerns irregularities in syntax or in the construction of narrative perspective. Stein’s methods of working with Moody’s corrections and reliance on various forms of narrative mimicry in the themes further destabilize narrative voice and referential meaning, as they renegotiate discursive roles and conventions and work with readers’ attention in ways that are very similar to her later, experimental work. Mapping points of connection between Stein’s narrative experiments in the themes and her novel The Making of Americans, the thesis makes legible the extent and complexity of Stein’s engagement with composition pedagogy. It focuses, in particular, on how her compositional practices in The Making of Americans work in dialogue with and revise Wendell’s “Trinity” of principles (Unity, Mass, and Coherence) and constitute an alternate “Trinity” of practices, which Stein describes, in “Composition as Explanation,” as “beginning again,” “using everything,” and “continuous present.” Like the draft pages of the Radcliffe themes, The Making of Americans and Stein’s later writing encourage readers’ attentiveness to the compositional choices involved in “putting together” the parts of a text—an attentiveness that, in Stein’s case, seems to have converged with and been reinforced by the material procedures and theoretical guidelines of composition pedagogy she experienced as a student in English 22 at Harvard.