"except for Ronald Firbank and, later, Scott Fitzgerald. When I first met her she did not speak of Sherwood Anderson as a writer"

Hailing from a wealthy English background, Ronald Firbank's works addressed male and female homosexuality with an innovative style of writing that many critics would label as 'frivolity'. However, his supporters could count amongst them such weighty names as E. M. Forster, W. H. Auden and, of course, Gertrude Stein. The first of Firbank's novels, Odette d'Antrevernes, was published in 1905.

A study of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Gordon Bryant. Published in Shadowland magazine in 1921
Public Domain F. Scott Fitzgerald  - Credit: Gordon Bryant

Stein was obviously impressed by promising young writer Scott Fitzgerald upon reading his first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920). His later works, most notably The Great Gatsby (1925), did not fail to meet Stein's expectations. Gertrude's lover, Alice B. Toklas, wrote in an article 'Between Classics' in The New York Times in 1951:

He was my favorite among the young American writers whom we knew. His intelligence, sensibility, distinction, wit and charm made his contemporaries appear commonplace and lifeless. He sat with his medallic head in profile talking quietly. Suddenly he said with passionate energy, "Today is my birthday, I am 30 years old today. Thirty years old. Youth is over. What am I to do? What can I do? What does one do when one is 30 years old and when one's youth is over?" he asked Gertrude Stein. "One goes on working," she said. "Go home and write a novel, the novel that is in you to write. That is what you will do now that you are 30 years old." Later when "Tender Is the night" was written and published and Fitzgerald sent her a copy she was touched to find that he had written on the flyleaf "Is this the novel you asked for?" And she said it was abundantly.

Cover of a 1922 edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's book Tales of the Jazz Age
Public DomainCover of a 1922 edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's book Tales of the Jazz Age - Credit: John Held, Jr.

Fitzgerald was one of the leading figures of the 'Lost Generation' living in Paris during the era that he would first label as the 'Jazz Age'. 

The Great Gatsby on Book Drum

Unlike Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson did not come to writing early in life, or at least not with any singular dedication. It wouldn't be until 1916 -- at the age of forty -- that Anderson's first novel, Windy McPherson's Son, found its way into print. Although there were more to follow, it would be his short stories that really gained him popularity, particularly his collection of interlinking small-town stories entitled Winesburg, Ohio (1919). Again unlike the majority of American expatriates comprising the 'Lost Generation' -- Sherwood certainly did not consider himself amongst them -- his stay in the French capital would be limited to two short visits, each only a few months in duration. The first, in 1921 (the same year he was given The Dial award for his contribution to American literature), would be the most significant, and would bring him into contact with Stein, whose writing he openly admired. Gertrude's affection was reciprocal, and she continued to correspond with Anderson from afar, encouraging his literary endeavours, and his short stories in particular. Stein would even pen 'A Valentine to Sherwood Anderson' in the later months of 1922, though not recorded in New York until the winter of 1934/35 and not as a Valentine, but as a thanks for Sherwood's foreword in her 1922 publication, Geography and Plays.

Sherwood Anderson (1933)
Public DomainSherwood Anderson (1933) - Credit: Carl Van Vechten 

It was Anderson who sent Hemingway to Paris with a letter of introduction for Stein. Hemingway also expressed his appreciation to Anderson, but in a different way: '"My Old Man" was as good as anything of Sherwood's. Later, when it was published, critics would say that here was another of Anderson's boys, just another imitator. They missed the point. "My Old Man" was a form of thank-you, a sort of homage, but also a challenge match to Anderson that was at least a draw. Ernest knew that Sherwood would understand it when he read it.' (Michael Reynolds, p. 4).