The young woman with the dreamy eyes took her first creative writing class at Radcliffe (then called Harvard Annex) with the poet William Vaughn Moody, in 1894. She wrote a number of compositions that already show some eccentricity, if not in content, in her style of punctuation:
“She had not noticed the man before, she did not look at him now, but he ((,)) taking advantage of the position ((,)) leaned toward her rather heavily. She felt his touch. At first she was (oblivious to) only half aware of it, but soon she became conscious of his presence. The sensuous impressions (had done their work only too well. The magic charm of a human touch was on her) was in her and she (could) did not stir. She loathed herself but still she did not move.”
She is clearly talking about her own experience, something Stein would continue to do until the end of her life. All her writing, one can argue, is autobiographical.
Similarly candid is a self-portrait written for the class:
“…a girl rather stout, fair ((,)) and with a singularly attractive face, attractive largely because puzzling. Her mouth is just saved from complete severity by a slight fullness of the lower lip which seems rather an afterthought by her Creator. Her chin does its best to make up for this slip by hard lines of determination. Her nose just escapes being beautiful for at the last moment it drooped and spoiled its perfect shape. Still in spite of these features she is distinctly lovable…
Now look at the mastery of her narrative voice much later, in Paris France, the melody, the rise and fall of energy in a single paragraph, and how she places her few commas in a highly effective way:
“Then one day when I was at college at Radcliffe in Cambridge Massachusetts, I was on a train and sitting next to me was a frenchman. I recognised him as a visiting lecturer and I spoke to him. We talked about American college women. Very wonderful he said and very interesting but and he looked at me earnestly, really not one of them, now you must admit that, not one of them could feel with Alfred de Musset that le seul bien qui me reste au monde c’est d’avoir quelque fois pleuré.* I was young then but I knew what he meant that they would not feel like that.”
An apparently simple but in fact highly sophisticated story-telling voice. The beauty of this language is what makes me fall in love with Stein again and again.
*( The only thing left to me in this world is having cried a few times.)