Three Lives is comprised of the stories "The Good Anna," "Melanchtha," and "The Gentle Lena." "Melanchtha" is an adaptation of Q.E.D., Stein's first completed novel, which remained unpublished until four years after her death.
"Contexts" is divided into two sections-"Biography" and "Intellectual Backgrounds"-that highlight the inspirations for and evolutions of Three Lives and discuss the difficult reception Stein's experimental writing met with in the publishing world.
"Criticism" collects 19 chronologically arranged essays on Stein's life and work, from pieces written during the decades in which her work was regarded as important primarily for its influence on writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson to the more laudatory scholarship of recent years. Feminism and form, queer studies, interrelations of race and sexuality, African American studies, and primitivism and eugenics are all represented. Among the critical pieces are William Carlos Williams's commentary on Stein's complexity and originality, Richard Bridgman's study of Stein's work as a possible compensation and camouflage for her lesbianism, and Lisa Ruddick's essay connecting feminist analysis to theories of consciousness.
A Chronology and Selected Bibliography are also included.