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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas  
Author Gertrude Stein
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) autobiography
Publisher Literary Guild
Publication date 1933
Pages 310 pp
ISBN n/a

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is a 1933 book by Gertrude Stein, written in the guise of an autobiography authored by Alice B. Toklas, who was her lover.

Contents

Summary

Alice B. Toklas, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949

Before I came to Paris

Alice B. Toklas, as narrator of the work, says she was born into an affluent family in San Francisco. Later she met Gertrude Stein's mother during the San Francisco fires and finally decided to move to Paris in 1907.

My Arrival in Paris

Alice talks about the important role of Helene, Gertrude's housemaid, in their household in Paris. She mentions preparations for an art exhibition. She discusses Picasso and his mistress Fernande. The couple break up and Fernande moves to Montparnasse to teach French. Alice and Gertrude visit her there.

Gertrude Stein in Paris, 1903-1907

Alice tells of Gertrude and her brother Leo Stein buying paintings by Paul Cezanne and Henri Matisse from Ambroise Vollard. They subsequently all become friends. She next discusses spending the summer with Gertrude in Fiesole while Picasso goes to Spain. Back in France, Gertrude falls out with Guillaume Apollinaire. Later, Picasso has an argument with Matisse.

Gertrude Stein before she came to Paris

Alice tells how Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, then moved to Vienna, Passy, and finally New York City and California. She attended Radcliffe College, where she was taught by William James. She decided to do a Master's degree at Johns Hopkins University but dropped out because she was bored, then moved to London and was bored there too, returned to America, and eventually settled in Paris.

1907-1914

Alice tells stories about Matisse, Apollinaire, and many other Cubist artists. She recounts holidays in Italy and Spain with Gertrude. Finally, they move to England on the eve of the First World War to meet with Gertrude's editor, leaving Mildred Aldrich alone in Paris.

The War

Gertrude and Alice begin the war years in England, then go briefly to France to rescue Gertrude's writings. They then live in Spain for a while and eventually move back to France. There, they do volunteer work for the American Fund for the French Wounded driving around France to help the wounded and homeless. By the end of the war, Paris seems changed.

After the War, 1919-1932

Alice tells of Gertrude's argument with T. S. Eliot after he finds one of her writings inappropriate. She talks about her friendship with Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway, who helped with the publication of The Making of Americans. They the couple make friends with a coterie of Russian artists, but they constitute no artistic movement. Later, Gertrude gives a lecture at Oxford University. Alice then mentions more parties with artists. Later, they abridge The Making of Americans to four hundred pages for commercial reasons and devise the idea of authoring an autobiography.

Literary significance and criticism

Gertrude Stein admitted to writing the work in six weeks with an end to making money.[1] However, she did not like writing it for that particular reason, and Alice didn't think it would be a success.[2]

It was the first of her writings to be published in the Atlantic Monthly, much to her joy. The magazine published sixty per cent of the novel, in four installments.[3]

As to her friends, Carl Van Vechten liked it. Henry McBride thought it was too commercial. Ernest Hemingway called it a 'damned pitiful book'. Henri Matisse was offended by the descriptions of his wife. Georges Braque thought Stein had misconstrued Cubism. Leo Stein deemed it a farrago of lies.[4]

The commercial success that came with this book enabled Stein to live a more prosperous lifestyle.[5]

According to Virgil Thomson, who wrote music to libretti authored by Stein, the "book is in every way except actual authorship Alice Toklas's book; it reflects her mind, her language, her private view of Gertrude, also her unique narrative powers. Every story in it is told as Alice herself had always told it....Every story that ever came into the house eventually got told in Alice's way, and this was its definitive version.".[6]

References

  1. ^ Diana Souhami, Gertrude and Alice: Gertrude Stein and Alice B.Toklas, Rivers Oram Press/Pandora List, 20 Feb 1992, 187
  2. ^ Diana Souhami, Gertrude and Alice: Gertrude Stein and Alice B.Toklas, Rivers Oram Press/Pandora List, 20 Feb 1992, 189
  3. ^ Diana Souhami, Gertrude and Alice: Gertrude Stein and Alice B.Toklas, Rivers Oram Press/Pandora List, 20 Feb 1992, 190-191
  4. ^ Diana Souhami, Gertrude and Alice: Gertrude Stein and Alice B.Toklas, Rivers Oram Press/Pandora List, 20 Feb 1992, 192-194
  5. ^ Diana Souhami, Gertrude and Alice: Gertrude Stein and Alice B.Toklas, Rivers Oram Press/Pandora List, 20 Feb 1992, 195
  6. ^ Virgil Thomson, 'A Portrait of Gertrude Stein', An Autobiography of Virgil Thomson, 176-177

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