John’s notes on The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein

ToklasThe Autobiography of Alice B Toklas

By Gertrude Stein

1932

I had the misfortune to download a bad OCR version of this book and had problems picking through the unusual approach to text employed by Stein (an almost comma-less world) and the typos. The text is not long (150 pages in the format I used). However, there emerged an intriguing approach to writing that was apparently simple yet quite capable of complex thought. There was also a sense of repetition as a long parade of all kinds of artists from Picasso to Satie came to visit the Stein/Toklas ménage/atelier.

Somewhat typically, this is, in fact, as much an autobiography of Stein written in a somewhat brief six weeks after Alice was a bit too slow to get onto the job. I recently lost an older lesbian friend who managed to look very much like Gertrude Stein and who had a long-term partner who looks amazingly like Alice B Toklas. Consequently, I would have liked more direct evidence of how this famous relationship functioned but had to make do with largely inference.

It is, without doubt, a fascinating window onto the world of art and literature in the early 1900’s Paris through to the early post-WWI years. There is an endless parade of artists, patrons and followers (not all known too me but certainly most of the greats) as careers wax and wane and Gertrude and Alice struggle to have Gertrude’s own output published.

There is some background material on Stein’s early days but I would recommend a visit to Wiki to get a more dense appreciation of her family life with early experiences in San Francisco and the East Coast and her education with its mixed elements of Science, Medicine, Philosophy and Psychology. Her contact with William James was particularly seminal.

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