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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933)

by Gertrude Stein

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2,332404,928 (3.59)103
Through the eyes of Miss Toklas, Gertrude Stein reviews both of their lives before their meeting and during their years of companionship.
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Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
Couldn't finish this. Maybe I will later. Kind of a slog, but an enjoyable one.
  jshttnbm | May 14, 2020 |
I'm baffled by Gertrude Stein's writing style. Such a straightforward prose but puzzling all the same. I don't know how she manages. The book is a collection of memories of which I expected much more but yes her writing style is why this gets four stars. ( )
  csaavedra | Apr 15, 2020 |
I'm surprised so many like Gertrude Stein's "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" so much. I found little redeeming about it.

Stein is actually writing her own autobiography here -- but it really isn't even that. She had a revolving door of all the glittering people in turn-of-the-century Paris come by her apartments -- Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway - a veritable smorgsbord of ex-Pats, writers and painters -- many before they became particularly famous. And yet, the stories she tells about them are so incredibly dull. (He came to dinner.... Stein either found him annoying or she liked him.... he made fine paintings in a particular style. The end.)

If you are interested in the art scene at this time in Paris, I guess this might be of interest. But to me, it just felt like Stein liked to collect a lot of names to drop in addition to paintings. ( )
  amerynth | Feb 20, 2020 |
While this is a historically important read, it is not a particularly enjoyable one. It was vital in the history of women writers and of course lesbian relationships. Perhaps if you are an especial fan of this time period or group of artists, you'll find the anecdotes presented here more stimulating than I did; while I liked some, I did find the stories to drag on over time as they seemed rather repetitive.

(There's also something off putting about the way that Stein has written a hagiography of herself while pretending not to. It doesn't always bother me, not every single chapter, but some descriptions of her genius are just cringe worthy. And taken at face value, coming from Alice, not encouraging about their relationship.)
  sparemethecensor | Jan 1, 2020 |
The "shtick" (if you will) with this book is that it's supposed to be an autobiography told in the perspective of Alice B. Toklas, who was Gertrude Stein's longtime romantic partner. Of course, it's actually Stein writing it, pretending to be Toklas. In fact, at the very end of the book (the closing paragraphs), this is addressed:

"For some time now many people, and publishers, have been asking Gertrude Stein to write her autobiography and she has always replied, not possibly.

She began to tease me and say that I should write my autobiography. Just think, she would say, what a lot of money you would make. She then began to invent titles for my autobiography. My Life With the Great, Wives of Geniuses I Have Sat With, My Twenty-five Years With Gertrude Stein.

Then she began to get serious and say, but really seriously you ought to write your autobiography. Finally I promised that if during the summer I could find time I would write my autobiography.

When Ford Madox Ford was editing the Transatlantic Review he once said to Gertrude Stein, I am a pretty good writer and a pretty good editor and a pretty good business man but I find it difficult to be all three at once.

I am a pretty good housekeeper and a pretty good gardener and a pretty good needlewoman and a pretty good secretary and a pretty good vet for dogs and I have to do them all at once and I found it difficult to add being a pretty good author.

About six weeks ago Gertrude Stein said, it does not look to me as if you were ever going to write that autobiography. You know what I am going to do. I am going to write it for you. I am going to write it as simply as Defoe did the autobiography of Robinson Crusoe. And she has and this is it."

Of course, the book really isn't a biography of Toklas at all, but a cloaked way of Stein writing an autobiography. It may start with Toklas arriving in Paris and meeting Stein, but then it veers into Stein's place of birth, early schooling, etc. etc.

Although I was somewhat familiar with Stein's unusual style from having read Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights many years ago, I had to re-acquaint myself with it in the early parts of this book. She does not use quotation marks or italics, is limited with her commas, and is fickle with her use of capitalization for proper nouns. Again, Stein addresses that in her own words: "Haweis had been fascinated with what he had read in manuscript of The Making of Americans. He did however plead for commas. Gertrude Stein said commas were unnecessary, the sense should be intrinsic and not have to be explained by commas and otherwise commas were only a sign that one should pause and take breathe but one should know of oneself when one wanted to pause and take breath. However, as she liked Haweis very much and he had given her a delightful painting for a fan, she gave him two commas. It must however be added that on rereading the manuscript she took the commas out."

Also, because she is supposed to be writing as Toklas, she constantly refers to herself as "Gertrude Stein." While other people are sometimes referred to by first name only or last name only, she is always both, every time. I don't know why, but I actually grew to find that slightly irritating. Another benefit of pretending to be writing from her partner's perspective is that Stein can refer to herself as a "genius" (one of only three ever met by Toklas) without sounding too self-praising (although of course, that is precisely what she is doing).

Over the course of her life, Stein ran in many literary and artistic circles. After a while, this book just starts to feel like excessive name dropping, as she lists the famous people she dined with, hosted at her home, stayed at their home, etc., regardless of how integral these people were in her life. However, I was intrigued enough to look up several of the artist renderings of Stein that she mentioned in the book:
- https://www.metmuseum.org/en/art/collection/search/488221 (Pablo Picasso -- I was already familiar with this one but looked it up again to refresh my memory)
- https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/man-ray-gertrude-stein-p13133 (Man Ray)
- https://www.moma.org/collection/works/80799 (Jacques Lipchitz)

She also writes about their experiences during World War I, most particularly driving supplies all about France for a relief effort. However, her writing about the war years make it sounds more like an inconvenience than a tragedy.

In the end, I'm glad to have read this book because it is considered a classic (and it checks off another box on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list). But it took a while to get into and then soon became redundantly dull. So I probably wouldn't recommend it, except to a few who are really interested in modernist language, determined to read all 1001 Books, or big fans of Gertrude Stein's "genius." ( )
1 vote sweetiegherkin | Dec 16, 2019 |
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Beaton, CecilCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Through the eyes of Miss Toklas, Gertrude Stein reviews both of their lives before their meeting and during their years of companionship.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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