Lover of the Fancy

Early C20th American culture and dissent

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
Gertrude Stein

£9.99

A fascinating insight into the vibrant culture of Modernism, and the rich artistic world of Paris’s Left Bank. For Gertrude Stein and her wife Alice B Toklas, life in Paris was based upon the rue de Fleurus and the Saturday evenings and “it was like a kaleidoscope slowly turning.” Picasso was there with “his high whinnying Spanish giggle,” as were Cezanne and Matisse, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. As Toklas put it, the “geniuses came and talked to Gertrude Stein and the wives sat with me.”

A light-hearted entertainment, this is in fact Gertrude Stein’s own autobiography and a roll-call of all the extraordinary painters and writers she met between 1903 and 1932. Audacious, sardonic and characteristically self-confident, this is a definitive account by an American in Paris. The book lifted Gertrude Stein from literary obscurity to almost immediate celebrity in the United States. Although popular with the American public, Stein received considerable backlash from many of the individuals portrayed in her book.

With an introduction by Thomas Fensch.

Paperback, 272pp
Penguin Books, 2001 (1933)
ISBN 9780141185361

Biography

GERTRUDE STEIN (1874-1946) was an American novelist and poet. Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Stein was raised in an upper-middle-class Jewish family alongside four siblings. After a brief move to Vienna and Paris, the Steins settled in Oakland, California in 1878, where Stein would spend her formative years. In 1892, following the loss of her mother and father, Stein moved with her sister to live with family in Baltimore, where she was exposed to salon culture. From 1893 to 1897 she attended Radcliffe College, studying psychology under William James. Conducting experiments on the phenomenon of normal motor automatism, Stein produced early examples of steam of consciousness or automatic writing, a hallmark of the Modernist style later practiced by Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and William Faulkner. In 1897, she enrolled at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine on the recommendation of James, but ultimately left before completing her degree. She moved to Paris with her brother Leo, an artist, in 1903. In the French capital, the Steins gained a reputation as art collectors, purchasing works by Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin, Cézanne, and Renoir. At 27 rue de Fleurus, Stein hosted an influential salon for such artists and intellectuals as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and F Scott Fitzgerald, who recognized her as a leading Modernist and central figure of the so-called Lost Generation. Her influential works include Three Lives (1909), Tender Buttons (1912), and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), all of which exemplify her control over vastly different styles of poetry and prose. Capable of producing experimental, hermetic works that draw attention to the constructed nature of language, Stein also excelled with straightforward narratives, essays, and biographical descriptions. From 1907 until her death, Stein and her life partner Alice B. Toklas gained a reputation as leaders in the international avant-garde, and remain essential to our understanding of the development of twentieth century art and culture.