She was born Alice Babette Toklas in San Francisco, California into a middle-class Jewish family and attended schools in both San Francisco and Seattle. For a short time she also studied music at the University of Washington. She met Gertrude Stein in Paris on September 8, 1907, the day she arrived. Together they hosted a salon that attracted expatriate American writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Paul Bowles, Thornton Wilder and Sherwood Anderson, and avant-garde painters, including Picasso, Matisse, and Braque.
Acting as Stein's confidante, lover, cook, secretary, muse, editor, critic, and general organizer, Toklas remained a background figure, chiefly living in the shadow of Stein, until Stein published her memoirs in 1933 under the teasing title The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. It became Stein's bestselling book. The two were a couple until Gertrude Stein's death in 1946.
After the death of Gertrude Stein, Toklas published her own literary memoir, a 1954 book that mixed reminiscences and recipes under the title The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. The most famous recipe therein (actually contributed by her friend Brion Gysin) was called "Haschich Fudge," a mixture of fruit, nuts, spices, and "canibus [sic] sativa," or marijuana. Her name was later lent to the range of cannabis concoctions called Alice B. Toklas brownies. Some believe that the slang term toke, meaning to inhale marijuana, is derived from her last name. The cookbook has been translated into numerous languages, most recently into Norwegian in 2007. A second cookbook followed in 1958 called Aromas and Flavors of Past and Present; however, Toklas did not approve of it as it had been heavily annotated by Poppy Cannon, an editor from House Beautiful magazine. She also wrote articles for several magazines and newspapers including The New Republic and the New York Times.
Alice B. Toklas met Gertrude Stein in Paris on September 8, 1907, the day she arrived. Acting as Stein's confidante, lover, cook, secretary, muse, editor, critic, and general organizer, Toklas remained a background figure, chiefly living in the shadow of Stein, until Stein published her memoirs in 1933 under the teasing title The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. It became Stein's bestselling book. The two were a couple until Gertrude Stein's death on July 27, 1946 in Neuilly-sur-Seine.
Alice B. Toklas & Gertrude Stein are both buried at Père Lachaise Cemetary.
Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, 1936, photograph by Cecil Beaton
In 1963 she published her autobiography, What Is Remembered, which abruptly ends with Stein's death, leaving little doubt that Stein was the love of her lifetime.
Her later years were very difficult because of poor health and financial problems, aggravated by the fact that Stein's heirs took the priceless paintings (some of them Picassos) which Stein had willed to Toklas.
Toklas also became a Roman Catholic convert in her old age. Toklas died in poverty at the age of 89, and is buried next to Stein in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France; Toklas' name is engraved on the back of Stein's headstone.
Both Toklas and Stein are referred to in both the stage play Mame and film version Auntie Mame. In a lyric of the song "Bosom Buddies", Vera Charles declares: "But sweetie, I'll always be Alice Toklas, if you'll be Gertrude Stein."
The 1968 Peter Sellers movie I Love You, Alice B. Toklas was named for Toklas' cannabis brownies, which play a significant role in the plot.
The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, a political organization founded in 1971 in San Francisco, is a namesake of Toklas.
The Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Portland, Oregon offers the "Alice B. Toeclips Awards" as the signature event of its annual fundraiser.
Samuel Steward, who met Toklas and Stein in the 1930s, edited Dear Sammy: Letters from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (1977), and wrote two mystery novels featuring Stein and Toklas as characters, Murder Is Murder Is Murder (1985) and The Caravaggio Shawl (1989).
Toklas appears in the book title and in one of the essays in Otto Friedrich's 1989 book "The Grave of Alice B. Toklas and Other Reports from the Past" (New York, Henry Holt). The chapter includes a sensitive interview with the elderly Alice.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted in 1989 to rename a block of Myrtle Street between Polk Street and Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco as Alice B. Toklas Place, since Toklas was born one block away on O'Farrell Street.
The Stein and Toklas relationship is most recently depicted in the Woody Allen film, "Midnight in Paris."
Gertrude Stein (February 3, 1874 – July 27, 1946) was an American writer, poet and art collector who spent most of her life in France. (Picture: Gertrude Stein, 1935, by Carl Van Vechten)
Gertrude Stein, the youngest of a family of five children, was born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (merged with Pittsburgh in 1907) to well-educated German Jewish parents, Daniel and Amelia Stein. Her father was a railroad executive whose investments in streetcar lines and real estate made the family wealthy.
When Gertrude was three years old, the Steins relocated for business reasons to Vienna and then Paris. They returned to America in 1878, settling in Oakland, California, where Stein attended First Hebrew Congregation of Oakland's Sabbath school.
Her mother died in 1888, and her father in 1891. Michael, her eldest brother, took over the family business holdings. He arranged for Gertrude, and another sister Bertha, to live with their mother's family in Baltimore after the deaths of their parents. In 1892 she lived with her uncle David Bachrach.
It was in Baltimore that Gertrude met Claribel Cone and Etta Cone, who held Saturday evening salons which Gertrude would later emulate in Paris, who shared an appreciation for art and conversation about it, and who modeled a domestic division of labor that Gertrude was later to replicate in her relationship with Alice B. Toklas.
Stein attended Radcliffe College from 1893 to 1897, and was a student of psychologist William James. With James's supervision, Stein and another student named Leon Mendez Solomons performed experiments on Normal Motor Automatism, a phenomenon hypothesized to occur in people when their attention is divided between two simultaneous intelligent activities, like writing and speaking.
These experiments yielded examples of writing that appeared to represent "stream of consciousness," a psychological theory often attributed to James, which became the term used to describe the style of modernist authors like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. In 1934, behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner in fact interpreted Stein's notoriously difficult poem, Tender Buttons, as an example of the "normal motor automatism" Stein had written about for the experiment at Radcliffe.
According to a letter Stein wrote during the 1930s, however, she had never really accepted the theory of automatic writing, explaining:
there can be automatic movements, but not automatic writing. Writing for the normal person is too complicated an activity to be indulged in automatically.At Radcliffe, she began a lifelong friendship with Mabel Foote Weeks, whose correspondence traces much of the progression of Gertrude's life. In 1897, Gertrude spent the summer in Woods Hole, Massachusetts studying embryology at the Marine Biological Laboratory, succeeded by two years at Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1901, she left Johns Hopkins without obtaining a degree.
In 1903 Gertrude moved to Paris, where she would spend the rest of her life. From 1903 to 1914 she lived there with her brother Leo Stein, an art critic. It was during this period that she became well-known.
While living in Paris, Gertrude began writing for publication. Her earliest writings were mainly retellings of her college experiences. Her first critically acclaimed publication was Three Lives. In 1911 Mildred Aldrich introduced Gertrude to Mabel Dodge Luhan and they began a short-lived but fruitful friendship during which a wealthy Mabel Dodge promoted Gertrude's legend in the United States.
Mabel was enthusiastic about Gertrude's sprawling publication The Making of Americans and, at a time when Gertrude had much difficulty selling her writing to publishers, privately published 300 copies of Portrait of Mabel Dodge at Villa Curonia, a copy of which was valued at $25,000 in 2007 (James S. Jaffee Rare Books). Dodge was also involved in the publicity and planning of the 69th Armory Show in 1913, "the first avant-garde art exhibition in America."
In addition, she wrote the first critical analysis of Gertrude's writing to appear in America, in "Speculations, or Post-Impressionists in Prose", published in a special March 1913 publication of Arts and Decoration. Foreshadowing Gertrude's later critical reception, Mabel wrote in "Speculations":
In Gertrude Stein's writing every word lives and, apart from concept, it is so exquisitely rhythmical and cadenced that if we read it aloud and receive it as pure sound, it is like a kind of sensuous music. Just as one may stop, for once, in a way, before a canvas of Picasso, and, letting one's reason sleep for an instant, may exclaim: "It is a fine pattern!" so, listening to Gertrude Steins' words and forgetting to try to understand what they mean, one submits to their gradual charm.Mabel attributed the end of their friendship to an exchange in the autumn of 1912 when, during lunch, Gertrude sent her "such a good strong look over the table that it seemed to cut across the air to me in a band of electrified steel-- a smile traveling across on it-- powerful-- Heavens!". Alice interpreted the look as a flirtation and left the room, prompting Gertrude to follow, and when Gertrude returned, she said, "[Alice] doesn't want to come lunch ... She feels the heat today." The salon, and the people that came to visit it, provided the inspiration for The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
Stein met her life partner Alice B. Toklas on September 8, 1907, on Toklas' first day in Paris, at Sarah and Michael Stein's apartment. (Mellow, 1974, at 107) On meeting Stein, Toklas wrote:
She was a golden brown presence, burned by the Tuscan sun and with a golden glint in her warm brown hair. She was dressed in a warm brown corduroy suit. She wore a large round coral brooch and when she talked, very little, or laughed, a good deal, I thought her voice came from this brooch. It was unlike anyone else's voice-- deep, full, velvety, like a great contralto's, like two voices.Soon thereafter, Stein introduced Toklas to Pablo Picasso at his studio, where he was at work on Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. (Picture: Portrait of Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City)
In 1908, they summered in Fiesole, Italy, Toklas staying with Harriet Lane Levy, the companion of her trip from the United States, and her housemate until Alice relocated in with Stein and Leo in 1910. That summer, Stein stayed with Michael and Sarah Stein, their son Allan, and Leo in a nearby villa. (Ibid.) Gertrude and Alice's summer of 1908 is memorialized in images of the two of them in Venice, at the piazza in front of Saint Mark's.
Toklas arrived in 1907 with Harriet Levy, with Toklas maintaining living arrangements with Levy until she moved to 27 Rue de Fleurus in 1910. In an essay written at the time, Stein discussed the complex efforts humorously, involving much letter writing and Victorian niceties, to extricate Levy from Toklas' living arrangements. In "Harriet", Stein considers Levy's nonexistent plans for the summer, following her nonexistent plans for the winter:
She said she did not have any plans for the summer. No one was interested in this thing in whether she had any plans for the summer. That is not the complete history of this thing, some were interested in this thing in her not having any plans for the summer..... Some who were not interested in her not having made plans for the summer were interested in her not having made plans for the following winter. She had not made plans for the summer and she had not made plans for the following winter.... There was then coming to be the end of the summer and she was then not answering anything when any one asked her what were her plans for the winter.During the early summer of 1914, Gertrude bought three paintings by Juan Gris: Roses, Glass and Bottle, and Book and Glasses. Soon after she purchased them from Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler's gallery (Mellow, 1974, at 209), the Great War began, Kahnweiler's stock was confiscated and he was not allowed to return to Paris. Gris, who before the war had entered a binding contract with Kahnweiler for his output, was left without income. Gertrude attempted to enter an ancillary arrangement in which she would forward Gris living expenses in exchange for future pictures. Stein and Toklas had plans to visit England to sign a contract for the publication of Three Lives, to spend a few weeks there, and then journey to Spain. They left Paris on July 6, 1914 and returned on October 17. [Ibid., 210-15]. When Britain declared war on Germany, Stein and Toklas were visiting Alfred North Whitehead in England. After a supposed three-week trip to England that stretched to three months due to the War, they returned to France, where they spent the first winter of the war.
With money acquired from the sale of Stein's last Matisse Woman with a Hat to her brother Michael, she and Toklas vacationed in Spain from May 1915, through the spring of 1916. During their interlude in Majorca, Spain, Gertrude continued her correspondence with Mildred Aldrich who kept her apprised of the War's progression, and eventually inspired Gertrude and Alice to return to France to join the war effort.
Toklas and Stein returned to Paris in June 1916, and acquired a Ford automobile with the help of associates in the United States; Gertrude learned to drive it with the help of her friend William Edwards Cook. (Ibid., at 226-27). Gertrude and Alice then volunteered to drive supplies to French hospitals, in the Ford they named Auntie, "after Gertrude's aunt Pauline, 'who always behaved admirably in emergencies and behaved fairly well most times if she was flattered.'"
During the 1920s, her salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus, with walls covered by avant-garde paintings, attracted many of the great writers of the time, including Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Thornton Wilder, and Sherwood Anderson. While she has been credited with inventing the term "Lost Generation" for some of these expatriate American writers, at least three versions of the story that led to the phrase are on record, two by Ernest Hemingway and one by Gertrude Stein (Mellow, 1974, pp. 273–74). During the 1920s, she became friends with writer Mina Loy, and the two would remain lifelong friends. Extremely charming, eloquent, and cheerful, she had many friends and promoted herself often. Her judgments of literature and art were influential. She was Ernest Hemingway's mentor, and upon the birth of his son he asked her to be the godmother of his child. During the summer of 1931, Stein advised the young composer and writer Paul Bowles to go to Tangier, where she and Alice had vacationed.
During the 1930s, Stein and Toklas became famous with the 1933 mass market publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. She and Alice had an extended lecture tour in the United States during this decade. They also spent several summers in Bilignin, France, and doted on a famous poodle named "Basket" whose successor, "Basket II", comforted Alice in the years after Gertrude's death. With the outbreak of World War II, Stein and Toklas relocated to a country home that they had rented for many years previously in Bilignin, Ain, in the Rhône-Alpes region. Gertrude and Alice, who were both Jewish, escaped persecution probably because of their friendship to Bernard Faÿ who was a collaborator with the Vichy regime and had connections to the Gestapo. When Faÿ was sentenced to hard labor for life after the war, Gertrude and Alice campaigned for his release. Several years later, Toklas would contribute money to Faÿ's escape from prison.
After the war, Stein was visited by many young American soldiers. Her preface written for a 1945 Paris exhibition for Spanish painter Francisco Riba-Rovira "is one of Gertrude Stein's last texts" on her vision of the painting art, approximately one year before her death. In it she expressed her opinions of Picasso, Cézanne, Matisse and Juan Gris as well as Riba-Rovira, a familiar artist of her salon at rue de Fleurus.
Stein is the author of one of the earliest coming out stories, Q.E.D. (published in 1950 as Things as They Are), written in 1903 and suppressed by the author. The story, written during travels after leaving college, is based on a three-person romantic affair she joined while studying at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. The affair was complicated, as Stein was less experienced with the social dynamics of romantic friendship as well as her own sexuality and any moral dilemmas regarding it. Stein maintained at the time that she detested "passion in its many disguised forms". The relationships of Stein's acquaintances Mabel Haynes and Grace Lounsbury ended as Haynes started one with Mary Bookstaver (also known as May Bookstaver). Stein became enamored of Bookstaver but was unsuccessful in advancing their relationship. Bookstaver, Haynes, and Lounsbury all later married men. (Blackmer 1995, p. 681-686)
Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and George Platt Lynes in Billignin, 1931
Her growing awareness of her sexuality began to interfere with the bourgeois values implicit in her medical studies and would have put her at odds with contemporary feminist theory and opinion, and Q.E.D. may have assisted her with understanding her scholarly and romantic failure. However, Stein began to accept and define her pseudo-masculinity through the ideas of Otto Weininger's Sex and Character (1906). Weininger, though Jewish by birth, considered Jewish men effeminate and women as incapable of selfhood and genius, except for female homosexuals who may approximate masculinity.
More positive affirmations of Stein's sexuality began with her relationship with Toklas. Ernest Hemingway describes how Alice was Gertrude's "wife" in that Stein rarely addressed his (Hemingway's) wife, and he treated Alice the same, leaving the two "wives" to chat.(Grahn 1989) Alice was 4'11" tall, and Gertrude was 5'1".
Gertrude Stein by George Platt Lynes
The more affirming essay "Miss Furr and Miss Skeene" is one of the first homosexual revelation stories to be published. The work, like Q.E.D., is informed by Stein's growing involvement with a homosexual community (Grahn 1989), though it is based on lesbian partners Maud Hunt Squire and Ethel Mars (Blackmer 1995). The work contains the word "gay" over one hundred times, perhaps the first published use of the word "gay" in reference to same-sex relationships and those who have them, (Blackmer 1995) and, as such, uninformed readers missed the lesbian content. A similar essay of homosexual men begins more obviously with the line "Sometimes men are kissing" but is less well known. (ibid)
In Tender Buttons Stein comments on lesbian sexuality and the work abounds with "highly condensed layers of public and private meanings" created by wordplay including puns on the words "box", "cow", and in titles such as "tender buttons". (ibid)
Stein died at the age of 72 from stomach cancer in Neuilly-sur-Seine on July 27, 1946, and was interred in Paris in the Père Lachaise cemetery. When Stein was being wheeled into the operating room for surgery on her stomach, she asked Toklas, "What is the answer?" When Toklas did not answer, Stein said, "In that case, what is the question?" Stein named writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten as her literary executor, and he helped to publish works of hers which remained unpublished at the time of her death. There is a monument to Stein on the Upper Terrace of Bryant Park, New York.
Gertrude Stein's Books on Amazon: Gertrude Stein
Burial: Cimetière du Père Lachaise, Paris, Ile-de-France Region, France, Plot: Division 94
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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