A Life in Writing: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

Although the title of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas suggests the story focuses on Alice herself, the book is actually centered on the events of Gertrude Stein’s life, as perceived through Alice’s imagined perspective. The free-flowing narrative rarely fixes on major events – rather, it wanders from story to story, exploring the range of Stein’s relationships with the many people whose lives she touched. However, there is an important frame to this seemingly fluid history; Stein is always sure to mention when a new writing project begins.

By beginning her exploration of the early Paris years with the statement “Gertrude Stein was just seeing through the press Three Lives,” and by ending the entire narrative with her proclamation that she will write Alice’s biography, “and she has and this is it,” Stein situates all of her life experiences in terms of their relation to her writing (6/252). Reading through the various anecdotes and character sketches, we are able to witness the progression of her writing career, from her first written work for a school competition to the political plays she was inspired to write from her experiences during the war. By placing these works within the narrative, Stein gives us new contexts in which to read her stories, plays, and portraits, providing us with important insights into the ways in which her writings were influenced and shaped by her life experience.

Timeline:

  • Three Lives published, around the time Alice moves to Paris (1907) pg. 6
Three Lives
Cover of Three Lives [1945]Crossett Library. Photo by Alvin Lustig via Flickr / (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
  • Began The Making of Americans, “her great work” (1906) pg. 57
  • First writing for a school competition (age 8) pg. 75
  • Began portrait writing (1908) pg. 113
  • Began to write plays (1914) pg. 132
What Happened a Play
Gertrude Stein, “What Happened: A Play,” [1913]. Page from manuscript notebook from the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
  • Tender Buttons published, which “had an enormous influence on all young writers” (1914) pg. 156
Tender Buttons
Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons, [1910-12]. Page from manuscript notebook from the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
  • Writing poems inspired by her experience during the war;
    “The Deserter” was inspired by the landscape of the Rhône (The War) pg. 185
Rhone
Rhône Valley. Photo by Rob Alter via Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Political plays, inspired by the political upheaval of the war (The War) pg. 189
  • Elucidation, “her first effort to state her problems of expression and her attempts to answer them” (1919) pg. 209
  • “Composition as Explanation,” first college lecture at Cambridge University (1926) pg. 233
Comp as Expl
Gertrude Stein, “Composition as Explanation” Title Page. (London: Hogarth Press, 1926). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Laura Ewen.
  • The Making of Americans published in French (1932) pg. 250
  • The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1932) pg. 252
Autobiography
Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, [1932]. Page from manuscript notebook from the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s