Stein’s People

The perspective of time in Stein’s, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is an unreliable mode of understanding for the reader. The style takes on a narrative form of constant digression, as it never conforms to a consistent linear progression. A reader focused on time will undoubtedly feel lost as they constantly try to orient themselves in the timeline of Stein. However, there are other means to situate oneself in the disorderly account of Stein’s life. The people in Stein’s life can be used as anchors, because each important moment is inevitably linked specifically to a person or people. Stein’s life is a shared venture that can be grasped by examining the connections of people through time and space.

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Alice B. Toklas. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, Public Domain.

Before Alice B. Toklas came to Paris, she was raised in San Francisco where she met Gertrude’s sister-in-law during the San Francisco fires, after which she decided to move to Paris (1907).

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Fernande. Photograph by Jean Agelou. Courtesy of http://mywebpages.comcast.net/kb8gpo/fernande/, Public Domain. 

Alice arrives in Paris, meets Picasso and Fernande, attends an art exhibition, and visits Fernande in Montparnasse with Gertrude.

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Gertrude Stein. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, Public Domain.

Gertrude Stein is in Paris buying famous artists, becomes close friends with Alice, and they spend the summer in Fiesole (1903-1907).

William James. Photograph by Notman Studios. MS Am 1092 (1185), Houghton Library, Harvard University.
William James. Photograph by Notman Studios. MS Am 1092 (1185), Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Alice describes Gertrude Stein before Paris, as she was born in Alleghany, PA, and moved many times before settling in Paris. She went to Radcliffe and was taught by William James. She studied for her masters at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, but dropped out due to boredom.

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Henri Matisse in Paris. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, Public Domain.

Alice shares social stories about Matisse and other cubist artists, she spends the holidays in Italy with Stein, then they move to London on the eve of World War I, while Mildred Aldrich is left alone in Paris (1907-1914).

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Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Courtesy of the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Stein and Alice spent the beginning of World War One in London, then left to rescue Gertrude’s writings from Paris. After the war, Paris was different.

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Ernest Hemingway’s 1923 Passport Photo. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Electronic Records Archives Program.

After the war, Gertrude argues with T.S. Eliot, befriends Ernest Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson. Gertrude lectures at Oxford University, parties with other artists, and devises the idea of writing an autobiography.

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