The first edition of Paris France by Gertrude Stein was published in 1940 by B.T. Batsford, now called Pavilion Books, which specialized in books relating to British heritage particularly in the areas of fashion, design, and textiles. Why a British arts and culture publisher might have been interested in a book about Paris and Frenchness becomes evident in the book flap: Stein strongly expresses her belief in “a sense of unity which has arisen between France and England in their common effort…to civilise the Europe of the twentieth century” (see front book flap). In the years of the Second World War, the alliance between France and England was paramount.
The book is framed both verbally and visually as the response of the eminent Gertrude Stein to Second World War, as written from her residence in the French countryside. The visage of the book is stamped with reminders that the author is in fact The Gertrude Stein, celebrity author of the modernist movement, the idiosyncratic and glamorously intellectual American living in Paris and keeping the company of “Picasso, Juan Gris, and other famous artists” (see back book flap). This was the persona which had made her famous after the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933.
The plates contributed by modernist celebrity artists like Picasso and Juan Gris not only visually and enhanced her written work, but publically confirmed her important connections, and placed the work of widely famous artists alongside the illustrations of Sir Francis Rose, who designed the book jacket and the final plate in the edition. Rose was Gertrude Stein’s newest protégé, who she believed would one day reach the success that Picasso and Hemingway had previously. Despite Stein’s best efforts, this prediction sadly went unrealized, though her younger contemporary did effectively use his quirky illustrations to visually frame Paris France as a particularly Steinien (and thus, authoritative) perspective.
For example, Rose winds the words “A Rose is a Rose is a Rose…” (etcetera etc.) down a ribbon on the back cover. This was one of Gertrude’s most famous and widely-known lines from the 1913 poem “Sacred Emily,” originally published in Geography and Plays in 1922. Not only does its inclusion remind the reader of her ubiquitous fame, but it marks the work as a product of her particular “genius,” a quality she ascribed to herself in the autobiography. The way that the signature “Rose” or “Rose 40” echoes conspicuously across the book cannot be accidental, neither can the collage titled “Roses” by Juan Gris across from the title page. In fact, her famous statement that “there can be no repetition because the essence of that expression is insistence.” * from her American lecture tour can’t help but come to mind.
While the back cover references her eminence as an author, the front cover transparently touts her accomplishments and fame as an art collector; the authorship of the work is announced from a box of conspicuously Parisian artworks labeled with her name against the background of the French Flag.
However, the image of the jaunty young French men packing Gertrude Stein’s art in a box has a darker connotation. “In the months before and after the outbreak of the war” (See front book flap) Gertrude Stein and Alice were forced to abandon Paris for the countryside while their art collection remained, packed into boxes or laid across the floor to protect them from bombings.
Despite the title of the book, the only images of Paris decorating the book jacket are shown packed away into boxes, while allusions to the French countryside pepper Sir Francis Rose’s designs. Rose’s final plate in the book shows the voluptuous figure of Gertrude Stein seated in a rocking chair before a large house with a garden of raised beds. The plate is labeled “Gertrude Stein at Bilignin,” and the house is recognizable from its form and illustrated style as the same house on the back cover. Readers of the autobiography might remember the house; it was the one which Gertrude saw from across a valley and felt she had to have. Gertrude and Alice spent many seasons at the house at Bilignin, near Belley and the Ain river, and hosted many famous visitors during and apart from the war. The final chapter of the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook is titled “The Vegetable Gardens at Bilignin.” Referencing Stein’s familiarity with the French countryside evidenced her authority in outlining the qualities of “Frenchness,” but it also contextualized the manuscript geographically. As she described all that she loved in Paris, the food and the dogs and the unique cosmopolitan intellectual environment that made France a world power, she sat in Bilignin, afraid that it would all be destroyed. The book is imbibed with Stein’s anxiety and nearly patriotic hope as she writes about her beloved Paris, dedicating its creation “to France and England who are to do what is the necessary thing to do, they are going to civilise the twentieth century and make it a time when anybody can be free, free to be civlised and to be.”
*Meyerowitz, Patricia ed., Gertrude Stein: Writings and Lectures 1911-1945 (London: Peter Owen, 1967), 99