The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Analysis

Form and Content (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

For years, Gertrude Stein nagged Alice B. Toklas, her lifelong companion, to write her autobiography. When Toklas did not, Stein did it for her. The format of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is deceptively simple. Its seven chapters—ranging in length from the three pages of chapter 1, “Before I Came to Paris,” to the forty-nine pages of chapter 6, “The War” (World War I), or the fifty-nine pages of chapter 7, “After the War: 1919-1932”—detail the artistic development of Gertrude Stein and only incidentally the life of Alice B. Toklas.

When Toklas arrived in Paris in 1907, Stein, with an A.B. from Radcliffe College and a few courses short of a medical degree from The Johns Hopkins University, was already established there, as was her brother Leo. Toklas, spending her first day in Paris after her arrival from San Francisco, met Gertrude Stein and lived with her for the next thirty-nine years. The autobiography tells of how, when Toklas found herself in the presence of genius, little bells went off in her head. This happened only three times in her life, but the loudest ringing occurred on the day that she met Gertrude.

Stein’s mother died in 1888, her father in 1891. Leo and Gertrude attended Harvard and Radcliffe, respectively, traveling frequently in Europe on their small but sufficient inheritance. Leo, an artist, had relocated in Florence, Italy, in 1901. The next year, he moved to Paris. (The...

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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Context (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas—indeed, Stein’s work in general—demonstrates that women have minds and are quite capable of functioning as independently as men. On an artistic and philosophical level, Stein identified more easily with men than she did with women.

Just as Stein was ahead of her time in entering medical school at an age when most American women of her class were settling into marriages that would make them second-class citizens, mere appendages of husbands who were deemed the important members of society, Stein was striking out courageously in new directions. Stein, nevertheless, needed Alice B. Toklas, who was to their enduring relationship what conventional, middle-class wives were to conventional marriages.

One of Toklas’ chief functions through the years of her relationship with Stein was to protect her from boring people, to occupy the wives of the interesting male artists and writers who clustered around her fascinating, brilliant mate. The autobiography makes clear that Stein did not appreciate artists’ wives.

Toklas was far from a silent partner in the relationship, but she acceded—publicly, at least—to Stein’s wishes. Toklas had a fine mind and a strong sense of herself. Her devotion to Stein was absolute. Toklas could be petty and jealous. She vetoed some of Stein’s friendships—most notably her friendship with Ernest Hemingway, perhaps because she sensed Hemingway’s wish to seduce Stein. Behind the scenes, Toklas was a force to be reckoned with.

In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein is assertive, artistically intractable, and single-mindedly certain of her artistic aims. Her boredom with the wives of the celebrities she attracted suggests that she did not value their intellects, but her aversion to wives was probably much more complicated than this: It likely had much to do with Toklas’ jealousy and with Stein’s desire to keep peace in her household.

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Form and Content (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

The format of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is deceptively simple. Its seven chapters—ranging in length from the three pages of chapter 1, “Before I Came to Paris,” to the forty-nine pages of chapter 6, “The War,” or the fifty-nine pages of chapter 7, “After the War: 19191932”—detail the artistic development of Gertrude Stein and only incidentally the life of Alice B. Toklas.

When Toklas came to Paris in 1907, Stein, a graduate of Radcliffe College and one course short of a medical degree from The Johns Hopkins University, had already established herself there, as had her older brother, Leo. Toklas, newly arrived from San Francisco, met Stein and lived with her for the next thirty-nine years.

Stein’s mother died in 1888, her father in 1891. Leo and Gertrude attended Harvard and Radcliffe respectively, traveling frequently in Europe on their small but sufficient inheritance. Leo, an artist, had relocated to Florence, Italy, in 1901, and the next year moved to Paris. Gertrude soon joined him, leaving medical school with the excuse that she was bored, thoroughly bored. In her day, it was rare for women to attend medical school; her not finishing, if viewed as regrettable, surprised no one.

In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein presents in detail the involvement that she and Toklas had with the art world that flourished in and around Paris between 1910 and 1930. Stein, when her trust...

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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Paris

*Paris. France’s capital city, in which Gertrude Stein spent much of her adult life, including years of it lived with her companion Alice B. Toklas. Her book describes Paris at a time when many of the most important artists and writers of the era congregated in the city. Indeed, in the early twentieth century, Paris was the center of the art world. There, Stein and Toklas were friends with, among others, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Juan Gris, Ernest Hemingway, Tristan Tzara, and Man Ray. They witnessed the rise of such art movements as cubism and Dadaism. Stein’s own writing style was influenced by the developments in visual art that she witnessed, making this setting important not only to this autobiographical work but also to her works not set in Paris.

*Rue de Fleurus

*Rue de Fleurus (rew duh fluhr). Parisian street on which Stein and Toklas live. In the home’s large atelier, Stein displayed her collection of artworks and entertained on Saturday evenings. Because it provided a meeting place for the artists and writers of the time, this place, as well as the art collection which it housed, helped to shape and define the artistic movements of the time. At one particularly successful dinner party, Stein seated her artist friends facing their own works. Everyone enjoyed themselves, and no one noticed the seating arrangement until the end of the party.

*Montmartre

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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Historical Context

1920s–1930s and Literature
Stein’s book not only chronicles her relationships with various early twentieth-century artists...

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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Literary Style

Point of View
A story’s point of view refers to its mode of narration, that is, whose eyes the action is seen through and...

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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Compare and Contrast

1930s: In 1933 President Roosevelt appoints Frances Perkins as Secretary of Labor. Perkins is the first woman cabinet member.

...

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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Topics for Further Study

Write a short account of your life from the point of view of someone close to you. Then do the same from your own point of view. What...

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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Media Adaptations

In 1970 Perry Miller Adato directed When This You See, Remember Me, a documentary of Stein’s life. The film combines passages from...

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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas What Do I Read Next?

Harold Bloom edited a 1986 collection of essays, Gertrude Stein, which includes Judith Saunders’s essay about Stein in Paris and...

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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Breslin, James E., ‘‘Gertrude Stein and the Problems of Autobiography,’’ in Critical Essays on Gertrude...

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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Gertrude Stein. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Part of the Modern Critical Views Series, this volume contains fifteen essays on Stein, a chronology, and a bibliography. The selection is astute, and, although there is no specific essay on

Bridgman, Richard. Gertrude Stein in Pieces. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. Bridgman offers one of the fullest analyses of the overall structure and style of Stein’s writing. The book is carefully conceived and clearly presented.

Greenfeld, Howard. Gertrude Stein: A Biography. New York: Crown, 1973. A brief introduction to Gertrude...

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