Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 543

Gertrude Stein

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Gertrude Stein, a real person and a fictional character in her book. Because the reader is to assume that the autobiography was written by Alice, much can be said about Gertrude that she could not very well say about herself. For example, at the beginning of the story the general tone of the book is set. Alice announces, “The three geniuses of whom I wish to speak are Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and Alfred Whitehead.” It is unfortunate that readers are never informed of the topics discussed by these geniuses. As a real and a fictional character, Gertrude can express her personal opinions on the work of other artists, if she is so inclined. She was fond of Sherwood Anderson, Thornton Wilder, and Virgil Thomson and expressed her admiration for them without reservation. With the young Ernest Hemingway, it was different. When he first arrived in Paris in 1922, he sought Gertrude’s help, and she gladly assisted him. When Hemingway became famous and failed to pay proper homage to his mentors, Gertrude and Sherwood Anderson in particular, she showed how bitter and vitriolic she could be toward this upstart whom she had to teach the fundamental concept that “remarks are not literature.” There are many stories so filled with humor that readers can only believe them to be fiction. For example, when Gertrude and Alice were performing volunteer work with the American Fund for the French Wounded, they had to supply their own car and driver. Because Gertrude did not know how to drive, she took lessons from a Paris taxi driver, who never taught her how to drive in reverse. Consequently, all her driving during the war, whether in the city or the countryside, was directed with this limitation in mind.

Alice B. Toklas

Alice B. Toklas, a real person and a fictional character. While Gertrude constantly stands at the center of the artistic and literary world, Alice stands at the periphery and glances in Gertrude’s direction, ensuring that no one can steal the spotlight from Gertrude. To be successful in this role, Alice devises a complicated scheme for an imaginary book, titledThe Wives of Geniuses I Have Sat With. This idea is elaborately developed to categorize all possible persons. For example, there are real wives of real geniuses or of nongeniuses, wives who are not wives of geniuses or only near geniuses or even would-be geniuses. This system of ordering made it possible to mention by name the many people who attended the Saturday evenings at 27, rue de Fleurus, showing the immensely important role Gertrude played in Paris at that time, but without letting Gertrude be overwhelmed by the crowd. Alice plays another important role: She must express Gertrude’s biased and negative views on many people. For example, Fernande Olivier, Picasso’s mistress, is dismissed as being “not the least amusing” because her conversations were limited to “talk about hats and perfume.” Alice’s voice provides the tone and cadence for the entire novel. Her narration, which might be described as rambling, does not suggest a forgetful mind but instead represents a character anxious to tell a story complete in all of its many details. At the same time, Alice is determined to provide prominence to Gertrude.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1677

Sherwood Anderson
Anderson (1876–1941) is an American novelist who visits Stein and Toklas in Paris. Stein and Anderson joke about Hemingway, saying he ‘‘had been formed’’ by the two of them. Anderson is best known for his collection of connected stories, Winesburg, Ohio. Hemingway writes him a long letter at one point telling him that he does not like Anderson’s work, but Anderson is not fazed by it.


(The entire section contains 2220 words.)

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