The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Form and Content

Gertrude Stein

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...

(The entire section is 523 words.)