Wednesday, 14 April 2010

My Thoughts: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

There is one thing you need to understand about this book early on, the title is a deception. Gertrude Stein used this book to write an autobioraphy of herself as seen through someone elses eye. Strange, huh?
This autobiography is principly based in France, where the American Stein spent most of her adult life. She mingles with artists, writers, poets and other people of importance and nearly every page has 3 or 4 name drops. For the most part she hangs around in Picasso's artelier where other artists visit in the evening, exchanging news, gossip and work. She also buys up a lot of art and talks about the books she has written.
I found this book a strange one to get into, it often seemed like a list of events and meetings, with very few feelings or descriptions thrown into the mix. Once we arrived at the war period in the book things had picked up and it was a it more exciting but in general I found I was indiffernt to much of what she had written.
Having wrote my dissertation on T.S Eliot's 'The Wasteland' and cubism/futurism and the way that they mirrored the collapsing society of the time (Industrialism, the death of God, Darwinism, the move away from the extended family, tinned food, the media, photography etc) I was familiar with the names of a lot of the lesser known artists and could picture some of the art that she brought or viewed. If this hadn't been the case I think I would have struggled more. I was put off her even more (I disliked her from the moment she declared that she and Picasso where two of the only geniuses/genui(sp?) of the period) when she slated T.S Eliot and the fell out with Ezra Pound, two of my favourite poets of that time.
I'm including this for the Women Unbound challenge, because although I disliked her her strength of character, her sense of equality and power as a woman in her circles makes her a feminist of her time.


Hannah Stoneham said...

Thank you for an intelligent and clearsighted review of this book. It has been on my list for a long time, but I must admit that there is a corner of my soul that can't quite face it as although she was admirable in many ways, I can't quite face Stein's style.... there is a wonderful double bio by Janet Malcolm called "Two Lives covering Stein and Toklas - which you may enjoy (or may have already read!)

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katrina said...

I've never heard of that book, I should try one of Stein's novels next but not sure if I can face them for a while.