The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

by Gertrude Stein

Paperback, 1990

Call number




Vintage (1990), Edition: Reissue, 252 pages


"Stein's most famous work; one of the richest and most irreverent biographies ever written, now illustrated by Maira Kalman"--

User reviews

LibraryThing member dawnpen
We are bitties and we are dogs for art and we push to the side all the wars and all the wives that have taken the places of other wives and we tell the story as if it were a joke to tell a story (which it is) and that is how our home and our dog and our little quilts are sewn.
LibraryThing member AlexTheHunn
This is one of Gertrude Stein's readable works. Stein and Toklas knew everybody in pre-World War I Paris. Important literary and artistic figures abound. Aside from the sheer energy of Stein's writing, as a historical glimpse into Bohemian life of the time makes the book essential.
LibraryThing member csaavedra
I'm baffled by Gertrude Stein's writing style. Such a straightforward prose but puzzling all the same. I don't know how she manages. The book is a collection of memories of which I expected much more but yes her writing style is why this gets four stars.
LibraryThing member amerynth
I'm surprised so many like Gertrude Stein's "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" so much. I found little redeeming about it.

Stein is actually writing her own autobiography here -- but it really isn't even that. She had a revolving door of all the glittering people in turn-of-the-century Paris
Show More
come by her apartments -- Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway - a veritable smorgsbord of ex-Pats, writers and painters -- many before they became particularly famous. And yet, the stories she tells about them are so incredibly dull. (He came to dinner.... Stein either found him annoying or she liked him.... he made fine paintings in a particular style. The end.)

If you are interested in the art scene at this time in Paris, I guess this might be of interest. But to me, it just felt like Stein liked to collect a lot of names to drop in addition to paintings.
Show Less
LibraryThing member sparemethecensor
While this is a historically important read, it is not a particularly enjoyable one. It was vital in the history of women writers and of course lesbian relationships. Perhaps if you are an especial fan of this time period or group of artists, you'll find the anecdotes presented here more
Show More
stimulating than I did; while I liked some, I did find the stories to drag on over time as they seemed rather repetitive.

(There's also something off putting about the way that Stein has written a hagiography of herself while pretending not to. It doesn't always bother me, not every single chapter, but some descriptions of her genius are just cringe worthy. And taken at face value, coming from Alice, not encouraging about their relationship.)
Show Less
LibraryThing member Devil_llama
This book, though nominally an autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, is actually more of an autobiography of Gertrude Stein, told in the voice of Toklas. As a Stein book, it is filled with oddball phrasing, strange punctuation, erratic capitalization, and games with the English language, all of which
Show More
makes it fun to read. It also gives the reader a glimpse into the life of artists in Paris in the early 20th century. Pablo Picasso is probably the most mentioned of the artists, but Matisse also makes frequent appearances. The rise of cubism is a key component of this book, along with the intellectual and social life of the artsy crowd. You get treated to who was feuding with whom, who was coming over to dinner, and who was starting to sell their work. It also includes a look at the early years of Stein's work, and the struggles to get published in a world that had a standard format she was refusing to follow. It's art history, social gossip, and literary achievement in one.
Show Less
LibraryThing member technodiabla
I would have rated this book higher but I think many people would find it incredibly boring. I was fascinated by the rambling comings and going in an unconventional household is early 20th century Paris. I love many of the artists Stein hosted and found the unadorned story of their early years
Show More
really interesting. The WW1 Chapter was actually my favorite; it had a bit more humor and got more into the personality of Stein herself. She sounds brilliant, interesting, and difficult. The last part, when she switched over to hosting young writers-- and saw her own writing start to be appreciated-- was also good. All that jealous bickering among contemporaries. Of course Stein didn't know that the painters and writers reputations would be what they are today, when she wrote the book.

Why would people find it boring then? Well, the style is very rambling, almost stream of conscious, with lots of distractions and asides. There's no plot structure at all. It's just a chronological account, told from the viewpoint of Alice.

I liked it, and want to follow up with some Hemingway, Ford Maddox Ford and Fitzgerald.
Show Less
LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
I was so amused by the premise, of Alice B. Toklas being reduced to a minor role in her own autobiography - the Robin to Gertrude's Batman. Could you imagine how the conversations about this book must have gone? Poor Alice

Gertrude Stein must have been such a character, and she and Alice lived such
Show More
interesting lives. This book is more or less a role call of everyone important in modernist art and literature; the two women knew everyone and traveled everywhere. That's what this Autobiography is, a loose account of years of parties with artists and authors, with some bits about World War I thrown in for good measure. But it's strangely compelling, a time capsule of the early twentieth century, and fun to read
Show Less
LibraryThing member Wubsy
I had to read this for a University Course and found it to be self serving and lacking in humor. It managed to make fascinating characters like Picasso and Matisse seem rather banal. Not one I will revisit.
LibraryThing member Othemts
More fictional tales of life in Paris of the 1920’s in the guise of a memoir, this time the author pretending to be somebody else. You can sense the smugness of Stein playing tricks upon her reader where you don’t know whether you want to admire talent or smack her across the face. Poor Alice
Show More
B. Toklas, in what is supposed to be her book she is a minor character telling all about Gertrude Stein and her genius. The fact that one knows that Stein is writing this book makes her sound like Rickey Henderson with her constant references to the greatness of Gertrude Stein in third person. An entertaining read nonetheless. I liked Hemingway’s version better though.

“Gertrude Stein always speaks of America as being now the oldest country in the world because by the methods of the civil war and the commercial conceptions that followed it America created the twentieth century, and since all the other countries are now either living or commencing the be living a twentieth century life, America having begun the creation of the twentieth century in the sixties of the nineteenth century is now the oldest country in the world.” (p. 105)

“Americans, so Gertrude Stein says, are like spaniards, they are abstract and cruel. They are not brutal they are cruel. They have no close contact with the earth such as most europeans have. Their materialism is not the materialism of existence, of possession, it is the materialism of action and abstraction.” (p. 123)
Show Less
LibraryThing member JWarren42
Important stylistically and conceptually, but I think the problem is that this is the most accessible of Stein's books. Not fully "readable" but also not as experimental stylistically or structurally as her other books. This makes the book mediocre.
LibraryThing member jshttnbm
Couldn't finish this. Maybe I will later. Kind of a slog, but an enjoyable one.
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
This is, undoubtedly, Stein's most accessible book, and the one I recommend to people (along with her _Three Lives_). Obviously, the book ends up being mostly about Gertrude...Stein's experiments in writing make her what I have come to think as the cubist of literature. Once you get used to her
Show More
style, I think you can truly enjoy her work. It does require a person to pay attention (which is a good thing I suppose).
Show Less
LibraryThing member charlie68
A little strange to have Ms.
Stein writing from the point of view of her friend. But an interesting window into the world of pre World war I and during the war and post war Paris. Lots of famous and not so famous artists and writers rub shoulders with these ladies. Gertrude Stein herself seems to
Show More
have faded since whereas others haven't.
Show Less
LibraryThing member ValerieAndBooks
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein (originally published in 1933) was my bedside reading for a long, long time– with other bedside reading interrupting it now and then. I don’t feel that my reading of Autobiography suffered from these interruptions. While really written by
Show More
Gertrude Stein, this is intended to appear as if it was authored by Stein’s long-time lover/partner Alice Toklas. While I’m not at all familiar with Toklas’ writing style, this book is obviously in Stein’s voice. Being an art-lover, I somewhat enjoyed the constant name-dropping of people they hung out with — Picasso, Matisse and Braque to name a few; and friendships or associations with writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

Here is a typical passage — very Gertrude Stein:

”Before I decided to write this book my twenty-five years with Gertrude Stein, I had often said that I would write, The wives of geniuses I have sat with. I have sat with so many. I have sat with wives who were not wives, of geniuses who were not real geniuses. I have sat with real wives of geniuses who were not real geniuses. I have sat with wives of geniuses, of near geniuses, of would be geniuses, in short I have sat very often and very long with many wives and wives of many geniuses”.

Whew. Passages like that made it better for me to appreciate this book in small doses. A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, anyone? But, then there were observant passages, such as this one:

“Gertrude Stein and Fitzgerald are very peculiar in their relation to each other. Gertrude Stein had been very much impressed by This Side of Paradise. She read it when it came out and before she knew any of the young american writers. She said of it that it was this book that really created for the public the new generation. She has never changed her opinion about this. She thinks this equally true of The Great Gatsby. She thinks Fitzgerald will be read when many of his well known contemporaries are forgotten. Fitzgerald always says that he thinks Gertrude Stein says those things just to annoy him…”

Note that in the above passage, I quoted it exactly — This Side of Paradise is not italicized, but The Great Gatsby is. Also, for some reason, americans, the french, the italians, and so on were almost never capitalized.

I can’t say whether this book could be completely “autobiographical” or biographical — somehow it’s hard for me to imagine Toklas actually teaching Hemingway how to bull-fight, for instance – but it does give a flavor of the Paris full of artistic and literary expatriates in the 1920s and for the several years afterwards. But, it’s not an easy book to stay with for a long period of time; and like I said, better taken in small doses.
Show Less
LibraryThing member kgib
NOW I understand why people romanticize Paris so much.
LibraryThing member TheBooknerd
Do not sit down to read this book from start to finish -- grab a passage here and there, call it good. Stein is unarguably a crafty, innovative writer; she is an artist in the truest sense. That doesn't mean, unfortunately, that her work is particularly enjoyable. Take this book, for one. The
Show More
innovative gimmick of writing your own autobiography through the perspective of another person is a challenging and entertaining twist. But once the novelty wears off, you're still faced with a largely uninteresting story. Unless you have a particular interest in Stein, her contemporaries, or the time period, I doubt this book will have much to offer you.
Show Less
LibraryThing member tungsten_peerts
Apparently Stein wrote this for a lark -- it turned out to be her best-known work, and it is well-worth reading for its detailed and terrifically amusing look at early 20th century Paris. Not as revolutionary as her more experimental work, but infinitely easier to snuggle up to.
LibraryThing member Prop2gether
This faux autobiography is chockful of descriptions of artists and writers as they traveled through the lives of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Since Gertrude wrote Alice's autobiography, it is full of "observations" by Alice of Gertrude and her friends. It was an interesting read in its full
Show More
stream of consciousness style which allowed the writer to flow back and forth in time and location and individual event to show how very impressive or unimpressive all these now famous folk were in their early years. Much better reading than some other Stein, but not for those who want their "history" straightforward.
Show Less
LibraryThing member peajayar
I'm rereading this book as I embark on a project to write a short story in the style of GS, set in New Zealand in the forties and fifties. Madness, probably, and likely doomed to failure.

But oh my goodness this is a great book to reread. She had a great understanding of many things, including the
Show More
way we (people in general) react to new directions in art, or whatever else, as "ugly" and then get used to them and find them beautiful. I also love the way she uses phrases like "little by little," and the word "interesting."

Next I'll retry Three Lives and then Baby Precious Always Shines the new volume of her letters and notes to Alice (Kay Turner) Oh yes, I will read them.
Show Less
LibraryThing member comfypants
The public lives of Gertrude Stein and her partner.

1/4 (Bad).

I gave up after 40 pages. As far as I can tell, the point of this is to impart how important and wonderful the Steins are because they bought some art before it was cool. And it's Literature because they left out some punctuation.

Show More
Show Less




067972463X / 9780679724636
Page: 0.3572 seconds