The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

By Gertrude Stein,

Book cover of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

Book description

Stein's most famous work; one of the richest and most irreverent biographies ever written.

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Why read it?

4 authors picked The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I love Stein’s unapologetic and brazen queerness at a time when that was not exactly appreciated. Toklas was Stein’s lifelong lover, with whom she shared her life in Paris.

To me, this book feels like a love letter. My favorite scene is the one in which Toklas and Stein invite the struggling artists of Paris to dinner and then sit them opposite paintings they themselves have made in order to keep them from arguing. Stein’s wit is as lively as ever in this book, and–it’s simply the best example of a hoax autobiography I can think of. And it certainly…

I’m not sure why I picked this up to read. 

I knew that Stein and her life partner Alice B. Toklas were American expatriates living in France for most of the first part of the 20th century. I knew that they were at the center of the modernist movement in Paris and that Stein was one of the key American modernist writers, though I had until now never read anything that she had written. I knew that Stein and her brother Leo were major collectors of modern art, especially cubists. These types of facts I knew. 

But reading this book…

I adore this book for its quirky chronicle of the so-called “Lost Generation,” those American expatriates who began arriving in Paris shortly after the turn of the twentieth century in search of all that was new and exhilarating in the world of arts and letters.

Presented as an “autobiography,” the book is really a playful ruse, adopting the verbal mannerisms and eccentric sensibility of Toklas to present Stein as a great genius among lesser geniuses. Together, these singular characters guide the reader through encounters with a host of cultural icons, including Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald,…

From Patrick's list on memoirs about lives on the move.

Toklas was Stein’s life partner—their relationship lasted nearly four decades and ended with Stein’s death in 1946. As the book shows, Toklas led a remarkable life, fleeing the devastation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to move to Paris, where she met Stein and became a centrepiece of the avant-garde art scene that included Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, and Matisse, to name just a few. Although she was viewed as a sort of background figure (it seems she was quite shy), she worked as Stein’s caretaker, editor, critic, confidante, lover, and cook. She finally got the recognition she deserved…

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