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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  6,267 Ratings  ·  484 Reviews
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was written in 1933 by Gertrude Stein in the guise of an autobiography authored by Alice B. Toklas, who was her lover. It is a fascinating insight into the art scene in Paris as the couple were friends with Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. They begin the war years in England but return to France, volunteering for the Ameri ...more
Paperback, 252 pages
Published March 17th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1933)
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Pablo Picasso! Henri Matisse! Ernest Hemingway! F. Scott Fitzgerald! Sherwood Anderson! T. S. Eliot! Djuna Barnes! Ezra Pound! Georges Braque! Ford Madox Ford! Jean Cocteau!

All of these artists and writers were bumping into each other in Paris in the 1920s, often at Gertrude Stein's apartment, the famous salon at 27 rue de Fleurus. (And if you're wondering who the hell Alice B. Toklas is, she was Stein's longtime partner and lover, and calling it an autobiography but yet it was written by Stein
May 12, 2009 Michelle rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
Hold your forefinger and thumb approximately an inch apart. That was how much I knew about Gertrude Stein prior to reading The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. I’m certainly no expert now, not even close, but I can safely say that I am completely enamored of both Stein and her life partner, Toklas.

No, it’s not because of the near-constant stream of visiting artists and other members of Parisian society to their home at rue de Fleurus in the early 1900s, though that was impressive. They were ve
Jul 26, 2011 Madeline rated it did not like it
Shelves: the-list, ugh, memoir
During my Modern Poetry class in college, we read some of Tender Buttons (prompting me to write a scathing review of it, which was promptly trolled) and my professor explained Gertrude Stein thus: "Gertrude Stein believed that there was only one great poet of the twentieth century, and it was her. She might admit that Shakespeare was talented as well, but only on a good day."

Having now read The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, I fully support this assessment of Miss Stein. Not that I dislike h
Feb 27, 2014 Cheryl rated it liked it
"And now I will tell you how two Americans happened to be in the heart of an art movement of which the outside world at that time knew nothing."

I'm ashamed that I haven't delved into Stein's work until now, but quite honestly, at 900+ pages, The Making of Americans seemed daunting. Yet when I saw Stein's character in the movie Midnight in Paris, and I read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, I knew it was time to read the work of one of the few women writers of her time and place. So I started with
Jul 18, 2009 Jesse rated it did not like it
I don't dispute the book's importance, by Stein's style drives me bonkers. I'd much rather read ABOUT her than actually read her. That said, I'm glad she existed-- I'm also glad I'm not forced to read this all the time.
Apr 12, 2015 El rated it really liked it
This is timely. There's an article about Gertrude Stein today in the Huffington Post. Others thought she was an asshole (as I describe below) as well. Except I don't think they appreciated the genius part I recognized after reading this book...

Here's what I know about Gertrude Stein: She was an asshole.

I say that in a joking way. I actually learned more about her from this book than I learned about Alice B. Toklas (whoever she was) because this "autobiography" was written by Stein, supposedly fr
May 31, 2014 Paul rated it really liked it
3.75 stars rounded up.
I struggle with Gertrude Stein, as I struggled with this novel. I don’t think this work is typical of Stein as she wrote it very quickly with the idea of being commercial as she needed money; not a problem in itself, but it meant she was also ambivalent about it. It is a novel written as though Stein’s partner Alice Toklas is writing an account of Stein’s life in Paris before and after the First World War. It is also an account of those many famous and not so famous writers
Barry Pierce
I feel that if I had the chance to meet one person from the 20th Century it would be Gertrude Stein. She was friends with anyone who was anyone in the artistic and literary circles of early 20th century Paris. The sheer amount of name-dropping in this book is immense; Picasso, Braque, Man Ray, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Pound, Beach, et al. Although don't go into this book expecting something along the lines of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, this majorly focuses on the artists of Paris, not th ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
I had seen them during my mother's 75th birthday celebrations last January 2011. Both old women, lifetime companions. C. is the more "manly" of the two, short haircut, never wears a skirt. B. is my distant relative, very feminine in her deportment, said to have been the former girlfriend of another relative of mine (now deceased, God bless his soul). They brought with them to the party their three-year-old adopted girl, begot out-of-wedlock by a prostitute in our hometown, father unknown. Years ...more
Apr 28, 2012 Kim rated it really liked it

This is a must-read for anyone interested in artists and writers in Paris in the early part of the 20th century, because every writer and artist of any note who was in Paris at that time encountered Gertrude Stein at some point. Picasso, Braque, Matisse and Magritte, Apollinaire, Gide, Pound and Hemingway: all of them and many others attended Stein's celebrated Saturday evening salon.

Stein wrote this work in the conversational style of Toklas, who was her life partner. Ostensibly Toklas' autobi
K.D. Absolutely
Mar 21, 2011 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: Top 10 Gay and Lesbian Novels; 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Shelves: 1001-core, memoirs
What makes this book memorable for me is this interesting idea: a pseudo-autobiography. Gertrude Stein wrote this book from the perspective of her lover, Alice B. Toklas. It is like an autobiography yet Stein put herself in Toklas' shoes. I am still to read Stein's first novel, Three Lives and her long The Making of the Americans both of which were mentioned a lot of time in this book but I have an inkling that Stein's writing style or voice here is different from what she used in those two book ...more
Aug 30, 2007 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
I read this in my last year of college, in an autobiography seminar. Though it's not really an autobiography. A fictional autobiography.

I enjoyed it. Our class ultimately decided that it was an amazing love letter to Alice from Gertrude. It is incredibly pretentious and presumptious, but a love letter nonetheless. Just because the author is hopelessly self-involved doesn't make it any less a love letter.

May 28, 2007 montana rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lesbian geniuses and their supporters
Yes. Finally found, rather Ruthie found, in a bookshop here and finished her in a few days. Gertrude Stien appears at least five times on every page usually with some remark about being friends with Picasso or not having interest in some other painter or person of prewar, war, or just post wwI era. Her comments on Hemmingway are hysterical and on the whole I have a great weakness for facilitators of art, and this book was very validating in that regard. Interesting as a writer to try to write in ...more
Sentimental Surrealist
May 22, 2013 Sentimental Surrealist rated it really liked it
You might be tempted to dismiss this book out-of-hand, either because of Gertrude Stein's reputation for unreadable austerity or because it's basically a bunch of bohemians (yes, they're famous bohemians, but the point stands) running around Paris and London, but I'm here to tell you it's well worth your time. Stein's style is a little repetitive, but has an easy conversational flow and quite a few beautiful moments, and besides, the book bristles with wit and an arrogance that's just on the rig ...more
Free download available at eBooks@Adelaide.

Opening lines:
Iwas born in San Francisco, California. I have in consequence always preferred living in a temperate climate but it is difficult, on the continent of Europe or even in America, to find a temperate climate and live in it. My mother’s father was a pioneer, he came to California in ‘49, he married my grandmother who was very fond of music. She was a pupil of Clara Schumann’s father. My mother was a quiet charming woman named Emilie.

A splendid
Sep 05, 2008 Katie rated it really liked it
I will confess that I was intimidated by this book, having read only isolated bits of Stein and having heard much about her difficulty. So I was surprised to find this book so readable, and so downright funny in places. It's an odd sort of memoir, skating along across the surface of Stein's and Toklas's life together and almost never delving into any sort of interiority or emotional depth, but it's full of clever lines and sharp little portraits of all the writers and artists that they knew in P ...more
Nov 28, 2016 Liz rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The ego of Gertrude Stein was too hard to swallow, particularly combined with the absolutely atrocious writing. This woman seriously compared herself to Shakespeare at some point. Shakespeare and this...No, just no.
Horrible horrible horrible.
Worse than Hemingway and Kafka.
This book put two songs in my head*.
Harpers Bizarre - I Love You Alice B. Toklas
Peter Sarstedt - Where Do You Go To My Lovely?** (mentions of the Boulevard Saint Michel)

It's also a reminder that avant-gardes using simplified, faux-naive writing styles (e.g. Tao Lin and alt-lit) are nothing new. I've said quite a few times this year that I don't enjoy these very basic styles, that I feel some writers under-describe - yet I did rather like the Autobiography. It's not a flat sort of basic, conveyin
John Spillane
Mar 20, 2012 John Spillane rated it it was ok
Oh man Gertrude, by your own description you were a pill. Stein got into an unimaginable number of tiffs and spats, but to her credit, strong personalities take note, she also patched them up even if it took a couple years. Her pal-ing around with Picasso, Matisse, and every other notable figure of the era is interesting in the beginning, but the book quickly devolves into her recounting every minor social slight, and every success involving her being admitted into various countries with or with ...more
Oct 30, 2015 moneypenny rated it did not like it
Awful! This book is like be stuck next to someone's boring wife during the longest dinner party ever. Sure, she name drops like nobody's business but what she has to say is dull and inane. "We met so and so. He was charming and Gertrude Stein liked him very much. He preferred English Daises above all other flowers."

I would have loved an editor with some guts working on this too. The same things are mentioned over and over but the thinking isn't linear so you end up saying "wait, didn't that pers
At first it just seems like simply a gossipy good time, but it also functions as a fascinating mise en abyme (the author speaking about herself through the voice of her partner, etc).

It's a thoroughly delightful portal through which to slip into 1920's Paris. I'd wager that Hemingway's A Moveable Feast is generally preferred, but I am definitely Team Stein.
Mar 23, 2016 Nick rated it did not like it
Self-obsessed snoozefest of a memoir detailing to excruciation the dining habits and interior designs of post-War Paris Bohemia. That Stein can make figures like Picasso boring when disfigured by her ugly syntactic compulsions is a perverse sort of accomplishment, I suppose. Genius my ass.
Feb 06, 2017 Joanne rated it liked it
Sometimes entertaining and funny, sometimes, especially toward the end, tiresome. It should have been called "More Than Anyone Ever Wanted To Know About Gertrude Stein, Narrated By The Very Important Gertrude Stein Her Own Self."
As far as I can tell, there was one young adulthood, one dive into the world of art in this world that was most definitely worth living and it was Gertrude Stein's. And she knew it too. Ah, to go back and be Gertrude Stein...

Haha. I wrote that first sentence, thinking of using it to kick-off my eventual review, when I had just started the book and was all enamoured with that paris way of life. It certainly is worth being enamoured with, but like many other autobiographies, this one also, after
Aug 23, 2011 Phil rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did enjoy this book, but not as much as Gertrude Stein probably enjoyed writing it, or thinks that I should like it. And that's my main problem with this book; Stein isn't the epoch-making writer that she believes herself to be.

A few things to get straight: i) this isn't an autobiography of Alice B Toklas, ii) this is a sort of autobiography of Gertrude Stein, iii) not a lot happens, iv) most of the people mentioned as geniuses are no longer more than footnotes in art history, v) Stein's writ
Eric Phetteplace
Jul 28, 2011 Eric Phetteplace rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: People interested in modernism from a historical standpoint
Shelves: prose
I always end up being super opinionated about Gertrude Stein books. It's a love/hate thing, because she's such a clearly talented writer but devotes her time to such frustrating works.
Autobiography isn't a bad book. It's full of interesting sentences and often amusing. But the topic is so profoundly uninteresting to me. Really, you were besties with Picasso? Great. The book is just one long list of people Stein partied with and whether she liked them or was "not interested" in them. I can scarce
Jan 24, 2008 Becky rated it really liked it
Gertrude Stein writes her partner's fictional autobiography which turns out to be more a biography of Gertrude Stein and her friendship with Picasso and Matisse loaded with gossipy accounts of her Salon she ran in Paris just before and during these painters rise to fame. While Stein is, as she boasts, often annoyingly, a genius, her crisp conversational prose makes the book a fascinating rendering of an art subculture during a time of modern(ist), and futurist breakthroughs, it really left me a ...more
Leo Robertson
Dec 06, 2013 Leo Robertson rated it really liked it
Great intro to Stein and fun being historically starstruck by all her pals :)

At first I thought it was arrogant that she should write a biography of herself through the eyes of someone else, then I thought maybe she was making some sort of commentary that she does not come to life without her life's love. An explanation of the chosen voice is given at the end, but I think the answer is a mixture of my two interpretations :D
May 17, 2016 Hermien rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed it although it is a lot of namedropping. Gertrude Stein reminds me of Bette Midler in Beaches when she says, after having ranted on about herself for a while: "Well, that's enough about me. How about you? What do you think about me?"
Mar 16, 2016 Sonya rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction, school
Despite spending the whole time flattering herself, Stein manages to come across as remarkably unappealing. Top-notch name-dropping if that's your thing.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company
  • Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939
  • The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf
  • Shakespeare and Company
  • Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson
  • Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties
  • Hope Against Hope
  • Gertrude and Alice
  • Eminent Victorians
  • Ladies Almanack
  • The Contours of American History
  • In the American Grain (New Directions Paperback No. 53)
  • Selected Essays
  • Story of a Life
  • The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vols 1-2
  • A Preface to Morals
  • Women of the Left Bank
  • On Being Ill
Gertrude Stein was an American writer who spent most of her life in France, and who became a catalyst in the development of modern art and literature. Her life was marked by two primary relationships, the first with her brother Leo Stein, from 1874-1914, and the second with Alice B. Toklas, from 1907 until Stein's death in 1946. Stein shared her salon at 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris, first with Leo an ...more
More about Gertrude Stein...

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“She always says she dislikes the abnormal, it is so obvious. She says the normal is so much more simply complicated and interesting.” 30 likes
“A little artist has all the tragic unhappiness and the sorrows of a great artist and he is not a great artist.” 20 likes
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