September 9, 2009

Alice B. Toklas moves in

I never liked Gertrude Stein. I think her poems are wretched and that she was a domineering, manipulating person. I don’t know what Alice B. Toklas saw in her (maybe it was her Tender Buttons) but on this day in 1910, Alice B. Toklas became the lifetime house mate of Stein.

Gertrude who had been sharing a house with her brother Leo for many years, met Toklas in 1907. Leo and Gertrude were the children of a railroad executive who made prudent investments in San Francisco’s cable car lines, therefore making his offspring wealthy and able to travel and live without really working.

Alice would later write that when she met Gertrude Stein: "She was a golden brown presence, burned by the Tuscan sun and with a golden glint in her warm brown hair." I’d like to know who her optometrist was.

Alice was a chain smoker with a slight moustache. She had a penchant for great hats and cool earrings. Every morning for an hour she manicured, buffed and painted her finger nails. In 1908 Alice used those tidy fingers to type manuscripts for Gertrude Stein.

1909 found Alice staying with Gertrude and Leo in Paris. On September 9, 1910, she moved in to 27, rue de Fleurus permanently. Toklas took the reigns of Stein's household. Leo packed his trunk in 1914.

The two women turned their Parisian home into an important artistic and literary salon, where they entertained Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and many others. Alice was an excellent cook and fond of art, decorating, tapestry and flowers. She was left to entertain the wives of many of the painters Gertrude held court with.

In 1933 The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was written by Gertrude Stein and is basically Stein’s memoirs. I enjoyed reading it, as I love reading about that time period in Paris but Ernest Hemingway called it a 'damned pitiful book'; Henri Matisse was offended by the descriptions of his wife; Georges Braque thought Stein had misconstrued Cubism; and Leo Stein deemed it to be a “farrago of lies”.

I have the The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook in my collection. Used, it smells strongly of smoke and I can pretend it was actually Alice’s.

For those who are curious, the "B" in Alice B. Toklas’s name stands for Babette.

image: Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and their poodle Basket. France, 1944.Photograph by Carl Mydans.


Margaret said...

I loved reading this. Thanks:)

Butternut Squash said...

I wonder if I could turn my home into an important artistic and literary salon? I suppose if it wasn't her personality that attracted people it must have been about the cash.

Diane said...

I've always meant to get around to reading the Autobiography. Maybe I will do it back-to-back with A Moveable Feast!
Alex is back to school - 2nd year university. This year he will be old enough to drink (legally).
Does your teenage pup live at home?

p.s. must have sold a lot of books if your going rate was a quarter

einbildungskraft said...

Re:I wonder if I could turn my home into an important artistic and literary salon? (I bet YOU could Ms Hazel, with all YOUR BOOKS and cool Paintings!) Re:I suppose if it wasn't her personality that attracted people it must have been about the cash.

lechat said...

Gertrude Stein was the mama of the dada, I didn't invent the phrase, I wish I did. Josée

ds said...

They may have felt used and abused (or that their family members were), but they kept coming back, didn't they?
Somehow, that photo humanizes Ms. Gertie in a way that Picasso's portrait does not. I suppose that was his point. Interesting stuff about Alice Babette. Thanks.

The Clever Pup said...

Diane, my son is in Grade 10. Detesting every one of the 70 minutes a day he has for math.

We also sold a couple of chairs and two bikes for $20. We figured we moved 400 books and records and cassettes combined.

California Girl said...

funny, interesting and you're probably right, GS was more of a personality than anything. Have you read "Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation" about her bookstore, Shakespeare & Co in Paris? If not, you'll enjoy it.

lechat said...

David Sedaris wrote:

I didn't see this as a romantic idea. It has nothing to do with France itself, with wearing hats or writing tortured letter from a sidewalk café. I didn't care where Hemingway drank or Alice B. Toklas had her mustache trimmed.

hilarious funny!

Karren Alenier said...

In 1903 Gertrude Stein moved into her brother Leo's apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus.

In 1907 Alice Toklas goes to Paris and meets Gertrude Stein.

In 1908 Gertrude and Alice secretly pledge themselves to each other on hilltop in Fiesole, Italy.

1910 Alice moves in with Gertrude & Leo.

Have a look at the book Gertrude and Alice
by Diana Souhami.

For those interested in Gertrude Stein & her partner Alice B. Toklas visit my column or check out my book The Steiny Road to Operadom at

The Clever Pup said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Clever Pup said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Von said...

Me too, I've had the cookbook since about 1966 or so and it's very battered.