Sunday, August 26, 2012

Gertrude & Alice

The dynamic duo of the Paris' Avant-Garde! Gertrude and Alice had an amazing 40 year long relationship. Hosting salons for the who's who of the early 20th century art and literature scene, their influence shaped what we know today as "Modern Art."  Stein helped to launch the careers of such famous artists as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and many others.

Gertrude is know for her works of literature, poor Alice is mostly know for her Pot Brownie recipe, a recipe that wasn't even hers! Read the straight dope for the whole story:
Surprisingly, this article from People magazine was the best piece I could find about Gertrude and Alice. Everything else was too dry and academic for my taste, so enjoy!

Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas
For Four Decades, the Imperious Writer and Her Diminutive Companion Ruled the Avant-Garde of Paris—and Each Other's Hearts—with Surprising Propriety

"She was a golden brown presence, burned by the Tuscan sun and with a golden glint in her warm brown hair," Alice Babette Toklas wrote in her 1963 memoir about the first glimpse of the love of her life. "She was large and heavy with delicate small hands and a beautifully modeled and unique head." The artistic society of Paris contained many celebrated relationships—Picasso and his succession of quarrelsome mistresses, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald with their public spats—but none so interesting as the lesbian couple of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. 

They were a striking duo. Both came from well-to-do families; both were raised in California. But they were almost mirror opposites in all else. Stein, a rotund 5'2", favored severe, mannish outfits and wore her hair in a Roman emperor cut. She became a literary lioness for her obtuse prose and career-making opinions, though her books rarely sold well. 

 Toklas, a slight 5', loved couture clothes and championed the career of designer Pierre Balmain, who always sent a car to whisk her to his shows. She had a swarthy complexion and a pronounced mustache, which she refused to shave or pluck. Out for a walk in a jardin with their enormous white poodle, the couples were a familiar Paris sight. "They had a childlike side, both of them," recalls artist and acquaintance Jane Eakin, now 73. "They could be silly and play jokes on each other. And they equally loved poking into flea markets." 

Perhaps the strangest thing about their relationship, in their circle at least, was its almost Victorian quietude. For 39 years, until Stein's death from cancer in 1946, theirs was a monogamous and proper pairing, a kind of literary mind-meld fused with razor-sharp wit and puritanical behavior. Others might Charleston through the '20s, but in their famous salon at 27 rue de Fleurus, any rare discussion of sexuality did not include the private lives of the hostesses.

They were, however, immediately physically attracted to each other. "It was Gertrude Stein who held my complete attention, as she did for all the many years I knew her until her death, and all these empty ones since then," Toklas wrote in her memoir. Gertrude proposed marriage to Alice on a hillside outside Paris in 1908. No one knows if they had a ceremony, but Stein did give Alice a ring. "I don't think of them as male and female; they were androgynous," says artist Eakin. "They flirted with each other all the time. They were attached more than most couples. I think when Gertrude said to Alice, 'Will you marry me?' everything fell into place for them both. They forsook all others and created an original life together." 

At home, beneath the Picassos, Matisses and C├ęzannes they had bought early and cheap, Gertrude relaxed in a deep armchair, offering pronouncements about art and personality to a constant parade of luminaries including Ernest Hemingway, Picsasso and Paul Robeson, while Alice, perched birdlike on a settee, chain-smoked Pall Malls. Some visitors assumed that Alice was merely hired help. After all, she answered the door and the phone and did the cleaning. And she was, said American chef James Beard, one of the "really great cooks of all time." (Her 1954 Alice B. Toklas Cookbook became renowned in the '60s for its recipe for hashish fudge.) Journalist and friend Joe Barry recalled that "Alice would engage the wives and mistresses and talk women talk, while Gertrude talked man talk with the men."

But without Alice, Gertrude would not have been Gertrude. They both believed without reservation in Stein's genius. Alice listened to her lover read her endless experimental prose and made suggestions for changes. She typed reams of Gertrude's nearly illegible scrawl (and, some say, rewrote what she didn't like). Their friend Our Town playwright Thornton Wilder affectionately called Alice "the dragon protecting the treasure." 

On the surface, it would seem that Gertrude dominated the relationship, but the opposite may have been true. In 1935, Stein was happily conducting an interview with reporters. Toklas appeared at the door and said, "Come, lovey, say goodbye to your guests. They are leaving." Gertrude leaped to her feet and exited without a word.

 Nowhere was their complicated relationship more evident than in 1933's Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. That remarkable book was, of course, written by Stein, because, she joked, "Alice would never get around to it." In the Autobiography, Stein abandoned her repetitive prose for a clear and ringing style. At the time, it was the only one of her books to achieve general acclaim.

After Stein's death, Toklas kept her wit and her wits but clearly pined for her companion. Not long before she died, at age 89 in 1967, she returned to Catholicism. "Will this allow me," Alice asked her priest, "to see Gertrude when I die?"

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