Gertrude and Alice by Diana Souhami

cover of the book Gertrude and AliceGertrude and Alice by Diana Souhami
Genre: Biography
Copyright Year: 1991
Published: 1993
Publisher: HarperCollins Canada / Trade
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Format: Trade Paperback
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No. of Pages: 300
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ISBN: 62509152
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Twentieth-century literature is Gertrude Stein. ‘ Or at least so felt Gertrude Stein, in a sentiment that she shared with few others, except of course Alice B. Toklas. Gertrude and Alice met in 1907 in Paris, and famously shared their lives from that day forth, souls in perfect complement; two magnificently eccentric and idiosyncratic women who became a legendary entity, and who were photographed by Man Ray and Cecil Beaton, painted and fêted by Picasso, and visited by writers such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Eliot. Theirs is a fascinating story, and they have found a wonderful and oddly sympathetic chronicler in Diana Souhami, whose book The Trials of Radclyffe Hall met with critical acclaim, and who proves the perfect counterfoil to the ‘Steins. ‘ Her own touch of genius is barely to consider Gertrude’s grand oeuvre, sparing the rod to an already spoiled child and freeing her readership from the unpalatable fare that she generally served up (by contrast, Alice was a dedicated and talented cook). Literary success came late to Stein–she was 57 when The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was published–but, like Edith Sitwell, she became, to use a Leavis phrase, more a figure in the history of publicity; the curious thing is that one senses that behind the rhetoric she knew it. After Stein’s death in 1946, Toklas became the classic devoted author’s widow, finally dying just short of her 90th birthday. She was buried with Gertrude in Père Lachaise cemetery, although her inscription is on the back of the tombstone, as she was ever behind her lover. Souhami’s two lives, refreshingly stripped of biographical dead wood, positively crackle with high-powered gossip and bristle with bitchy anecdotes, although her laconic touch is never asleep to the touching cadences, as well as the wonderful absurdities. As a writer, a ‘literary cubist’ who once tried to give up nouns, Stein is more to be admired than respected. As a life force, mover, and shaker, and as partner to Alice, she was massively successful. Their life together–a third life, so to speak–was their greatest creation, and it’s done justice by the talented Souhami’s glorious account. Gertrude and Alice would have hated it. –David Vincent, Amazon. co. uk
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