Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Favored Strangers Gertrude Stein and Her Famiily by LindaWagner-Martin(1995)

Gertrude Stein was born in Alleghaney, Pennsylvania, USA 1874, she died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France in 1946

In 1903 she and her brothers moved to Paris.  France, mostly Paris, was to be her home for the rest of her life.

Her best known literary work was The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933

To most, including me before I read Linda Wagner-Martin's excellent biography, Gertrude Stein is known as the host for decades of literary and artistic salons, held at her Paris homes and for her role as a cultural icon  in the LGBT culture for her long term relationship to Alice B. Toklas.  I am pretty sure they are, in the literary world, the most famous lesbian couple of all time.

          ( Stein on the left)

Stein was born into an affluent Jewish-American family.  Her father had extensive real estate holdings.  At one point, when the family lived in California, he was the director of The San Fransisco Street Car Lines.

(Try to imagine Gertrude and Alice hanging on a strap on a street car without smiling.) 

Upon the passing of both parents, Gertrude moved to Paris, along with her brother Michael, who managed the family trust, and her brother Leo with whom she lived from 1903 to 1914.

    Stein and her brothers, Michael and Leo.

Prior to moving to Paris Gertrude went to Radcliffe and then John Hopkins Medical school where she was a student of William James.  She faced significant predjudice  as women doctors were not quite yet accepted.  She did not graduate. It was there she first began to realize her sexual identity.  

From 1903 to 1914 Leo and Gsrtrude used income from the trust fund to buy works of upcoming artists.  Her taste in art was either brilliant or very lucky as she bought large amounts of early works by Picasso, Renoir and other artists who would become world class.  This wonderful art collection became the functional draw for her famous studios.  Greats of world literature like the Americans Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sherwood Anderson were  in regular attendance.  Wagner-Martin goes into lots of interesting detail about Gertrude's occasionally problematic relationship with Hemingway.  She also had a second monthly  salon focusing on the Paris art community.  

     A small portion of her art collection

In time the trust income of Gertrude declined and she partially supported herself by selling of paintings for many times more than she paid for them.  Assembled today, her collection would be worth billions of dollars just for the Picasso's.

     Portrait of Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso

Gertrude wrote a number of literary works and the author goes into a lot of detail about her financial dealings.  Much space is devoted to her relationship with Alice Tolkas, which lasted over thirty years.

During World War Two Gertrude and Alice left Paris for the countryside in what would be Vichy France. As a Jew and a homosexual Gertrude was at considerable risk from the Nazis.  The author suggests she survived through a personal friendship with a high ranking Vichy contact and her status as a famous American writer.  The account of the struggles to survive of Gertrude and Alice during the war years was very moving. 

Favored Strangers- Gertrude Stein and her Family is a very interesting well done literary biography.

I was given a copy by the publisher.

So far for July in Paris I have read

1.  The Dogs and the Wolves by Iréne Nemirovsky 

2.  Mavis Gallant -  Two Set in Paris works, a short story and a note book entry

3.  Five Nights in Paris by John Baxter.

4.  The Little Paris Book Store by Nina George

5.  "The Problem of Summer Time" by Marcel Ayme

6.  "Love Under the Roof" by Emile Zola

7.  "The Purse" by Honore de Balzac 

Mel u


R.T. said...

Well done! You might also like Janet Malcolm's _Two Lives_, another look at Gertrude and Alice.

Mel u said...

R T. I have read good reviews of the work of Janet Malcom. Thanks for the suggestion.

Jackie McGuinness said...

I tried to read her Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, but really didn't like it. I'll give this one a try as I am interested in the fascinating characters she meets.