Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

I had heard the name of Gertrude Stein thrown around a bunch previously, in conjunction with Ernest Hemingway’s and Pablo Picasso’s. The only things I had read by her before were some of her “tender buttons.” But those in no way prepared me for the literary journey I was about to embark on with "The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas." Stein, though writing in the style of her lover Alice, writes like a combination of Ernest Hemingway and Edward Albee.

The story itself was really intriguing. There are always time periods with certain places that completely entice me and France in the early 20th century is one of those. Toklas and Stein would spend time with greats such as Picasso, Hemingway, Matisse, and Apollinaire. They got French lessons from Picasso’s ex-mistress, Fernande. For an art and literature geek like myself, that kind of life sounds incredible.

Though at 252 pages the book may seem like a short, quick read, I’d assure you that it’s not (at least for me). The style is confusing and repetitive, so it took a lot longer to finish each page than I’d have liked it to. I’d recommend this book to probably anybody in college or older, not because of anything inappropriate, but because of the confusing nature of the book itself. The writing style was difficult for me to understand, and I’m an AP English student at school. However, don’t let that turn you away from reading it because it’s a great book with a good message in the way it’s written.

The point that Stein makes without even realizing it is that there’s nothing abnormal about gay and lesbian relationships. Most people would have expected an autobiography about a homosexual couple to include lovey-dovey thoughts, or sex scenes. But nothing overt is really needed to get the point across. The fact that Stein and Toklas were lovers is just a fact, and it’s not something that should change the way the world should look at them or the way they should act in public. They can act however they choose to because they’re completely normal. There is absolutely no reason for the two of them to act overtly in love if they are.

What I think she means is that whenever you meet someone, you shouldn’t have to give a disclaimer on yourself, such as, “I’m warning you, I’m an atheist,” or “I need to let you know before we become friends, I’m a lesbian.” A straight, white man would never do that. Why should other people have to? Just because they’re not in the so-called “majority” doesn’t mean they’re at all lesser human beings. Nobody should ever have to give warnings to people just because they are who they are. Everyone is an individual, and we should never have to treat our own qualities as a potential problem for somebody else. People should be putting themselves first in that respect, because they’re the ones who matter most.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" in comments!


Susan B James said...

Lee, If you haven't seen Midnight In Paris, please try to go. Kathy Bates plays Gertrude Stein. I think this might be a writer's movie. I adored it.
A loving committed relationship looks to me to be the same whether its a different or same sexed couple or two dragons.

Anonymous said...

"Everyone is an individual, and we should never have to treat our own qualities as a potential problem for somebody else."

Well said.

ivanova said...

What a great review! I wish all book reviews were so clear and helpful.