Places: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1933

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical realism

Time of work: 1903-1932

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Paris

*Paris. Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, TheFrance’s capital city, in which Gertrude Stein spent much of her adult life, including years of it lived with her companion Alice B. Toklas. Her book describes Paris at a time when many of the most important artists and writers of the era congregated in the city. Indeed, in the early twentieth century, Paris was the center of the art world. There, Stein and Toklas were friends with, among others, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Juan Gris, Ernest Hemingway, Tristan Tzara, and Man Ray. They witnessed the rise of such art movements as cubism and Dadaism. Stein’s own writing style was influenced by the developments in visual art that she witnessed, making this setting important not only to this autobiographical work but also to her works not set in Paris.

*Rue de Fleurus

*Rue de Fleurus (rew duh fluhr). Parisian street on which Stein and Toklas live. In the home’s large atelier, Stein displayed her collection of artworks and entertained on Saturday evenings. Because it provided a meeting place for the artists and writers of the time, this place, as well as the art collection which it housed, helped to shape and define the artistic movements of the time. At one particularly successful dinner party, Stein seated her artist friends facing their own works. Everyone enjoyed themselves, and no one noticed the seating arrangement until the end of the party.


*Montmartre (mon MAR-treh). Parisian neighborhood in which many artists lived and had their studios. Picasso lived there during his first marriage, to Fernande, before his work was widely recognized. Stein and Toklas frequently visited their friends in Montmartre.

*United States

*United States. The native country of Gertrude Stein and of Alice B. Toklas figures in the book largely as background–a place that formed them both but which does not offer the same possibilities for art as Europe–and particularly Paris–does. Two chapters about Toklas and Stein before they go Paris briefly describe their childhoods in America, beginning with their births in San Francisco and Allegheny, Pennsylvania, respectively. Significant events of their adult lives such as Stein’s training at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore also receive mention. However, in general, their lives in America are depicted merely as preparation for their lives in Paris.


*England. Stein and Toklas visited friends in English country houses, an experience which Toklas enjoyed but which Stein tired of quickly. She disliked the constant conversation in English. Toklas found these homes especially relaxing, enjoying the slow pace and friendly atmosphere. The two were in England when World War I broke out, and spent several weeks with friends in the country until they could return to Paris.


*Nîmes (neem). City in southern France in which Stein and Toklas spent time during World War I, when they served as volunteers for the American Fund for French Wounded. Stein learned to drive so that she could participate in the war effort and ran errands for hospitals in the area. The two women met many American soldiers who were stationed there, and even “adopted” a few with whom they corresponded later.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. Gertrude Stein. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Part of the Modern Critical Views Series, this volume contains fifteen essays on Stein, a chronology, and a bibliography. The selection is astute, and, although there is no specific essay on Bridgman, Richard. Gertrude Stein in Pieces. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. Bridgman offers one of the fullest analyses of the overall structure and style of Stein’s writing. The book is carefully conceived and clearly presented.Greenfeld, Howard. Gertrude Stein: A Biography. New York: Crown, 1973. A brief introduction to Gertrude Stein, well suited for the general reader.Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. New York: Random House, 1961. Hemingway gives his side of the story about his relationship with Gertrude Stein and about its fracture. His view is biased but fascinating. An interesting supplement to The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.Hobhouse, Janet. Everyone Who Was Anybody: A Biography of Gertrude Stein. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1975. Offers a helpful catalog of the significant people who frequented 27 rue de Fleurus and of both Stein’s and Toklas’ opinions of them. Well illustrated.Hoffman, Michael J. Gertrude Stein. Boston: Twayne, 1976. A balanced, critical study identifying Stein’s work as the most important source and influence on modernism.Mellow, James R. Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company. New York: Praeger, 1974. This book, rich with illustrations, captures the vibrant spirit of the exciting circle of painters, sculptors, writers, and fascinating passersby that came within the Stein-Toklas social orbit before and after World War I.Simon, Linda. The Biography of Alice B. Toklas. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977. A fine biography of Alice B. Toklas, especially for the reader interested in seeing the life and times from Alice’s perspective. Can serve as a valuable companion volume to Stein’s book.Souhami, Diana. Gertrude and Alice. London: Pandora, 1991. The most thorough account of Gertrude Stein’s long lesbian relationship with Alice B. Toklas, this book shows how strong Toklas was and how she dominated many aspects of her forty-year association with Stein.Sprigge, Elizabeth. Gertrude Stein: Her Life and Work. New York: Harper Brothers, 1957. Like James R. Mellow’s book (above), this well-written biography is replete with excellent illustrations. Along with Mellow’s biography, it remains among the most valuable resources for Stein scholars and enthusiasts.
Categories: Places