On September 8, 1907, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas met. Three years and one day later, they were officially living together. Three years older than Toklas, Stein had one of the most popular literary salons in expatriate Paris. They lived on 27 rue de Fleurus, where paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, decorated the walls. Hemingway, in A Moveable Feast, describes their Parisian abode as being similar to “one of the best rooms in the finest museum except there was a big fireplace and it was warm and comfortable and they gave you good things to eat and tea and natural distilled liqueurs made from purple plums, yellow plums or wild raspberries.”
Stein had a rocky friendship with James Joyce. Noel Riley Fitch writes that “he was her rival for attention and praise.” Fitch also discusses the male writers that flocked around Stein: “Her first had been Picasso in 1906. In the twenties there would be Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway.” Stein’s friendship with Hemingway also became embittered. Hemingway biographer Carlos Baker notes that Stein had revealed that “she and Sherwood Anderson had virtually created Hemingway, and ‘they were both a little proud and a little ashamed of the work of their minds.'”
Stein’s desire for her work to be recognized was another hindrance in her life. Fitch mentions, “Sympathetic with her crying for fame, Alice encouraged, even pressured for, Stein’s success.” Besides being known for her works The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook and What Is Remembered, Toklas is said to have chatted with the companions of male artists that visited her and Stein’s salon, so Stein can talk to the young men one-on-one without distraction.
In her memoir Shakespeare and Company, Sylvia Beach recalls Stein and Toklas as seeing “things from the same angle, as people do when they are perfectly congenial. Their two characters, however, seemed to me quite independent of each other.” However, Beach made a point to note that Gertrude seemed “something of an infant prodigy,” while Toklas had “more finesse” than Gertrude and appeared “grown up.”
Stein, however, wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas for money. Kirkus Reviews writes of the 1933 novel that “Alice Toklas was always threatening to write her autobiography, which, Gertrude Stein knew, would in essence be her biography, based on a close intimacy.” As “the writing was postponed repeatedly, Gertrude Stein announced that she would do it herself.” In essence, the “result” is “Stein’s autobiography, though it gives a delightful background of Alice Toklas.”
Photo of Stein and Toklas’s Parisian apartment: D&S McSpadden