Behind Every Great Woman…

Much  mystique, controversy and folklore surrounds the legend that is Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Stein was purportedly described by Toklas as having the head of a Roman emperor and Alice in turn was immortalised in poetry, prose and narrative. But, was Toklas overshadowed by the towering  aura surrounding Stein, or was devotion and loyalty, and the muse’s servitude her own true heart’s desire? 

The photograph above left, taken in 1933 by Cecil Beaton, speaks volumes for the outward appearance of the  relationship between Stein and Toklas. So, what of the role of Toklas and to what end can we suggest that she was so much more than the shadow, but perhaps even the sun itself to Stein’s solar system? Might we say, that behind every great woman is a woman? 

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is but one example of the genius of Stein; this was the work of Stein herself, written in the voice of Toklas. The power over her craft which Stein held is evident here and in the many works created over a life time which could fill countless volumes and still only reveal the dog-eared corner of a literary life lived to the full. Certainly, Stein’s writing at times speaks to us in Cubist tones, we may struggle to decipher yet admire the art nonetheless. Yet when she wrote of love, the words were painted in the language of Romanticism, if not still revealing the lingering whiff of whimsy. Take this line from A Sonatina Followed By Another:

I caught sight of a splendid Misses. She had handkerchiefs and kisses. She had eyes and yellow shoes she had everything to choose and she chose me.

Alas, what makes this creative couple worthy of our Patron Saints list? Like John and Sunday Reed were to Heide, as Frida and Diego gave of the Blue House, Stein and Toklas created of their home an art nest. Theirs was a gathering place for the literary and artistic greats of the era. Oh, to be a little bourgeois fly on the wall, and can you imagine the parties? The lives of Alice and Gertrude will forever footnote and cross reference one another. We like that.

A Stein reader; Gertrude Stein and Ulla. E Dydo
Legends; Cynthia Ozick (Ed. John Miller)
Is Flesh Advisable? The Interior Theater of Gertrude Stein; Elizabeth Fifer.
Copyright © Creative Couples Project 2012

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