Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice

Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice

Janet Malcolm / Jan 29, 2020

Two Lives Gertrude and Alice How had the pair of elderly Jewish lesbians survived the Nazis Janet Malcolm asks at the beginning of this extraordinary work of literary biography and investigative journalism The pair of course is

  • Title: Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice
  • Author: Janet Malcolm
  • ISBN: 9780522854367
  • Page: 365
  • Format: Hardcover
  • How had the pair of elderly Jewish lesbians survived the Nazis Janet Malcolm asks at the beginning of this extraordinary work of literary biography and investigative journalism The pair, of course, is Gertrude Stein, the modernist master whose charm was as conspicuous as her fatness and thin, plain, tense, sour Alice B Toklas, the worker bee who ministered to St How had the pair of elderly Jewish lesbians survived the Nazis Janet Malcolm asks at the beginning of this extraordinary work of literary biography and investigative journalism The pair, of course, is Gertrude Stein, the modernist master whose charm was as conspicuous as her fatness and thin, plain, tense, sour Alice B Toklas, the worker bee who ministered to Stein s needs throughout their forty year expatriate marriage As Malcolm pursues the truth of the couple s charmed life in a village in Vichy France, her subject becomes the larger question of biographical truth The instability of human knowledge is one of our few certainties, she writes The portrait of the legendary couple that emerges from this work is unexpectedly charged The two world wars Stein and Toklas lived through together are paralleled by the private war that went on between them This war, as Malcolm learned, sometimes flared into bitter combat.Two Lives is also a work of literary criticism Even the most hermetic of Stein s writings are works of submerged autobiography, Malcolm writes The key of I will not unlock the door to their meaning, you need a crowbar for that, but will sometimes admit you to a kind of anteroom of suggestion Whether unpacking the accessible Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, in which Stein solves the koan of autobiography, or wrestling with The Making of Americans, a masterwork of magisterial disorder, Malcolm is stunningly perceptive.Praise for the author Janet Malcolm is among the most intellectually provocative of authors .able to turn epiphanies of perception into explosions of insight David Lehman, Boston Globe Not since Virginia Woolf has anyone thought so trenchantly about the strange art of biography Christopher Benfey

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      Published :2019-08-05T15:57:20+00:00

    About "Janet Malcolm"

      • Janet Malcolm

        Janet Malcolm is a journalist, biographer, collagist, and staff writer at The New Yorker She is the author of In the Freud Archives and The Crime of Sheila McGough, as well as biographies of Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Plath, and Anton Chekhov.The Modern Library chose her controversial book The Journalist and the Murderer with its infamous first line as one of the 100 best non fiction works of the 20th century.Her most recent book is Forty one False Starts.


    1. Janet Malcolm craves attention. She landed herself and the NYer in a zilly dollar lawsuit some years ago. Now, she's at it again -- throwing stones at Gertie & Alice for daring to survive W2 Occupation in France. They didnt blow farts and scream obscenities at the enemy in Vichy; they had the temerity to stay civilized. Super writer Tom Junod once said of Mme, "She's full of shit." So are her pals high in publishing ozones.

    2. If things truly come in waves, we seem to be riding a Gertrude Stein tsunami. Recent Stein events and books include:-- "The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde" (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, February 28-June 2). This extraordinary show presents paintings collected in the early twentieth century by Gertrude Stein, her brothers Leo and Michael, and Michael's wife Sarah and displayed at their weekly salon at 27 rue de Fleurus. Visually demonstrating the family's signif [...]

    3. I was really enjoying this when I started: I was hungover, I wanted to learn about Stein, and Malcolm can write sentences that sometimes rise above (or fall below, either way) the usual New York journalism. It was exactly what I wanted: three essays, one about Stein and Toklas in occupied France, one about Stein's work and academic criticism of it, and then one about Toklas' life. Also: super short, and really nicely designed. Having finished it, though, I see that had I not been hung over, I wo [...]

    4. "Posterity has not dealt kindly with Stein's alter ego. Deep mythic structures determine who is likable and who isn't among the famous dead. The practical spirit is an essential but unlovable spirit. Toklas remains the dour ugly crone to Stein's handsome playful princess."

    5. Malcolm investigates the lives of Stein and Toklas and discusses some of Stein's impenetrable writing. Stein remains a significant, even legendary literary figure associated with the rise of modernism in art and literature. The mystery in my mind has always been--why? Malcolm describes her as a sexy, happy, self-proclaimed genius who naturally attracts followers. Stein learned early on that she was not creative, meaning that she could not create characters or conversations for the literature she [...]

    6. I remain unconvinced of Gertrude Stein's importance to either literature or history (nor do I think Janet Malcolm was particularly trying to convince me on this front). What is always most interesting in any book by Janet Malcolm is Janet Malcolm writing about the way she works and writes.

    7. Exactly how DID two rather prominent Jewish lesbians manage to lead a rather idyllic French country life in the middle of the Nazi occupation of France? This is the question Malcolm starts with in her attempt to get a foothold in the much-chronicled, much more hinted and insinuated life of Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B Toklas. Full disclosure: I spent my adolescence reading gossipy accounts of Gertrude Stein's involvement with William James, with Hemingway, with Picasso, with the Shakes [...]

    8. I returned this to the library before I could properly quote from the way Malcolm sort of unravels, against her will, especially in her reading of Making of the Americans. It may be true she has no 'intuition' towards Stein (something Malcolm loves to admit, endlessly comparing herself - negatively - to Ulla Dydo, I think she even sets up a metaphor somewhere of Dydo as the foodie of Stein criticism and Malcolm as the eater of hamburgers and french fries, I wish she'd have said 'hamburger helper [...]

    9. Normally, a book about 2 dead lesbians would be the last thing I'd want to read.But after the Journalist and the Murderer,I developed a liking for Malcolm's style of writing. Colorful metaphors, snappy one liners, a little psychological insight. This book isn't as good as the other one but is still very enjoyable,and confirms an insight as to the nature of the author. Janet is basically a quidnunc who loves to expose the foibles of others.Taking a cue from Stein, who's "autobiography" of Alice T [...]

    10. I was a bit 'meh' about the gossipy parts of this book - sometimes the colour of 1920s Paris can come off a bit "Henry and June" for me. The part that really shone was the analysis of The Making of Americans - Malcolm's documentation of her struggle to read it, and when she finally did, what it revealed, rejuvenated my fascination with Stein and her style all over again.Which doesn't mean that I'll read it, mind. Books that large are only used for squishing spiders at my place. Also, Malcolm's c [...]

    11. I just picked this up in a pile of books at the Russian River vacation cause I'm a little fascinated by Gertrude and Alice B. Toklas or maybe just the idea of the brownies made me think they must be cool. Oh, and having read The Book of Salt that was tangentially about them, I was interested. Learning about them was interesting, but the book didn't thrill me. Gertrude Stein is a famous writer, however most of the books she wrote, according to the author, are completely unreadable, even by the cr [...]

    12. Janet Malcolm begins with this question: How did two elderly Jewish lesbians survive the Nazis? and then takes us on her journey of investigative journalism that leads her, and us, to ever more unexpected places. The book never really answers the question with which it begins. Instead the book becomes a loving meditation on the nature of how we remember other people. Malcolm explores how our understanding of even those we love most, and know best, is distorted by the limitations of language itse [...]

    13. Although this is a very well-written book, I found it dry. Malcolm has done a wonderful job piecing together the evidence to form the narrative of Stein and Toklas' lives. I loved the story of how Stein defaced her poem Stanzas by crossing out every instance of the word "may" and replacing them all with "can", even when the change made nonsense of the sentences, because she was erasing any allusion to May Bookstaver in order to appease Toklas's jealousy. But, in the end, if Stein was a warm pers [...]

    14. This is not the book I had understood it to be, which is my fault. This is purely an academic work, and if you're not familiar with Stein's writing, then you will be at a loss. I also have to say I don't really care much for the style of the author of this book. It's more about name dropping. There's focus on her subjects in there, but she's much more interested in the historiography of the subjects than her subjects themselves.What is good is that it's not necessarily about Toklas & Stein's [...]

    15. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was informative and entertaining. Having said that, I may read The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, but doubt if I will try any of Gertrude's other works any time soon!

    16. Great little bio and appreciation of Gertrude and Alice's life together. Part literary analysis, part history, and part meta-history, as the author delves into her meetings and relationship with some of the Stein experts she consulted on the content. Really well done.

    17. I think I am not a big enough Stein fan to have appreciated this book. Where I expected Holocaust literature. I instead found literature literature. Not a bad thing. but not my thing.

    18. I really enjoyed this book, read it in one day. Malcolm's approach is both thorough and chatty. I was glad to gain insight into how, as she asks, two Jewish lesbians survived the war. By the end of the book it wasn't so clear to me, though, why these two women chose to be together for forty years. OK, everyone loved Gertrude, and thought Alice was a pill. But what did they see in each other? Gertrude was lovable, and loved Alice because she took care of her? As I finished the book, and was turni [...]

    19. The middle essay of this book was for me the most intriguing. Malcolm and her Greek chorus of Stein scholars and the hunt for tidbits of Toklas locked away, or maybe not, in the head of a fifth man offstage. It is essentially the plot of the first part of Bolano's 2666, but with less sex. Overall the book is interesting. The first part tackling how did two Jewish American lesbians manage to just chill out in France during WW2, the middle with the scholars, and the last on Jewish identity and fam [...]

    20. Has there been a lesbian couple of which more has been written? If there has, then Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas must surely come close. An interesting read on how these two strong women survived in occupied France when being a same-sex Jewish couple was not the safest demographic group to be in.

    21. Gertrude Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, were fascinating people in so many arenas. Janet Malcolm is insightful and excellent in her analysis not just of the lives of these two, but also their writing, and the scholars who have spent decades studying them. Malcolm's book is deep and delightful.

    22. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas have always fascinated me. They probably excite most people's curiosity on some level since their commitment to each other in a "gay marriage" in the early part of the 20th C. was daring to say the least especially since they also were Jewish: two reasons the Nazis should have carried them off posthaste. Having read a long biography of the pair in my undergraduate years, I learned how genuinely inevitable the lifestyle is for those born into it. In Countee Cull [...]

    23. Contra Ron Silliman, who wondered here on "why biographers choose to write about an artist for whom they have neither interest nor intuition," I liked Janet Malcolm's new book, a short meditation on the lives of Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas. It should be noted, however, that Malcolm is not a biographer. Her mission strikes me as more personal, more idiosyncratic and essayistic, at times more journalistic. This may put off some readers -- just don't mistake Two Lives for a biography. Nei [...]

    24. A short book, and very easy to read. It was not a detailed or systematic walk through their lives, but captured various stories, anecdotes and memories, several of which were new to me (admittedly I'm not a Gertrude Stein scholar).

    25. I labored over the first half, and then breezed through the last half, even though it's a relatively short book, given the subject matter. I knew I wanted to read this book due to a confluence of reasons - Janet Malcolm is a bright light in high-brow literary nonfiction (I had already bailed on an attempt at her Psychoanalysis book); there seemed to be a Gertrude Stein resurgence with an exhibit at the Yale Beinecke of Stein paraphernalia, and this year I read The Book of Salt by Monique Truong, [...]

    26. Again, Malcolm demythologizes without denigrating. Her research brings Gertrude and Alice alive, freeing them from their image as eccentric, literary royalty. Malcolm shows that life was much more complicated and confusing and capricious with Stein and Toklas, as for most of us. I suppose that Stein acolytes will feel that this work diminishes their heroine, but to me she just seems more human now and Malcolm's sympathetic view of her life and admiration for her work are obvious. Yes, she report [...]

    27. Fascinating and odd exploration of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas alongside an exploration of the "uncertain" and "unreliable" act of writing biography. This book has lots of levels as Malcolm sifts through Stein's (mostly) and Toklas' writing, a good deal of writing and interview info by Stein scholars burrowing into a couple driving questions: how did these 2 Jewish lesbians avoid Nazis while living in Vichy France and what else can we learn about the inner dynamics of their relationship?I fe [...]

    28. A meandering account of these two prominent people. The book opens with Stein and Toklas already an established couple, finding a house in southern France together. Halfway through the book I was still asking myself, how did they meet? what was their relationship like? Eventually the author gets around to telling youa little. Their personalities, their relationship, Stein's instinct for 20th century modernism, their friendships with great artists of their time, Stein's fabulous art collection in [...]

    29. After reading a wonderful review of this book by Terry Castle in the London Review of Books, I made sure to find this at my local library. Brought it home, sat down with it that same evening, and finished it several hours later. (It's quite short; much of it printed in the New Yorker a few years ago.) Malcolm has long been a favourite of mine--her psychoanalytically-inflected close biographical and textual readings are a model of intelligent, restrained, elegant non-academic criticism. Castle su [...]

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