Two Lives

Two Lives

Gertrude and Alice

Book - 2007
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Yale University

"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 meaningyou need a crowbar for thatbut will sometimes admit you to a kind of anteroom of suggestion.” Whether unpacking the accessibleAutobiography of Alice B. Toklas, in which Stein solves the koan of autobiography,” or wrestling withThe 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



Baker & Taylor
Presents an investigation of the lives and works of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

Blackwell North Amer
"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 portrait of the legendary couple that emerges from this work is unexpectedly charged. The two world wars Stein and Toklas Jived through together are paralleled by the private war that went on between them. This war, as Malcolm learned, sometimes flared into bitter combat.

Publisher: New Haven : Yale University Press, c2007
ISBN: 9780300125511
0300125518
Characteristics: 229 p. : ill. ; 21 cm

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WVMLStaffPicks Feb 01, 2015

In her latest book, Janet Malcolm sets out to discover how two Jewish lesbians (influential writer Gertrude Stein and her companion Alice B. Toklas) survived in France during World War II. As with Malcolm’s earlier works, this book contains an abundance of wonderful detours, as when the author attempts to meet with an elusive Stein scholar.

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