Tuesday, 22 November 2011


Gertrude Stein by Picasso
Gertrude Stein, Joyce, Mavis Gallant, Hemingway and Baudelaire et al are on my mind because I am going to Paris. This is a hilarious piece on Stein, extracted from The New Yorker, October 1934. The bit about the cows is priceless:

'In case you're interested, we have learned a few things about her that she may not tell in her lectures. Miss Stein gets up every morning about ten and drinks some coffee, against her will. She's always been nervous about becoming nervous and she thought coffee would make her nervous, but her doctor prescribed it. Miss Toklas, her companion, gets up at six and starts dusting and fussing around. Once she broke a fine piece of Venetian glass and cried. Miss Stein laughed and said "Hell, oh hell, hell, objects are made to be consumed like cakes, books, people." Every morning Miss Toklas bathes and combs their French poodle, Basket, and brushes its teeth. It has its own toothbrush.

Miss Stein has an outsize bathtub that was especially made for her. A staircase had to be taken out to install it. After her bath she puts on a huge wool bathrobe and writes for a while, but she prefers to write outdoors, after she gets dressed. Especially in the Ain country, because there are rocks and cows there. Miss Stein likes to look at rocks and cows in the intervals of her writing. The two ladies drive around in their Ford till they come to a good spot. Then Miss Stein gets out and sits on a campstool with pencil and pad, and Miss Toklas fearlessly switches a cow into her line of vision. If the cow doesn't seem to fit in with Miss Stein's mood, the ladies get into the car and drive on to another cow. When the great lady has an inspiration, she writes quickly, for about fifteen minutes. But often she just sits there, looking at cows and not turning a wheel.

Miss Stein always drives, and Miss Toklas rides in the back seat, squealing and jumping, for they say that Miss Stein is the worst driver in the history of automotive engineering. She takes corners fast, doesn't put out her hand, drives on the wrong side of the street, pays no more attention to traffic signals or intersections than she does to punctuation marks, and never honks. Now and then Alice will lean over from the back seat and honk. They haven't had any accidents. One writer who visited her had a fake wire sent to him from Paris calling him back, because he was afraid he'd be killed in the Ford.

Miss Stein spends much of her time quarrelling with friends—always about literature or painting. The quarrels are passionate ones, involving everybody, taking hours to get under way, lasting for years (like the one with Hemingway).'


Elisabeth said...

Thanks for this insight into an extraordinary woman. The details are wonderful.

Tania Hershman said...

That is HYSTERICAL! Have a wonderful trip, v jealous!


It's a scream, isn't it? Poor long-suffering Alice :)

Words A Day said...

Thanks for the laugh:) Its hilarious.
Enjoy Paris!


It makes me want to go and find a cow to look at to aid my writing.

Rachel Fenton said...

That's where I'm going wrong, evidently - I need a cow!

Inspirational stuff - have a fab time in Paris x

Aswin Jose said...

That's interesting information...thanks a lot for posting this. And wish you the best for the trip!