Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas
Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century was the epitome of the bohemian good life. Among those American writers who made their home on the Left Bank was the novelist, poet and playwright Gertrude Stein. It was to the City of Light that Toklas, herself an aspiring artist, moved to in 1907. Just one day after arriving in the French capital, Toklas met Stein and one of the most celebrated romances in modern American literature was born.
The pair soon became a central part of the avant-garde movement. They hosted regular literary salons at the flat they occasionally shared, attracting such figures as Ernest Hemingway (who referred to Toklas as Stein’s ‘wife’) and the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. After two years together, while they spent time back in the United States and summered in Italy, Toklas moved in with Stein, adding a new level of commitment to the relationship. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, they were hardly ever apart, traveling Europe and the world together, as well as working side-by-side.
While for more than two decades Toklas was happy to remain in the background, serving as her lover’s cook and secretary as well as her muse and best critic, she was thrust into the limelight herself with the publication of her memoirs, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933. From then on, the pair were both literary darlings and capitalized on their fame and fortune to travel extensively and lecture across America. With the outbreak of the Second World War, the pair were forced to relocate to a country house in the French mountains. While they were both Jewish, they escaped persecution thanks to the connections a mutual friend boasted in the Gestapo.
Toklas and Stein remained a committed couple right up until the latter’s death in 1946. Sadly, while Stein left the majority of her estate to her partner, their relationship was not recognized in French law, meaning Stein spent her remaining years struggling from financial troubles as well as from ill-health. In the 1980s, Yale University Library made public hundreds of love letters exchanged between the pair over the decades, revealing the true depth of their affection as well lots of smaller details, such as the cute nickname each had for the other.