Gertrude Stein's Buried Beliefs

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "The Strange Politics of Gertrude Stein" by Barbara Will. in Humanities. March-April 2012.

MOST BOOKWORMS KNOW THE AMERICAN writer Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) as the pen behind some of the most original modernist literature of the early 20th century, as an early collector of avant-garde art, and as a lesbian unafraid to acknowledge her long-term partner. Less known is the author's enthusiasm for the collaborationist Vichy regime that during World War II ruled part of France, the country where Stein spent most of her adult life. A recent exhibition of the Stein family's art collection at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art failed to note that the author's portion of the collection owed its survival in Nazi-occupied Paris to her Vichy contacts until a public outcry forced curators to make revisions.

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Dartmouth English professor Barbara Will writes that the pass Stein has received may be linked to the feeling in some scholarly circles that the writer embraced the regime to protect herself--she was, after all, a Jew and a homosexual at a time when being either could mean a death sentence. Information that surfaced posthumously suggests that her Vichy contacts did ensure the safety of her and her Jewish partner, Alice B. Toklas, as they waited out the war in the rural Bugey region, near the Swiss border. Furthermore, after the war ended, Stein claimed to have joined the French Resistance in 1943.

Will rejects this purely benign view of Stein's motives. …