Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, and Albert Barnes: Looking like a Jew in the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

By Feinstein, Amy | Shofar, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, and Albert Barnes: Looking like a Jew in the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas


Feinstein, Amy, Shofar


This paper explores the symbolism of "Jewish looks" in the writing of Jewish-American Gertrude Stein (1874-1946). Beginning with Stein's early college writing about Jews as a distinct race, and her literary treatise on human categorization, The Making of Americans (written 1903-1911), I trace the shifts in Stein's thinking about Jews forward to her most famous work, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). Written in fairly conventional prose that was a dramatic break from an already immense oeuvre of extremely experimental writing, The Autobiography presents readers with numerous enigmas nonetheless. In particular, the references to Jews in the book, both crude and carefully coded, provide a textual puzzle that sheds light on Stein's striving to fully understanding human nature and her concerns about how such understanding might be compromised by the practice of portrait writing.

(ProQuest-CSA LLC: ... denotes text stops here in original.)

Because Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas1 is largely about two Jewish American women, one might expect Jewish identity to play an important role in the book. Gertrude Stein was born into an established family of German-American Jews and raised in Oakland, California, and Alice Toklas grew up as part of the well-to-do Jewish community of fin-de-siècle San Francisco. In The Autobiography, despite its account of both their family histories, their Jewish roots are conspicuously absent. Instead, as critic Phoebe Stein Davis notes, there is an almost obsessive use of nationality to describe the vast menagerie of artists, writers, and other chatacters appearing in the autobiography.2 Not surprisingly then, among this cosmopolitan circle of internationals in Paris, Stein and Toldas ate most often described as Americans, never as Jews.

Stein's writing about the role of Jews in modern society was latgely oblique: she made infrequent, coded, and puzzling references to Jews and Judaism throughout her writing career, and, in fact, The Autobiography is no exception. While it is not difficult to find allusions to Jews in Stein's earliest writings, manuscripts, and correspondence, and a Jewish lexicon appears in even her most absttact work, these references form neithet a consistent sutvey nor a coherent whole. Instead, as critics such as Maria Damon, Priscilla Wald, and Barbara Will have shown, this oddly constant feature of her work shifted with the many experiments in genre and style over the course of her career. Generally, however, her writing about Jews moved from a facial to a performative undetstanding of Jewish identity, and the latter behavioral identification is what one finds in The Autobiography. The shirts in Stein's writing about Jewish nature, while consonant with the shifts in her ideas about human nature in general, illuminate the impôt tance of het concrete ties to early social sciences of race and, later, alert us to the lingering racialism underlying an otherwise anti-essentialist view of human nature.

In Tbe Autobiography, her most public book, Stein mentions jews only once with the epithet "He looks like a Jew" (p. 11). This comment is made in reference to Albert Barnes, the wealthy Philadelphia art collector who was not Jewish. Despite its oddity, this Jewish reference to a non-Jew in the non-Jewish-appearing autobiography of rwo Jewish women firmly establishes the import of Stein's interest in Jewish identity on her radically experimental oeuvre. In fact, the Jewish reference to Albert Barnes is part of the formal challenge of the book as a whole. For although the prose is relatively sttaightforward, Tin Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas famously breaks with the traditions of autobiography and biography, first and foremost as an autobiography written by someone other than its titular subject. Stein writes the book in the narrative voice of Toklas recounting her relationship with Stein and the arc of Stein's literary career alongside the careers of Picasso, Matisse, and other contemporaries. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, and Albert Barnes: Looking like a Jew in the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.