Toklas, Alice B. (1877–1967)

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TOKLAS, ALICE B. (1877–1967)


American writer.

Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein count as one of the most celebrated lesbian couples in history. Stein was famously the author of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), and Toklas long remained in her shadow. But in addition to being Stein's lover and muse, at the end of her long life she created her own body of work. Stein's constant companion, much like her yet distinctive, Toklas also helped link French and American culture, most especially with The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, a considerable success when it was publishedin1954.This tenacious, quasi-ethnological work, which collected traditional regional recipes, helped introduce French cuisine to an American audience. Indeed, when the book was translated in 1981, it also helped French readers rediscover their own culinary heritage.

Toklas tested her recipes in the apartment she shared with Stein at 27 rue de Fleurus, where the couple received the artistic and literary flower of Paris, first in the era of Montparnasse and the Belle Epoque, and later during les années folles (the wild years)—the 1920s. The Cook Book also traces the couple's life. A chapter on the German occupation, for example, illustrates in colorful terms their daily life during World War II, when they took refuge in the province of Ain. The woman who became Stein's biographer not only knew her firsthand but chronicled their life together.

Alice B. Toklas was born to a Jewish family that had settled on the west coast of the United States. After education in public schools, she attended the University of Washington. In 1907, soon after the great earthquake, she became acquainted with Stein's family in San Francisco and decided, at age thirty, to leave for Paris. There she met Gertrude Stein. She started typing Stein's manuscripts, and in 1910 moved into the apartment on rue de Fleurus. Besides being Stein's first reader and later her secretary, Toklas took charge of the home management and cooking while participating in the active social, artistic, and literary life of her lover, largely in the background. The two women entertained every Saturday afternoon at home, and the organization of these receptions fell to Toklas. Together, they also frequently traveled, both in France and abroad. During World War I, Toklas and Stein served as volunteers with the American Fund for French Wounded; in their automobile, nicknamed "Auntie," they traveled across the country, visiting hospitals and bringing relief supplies and medicines.

During the interwar period, the two women welcomed Parisian and American intellectuals in Paris. Together with Shakespeare and Co., the bookstore owned by their friend Sylvia Beach, Toklas and Stein's home was considered a must-see visit, as was their house in the village of Bilignin in the Ain region, where they began to spend more time, while entertaining as frequently as when they were in Paris. It was there, in part, that Alice became acquainted with traditional French cuisine.

In the excitement during the months after the liberation of France, they traveled through defeated Germany and visited American soldiers at Berchtesgaden, Hitler's "eagle's nest" retreat. But Stein soon thereafter fell ill, and in 1946 she died from cancer. According to Toklas, her later years without Stein were "empty," even though she continued to see their old friends and to travel. Until 1964 she kept the apartment on rue Christine, to which they had moved before the war. Alice dedicated herself to her late friend's work, helped students and biographers, and developed her own literary career. Her two cookbooks and her memoirs all had considerable success and were widely translated. Although she spent most of her life in France, not until 2000 were her memoirs translated into French.

In 1957 Toklas converted to Catholicism. According to her wishes, she was buried beside Gertrude Stein in the Paris cemetery of Pére-Lachaise.

See alsoStein, Gertrude.


Toklas, Alice B. The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book. London, 1954.

——. Aromas and Flavors of Past and Present. London, 1959.

——. What Is Remembered. New York, 1963.

Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. New York, 1965.

Mellow, James R. Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company. New York, 1974.

Stein, Gertrude. Writings: 1903–1932. 2 vols. New York, 1998.

Nicolas BeauprÉ

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