Alex Talley on “Her ‘Autobiography'”
My view of Gertrude Stein is that she is a writer, a collector, mentor, and a contributor to the Modernist era. The one of many expatriates that have made their mark within the movement. In her novel, Everybody’s Autobiography, her status as a “contributing” expatriate among other expatriate is shown by how the people that she meets in America flock to her like how the modernists did in France and how she feels like an outsider in America even though she was an American.
To basically summarize the book the text goes through the events after publishing the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Unlike what the title of the book suggests it was mostly about her and Toklas before, during, and after their tour of America and about “everybody” else. This is set in her point of view of the places she went to and the different people (including some of her family members) that she and her partner have met while on tour and what they have thought about them. This also includes how the publishing and success of her “first” autobiography affected Stein.
Some of the many occurrences that happened in the novel is that whenever she showed up in a city a lot of either college professors or heads of the English academic departments and very few other influential figures (like Charlie Chaplin for example) show up to meet Stein and try to convince her to either read their work, ask for advice, speak in their lectures, or to have dinner with them. These colleges would include University of Ohio in Columbus (227), Olivet College (224), Cambridge (187), University of Virginia (248), Hockaday School (272), and many others. During these incidents she was often amused, giving criticism as well as advice when needed, and sometimes enjoyed herself. In one part of the book she makes the comment, “[e]verybody invited me to meet somebody, and I went. I always will go anywhere once and I rather like doing what I had never done before, going everywhere. It was pleasant being a lion, and meeting the people who make it pleasant to you to be a lion” (91). This gave me as a reader the sense that she like the attention that she was getting which seemed similar to the attention she got in her solon in Paris.
Another instance that I found to add to her status as an expatriate is that she felt a bit out of place in America even though she is an American. Also as I was reading I got a sense that she had much rather be in France. Though she did however enjoyed some of her visit in the United States there were times that she felt, “if I had not been I then that place would not be the place that I could see, I did not like the feeling, who has to be themselves inside them, not any one and what is the use of having been if you are to be going on being and if not why is it different and if it is different why not” (291). Could this be in reference to having to hide oneself in certain company? The notion had not been discussed in further detail in the text, but however the language and tone made me think otherwise.
As a reader I was personally disappointed in Everybody’s Autobiography. It seemed like a mirror image of Malcolm Cowley’s Exile’s Return due to the fact that the book was more about other people and her opinion of them than anything else. Also the text was even more difficult to read than Cowley’s. Even though the text did show some expatriate aspects of her as a reader I felt that if I wanted a text written by Stein that truly expressed her as an expatriate I would rather read The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. However Everybody’s Autobiography did express her as a modernist through the content, expression, and use of language that she was well known for (just read the first three paragraphs of the book). With that I found the book to be more of a modernist literature than an expatriate literature.
Stein, Gertrude. Everybody’s Autobiography. N.p.: First Vintage, 1973. Print.
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