Alice B. Toklas

By: Lynn Peril
April 30, 2011

“I am a person acted upon, not a person who acts,” ALICE B. TOKLAS (1877-1967) told an early biographer of her long-time partner, Gertrude Stein. While Toklas was largely content to remain the woman behind the woman, she was not entirely as passive as her words suggested. She was, in the words of writer James Atlas, “a great gossip… and an acerbic critic of the writers and artists” who passed through the doors of the Parisian apartment she shared with Stein for some thirty years. Ernest Hemingway was dismissed as “hopelessly 1890,” while Ezra Pound’s fondness for Japanese prints meant that he “didn’t know Cezanne from Derain,” a major fault to Toklas, surrounded as she was by one of the great collections of post-Impressionist art. Indeed, when Stein died in 1946, she left dozens of paintings by Picasso, Juan Gris, and Matisse to the woman her New York Times obit called “her lifelong secretary-companion.” Their relationship was, of course, much more than that. “I wish to God we had gone together as I always fatuously thought we would — a bomb — a shipwreck — just anything but this,” a heartbroken Toklas wrote to a friend after Stein’s death. Her own literary fame was assured with the publication of The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook in 1954, as was her pop-culture notoriety, thanks to its inclusion of a recipe for hashish fudge, contributed by her friend Brion Gysin.


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