January 17, 4pm – Janet Malcolm Reading, Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice

January 15, 2008

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas

Please join us at 4pm on Thursday, January 17th for a reading and discussion by scholar Janet Malcolm, about her new book Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice published this fall by Yale University Press. Malcolm researched this work in the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers at the Beinecke Library. Janet Malcolm is the author of The Journalist and the Murderer, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, and Reading Chekhov, among other books. She writes for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books and lives in New York City. This event is free and open to the public.

Two Lives is a work of literary biography and investigative journalism exploring the lives of modernist writer Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas. The portrait of the legendary couple that emerges from this work is unexpectedly charged. As Malcolm pursues the truth of the couple’s charmed life in a village in Vichy France, her subject becomes the larger question of biographical truth. “The instability of human knowledge is one of our few certainties,” she writes. Two Lives is also a work of literary criticism. “Even the most hermetic of [Stein’s] writings are works of submerged autobiography,” Malcolm writes. “The key of ‘I’ will not unlock the door to their meaning—you need a crowbar for that—but will sometimes admit you to a kind of anteroom of suggestion.” Whether unpacking the accessible Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, in which Stein “solves the koan of autobiography,” or wrestling with The Making of Americans, a masterwork of “magisterial disorder,” Malcolm is stunningly perceptive.

Images: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1932; Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein seated on patio at Berchtesgaden.