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Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice

By Janet Malcolm


‘A master storyteller and psychoanalyst rolled into one. Brilliant.’ – The Independent

The portrait of the legendary couple that emerges from this work is unexpectedly charged. The two world wars Stein and Toklas lived through together are paralleled by the private war that went on between them. This war, as Malcolm learned, sometimes flared into bitter combat.

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.

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