In 1933, experimental writer and longtime expatriate Gertrude Stein skyrocketed to overnight fame with the publication of an unlikely bestseller, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. For more than six months, Gertrude and Alice crisscrossed America, from New England to California, from Minnesota to Texas, stopping at thirty-seven different cities along the way. Roy Morris Jr. recounts the couple's rollicking tour.
Morris painstakingly traces Toklas and Stein’s steps across America in 1934 during the middle of the Great Depression... Listing every stop during their tour can get monotonous. However, Morris succeeds in describing a time when an experimental writer could become a celebrity ... Accessible and engaging, this fresh look at Stein’s life is especially recommended for those interested in modernist literature.
... the sort of literary biography that used to be enormously popular, a sympathetic narrative in the manner of Van Wyck Brooks ’s anecdotal volumes on the 19th-century New England authors or Nancy Milford’s Zelda, aimed at a general audience but welcoming to all but the highest brow ... Mr. Morris’s book is essentially a day-to-day timeline of Stein’s return to the United States in 1934 after a 30-year absence ... [Morris’s] writing is brisk and breezy, and he seems eager to tell his stories in as entertaining a manner as possible ... not necessarily a book for the Stein scholar. There is little original research here and no new theories are advanced. Mr. Morris seems content to take us through the trip chronologically, relying closely upon the press coverage of the time (which, to his credit, he magnifies and makes new, vignette after vignette). Stein once expressed regret that the general public was more interested in her life than in her creations. Gertrude Stein Has Arrived may not change the situation, but one may hope that some readers find spark in this lively book and investigate further.
For all the rollicking humor and offbeat anecdotes, Gertrude Stein Has Arrived doesn’t make much of a case for her literary genius; even her observations about America seem rather run-of-the-mill next to her buoyant but eviscerating wit and her sheer stage presence. (Stein’s subsequent and little-read memoir about the lecture tour, Everybody’s Autobiography, on which Morris’s book amply draws, doesn’t offer much in the way of Tocquevillian insight).