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Chatting about War: Gertrude Stein's Subversive Autobiography1 Anat Osher Ben-Shaul CHAPTER SIX OF GERTRUDE STEIN'S The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,2 following a detailed account of the two women's Parisian life among Avant-garde artists, and promisingly entitled "The War," arouses many expectations connected with previous historical and literary knowledge of the subject. As the text deals with the years 1914-1918, the reader is looking for killing fields, for a mourning home front and a confused humanity—as in this characteristic depiction of the battle of the Marne provided by Maurice Genevoix in Ceux de 14: De toutes mes forces, j'essaie de maintenir l'ordre et le calme [...]. Et je cherche les défilements pour épargner le plus d'hommes possible. J'en ai un qui reçoit une balle derrière le crâne, au moment où il va franchir une clôture en fil de fer; il tombe sur le fil et reste là , cassé en deux [...].' Although she is writing about World War I, Stein appears to talk about far less tragic matters, and much more about amusing adventures. "We led a pleasant life," Alice says about their stay in Palma de Mallorca at the beginning of the Great War, "we walked a great deal and ate extremely well, and were well amused by our breton servant" (Stein 180). The manner in which her autobiography refers to the battle of the Marne, through Alice's chat with a woman friend living like her in Paris, is symptomatic of Stein's peculiar way of telling History: Nellie described the battle of the Marne to us. [...] We come in in the street-car because it is difficult to get a taxi in Boulogne and we go back in a taxi. [...] I know that sometimes taxi-drivers don't like to go out to Boulogne so I said to Marie tell them we will give them a big tip if they will go. So she stopped another taxi with an old driver and I said to him, I will give you a very big tip to take us out to Boulogne. Ah, said he laying his finger on his nose, to my great regret madame it is impossible, no taxi can leave the city limits today. Why, I asked. He winked in answer and drove off. We had to go back to Boulogne in a street car. Of course we understood later, when we heard about Gallieni and the taxis, said Nellie and added, and that was the battle of the Marne. (163-64) "And that was the battle of the Marne"... The well-known mobilization of all the Parisian cabs is told in a trivial anecdote simply staging a lady's daily Vol. XL, No. 2 25 L'Esprit Créateur shopping with her maid. Of the battle itself, or the feelings it might have aroused in the civil population, nothing is explained nor described. Obviously, this autobiography of an American woman writer living in France does not resemble anything we are accustomed to read in historical documents, soldiers ' testimonies and war novels. In all the French and American models of the genre—Henri Barbusse's Under Fire (1917), Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms (1929), Roland Dorgelès's Les Croix des Bois (1931), or John Dos Passos's Three Soldiers (1948), the war seems totally different from what Stein portrays in her life story. These books, and many others, created a new genre, the war novel, written by men who were not necessarily professional writers, and who set out to record their direct experience. They all depict hardship in the trenches, fear, confusion and death. When given as a personal testimony and written in the first person, they fortify even more our sense of horror by presenting as a personal experience the dehumanized killing caused by modern weapons and the unbelievable number of war casualties . In Margaret Higonnet's words, Responding to the historic test of his humanity and masculinity, the veteran cast his experiences of the trenches, blood brotherhood, and disillusionment into new, realist forms: the "war poem" and the "war novel". An event (the war) became identified...


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