Commentaries - May 2012
A version of this paper by Edward Burns, titled “So I Went on Looking at Pictures: Gertrude Stein’s Last Decade,” was delivered as part of Sundays at the Met, April 29, 2012, in conjunction with the exhibition The Steins Collect.
In her thinking about political, social, and economic matters, Stein was a conservative Republican with what her friend William G. Rogers called the mentality of a “rentier,” a person of property. She opposed Roosevelt and the New Deal and was more afraid of communism than of fascism. In spite of her close friendship with Picasso, during the Spanish Civil war she did not denounce the revolt of General Franco against the duly elected Republican government.
In September 1939, when France and England declared war on Germany, Stein and Toklas were in Bilignin, the country house they had rented since the late 1920s. They obtained a 48 hour pass to return to Paris to collect their passports, to gather winter clothing, to arrange for bank transfers, and to secure the paintings in their apartment at 5, rue Christine. When she arrived in Paris, Stein hastily arranged two meetings. The first was with her friend, the art historian and dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. Kahnweiler remembers that on entering the apartment he saw Toklas with one foot on the frame of the portrait of Madame Cézanne, trying to remove the canvas. “I stopped her, and set myself to unframing this magnificent work in a less violent manner. They wanted to carry away with them only this picture and the portrait of Stein by Picasso, despite my protestations that they should take at least some small Picassos which would be very easy to wrap and would take up very little room. A happy Providence justified their confidence. The pictures left in Paris survived.” Before he left, Kahnweiler wrapped some of the larger paintings and placed them on the floor; others were covered and stored in cupboards. 
The second person Stein saw during this hurried trip to Paris was her friend Bernard Faÿ. During their visit, it is believed that Stein executed a document in which she placed the care of her pictures in his hands. The original of that document has not survived and only some notes on the back of an envelope attest to what Stein did. When her pass expired, she and Toklas returned to Bilignin. Periodically Faÿ reported to Stein on the safety of her collection (Stein did not return to Paris again until December 1944.) 
Stein wrote about the phony war, la drole de guerre (September 1939 to June 1940), in “The Winner Loses: A Picture of Occupied France” which was published in The Atlantic Monthly in November 1940. The facts are there, but one wants to know more. On June 11, 1940, Stein and Toklas received permission to spend eight days in Bordeaux. They had seriously considered following the advice of the American Embassy that all Americans living in France should present themselves there to prepare to return to the United States. The fact that she had gone to Bordeaux does not appear in the piece. Her decision to remain in France becomes one of those wonderfully arranged Stein stories. Returning from Bordeaux (we have no information on what she did during her stay there), she stopped in Lyon to see the American Consul. “We were stopped every few minutes by the military; they were preparing to blow up bridges and were placing anti-aircraft guns and it all seemed very near and less than ever did I want to go on the road.” Near Bilignin, she meets her friends Dr. Gaston Chaboux and his wife Charlotte. After a discussion about whether to stay or return to the United States, Dr. Chaboux advised them, “I always think the best thing to do is to stay. He went on, everybody knows you here, everybody likes you, we all would help you in every way. Why risk yourself among strangers. Thank you, we said, that is all we need.” 
In June 1940, France was divided into two zones—the Occupied Zone under the direct authority of the Germans, and the Unoccupied or Free Zone officially under French rule which was administered from Vichy. Under the armistice, all French territory was technically subject to Vichy’s laws, so long as those laws remained consistent with German regulations in the Occupied Zone. French officials were required to “collaborate” with their German counterparts.
Marshal Philippe Pétain, a leading military figure of World War I became head of this new French state in June 1940. The new government blamed the Jews and the Popular Front of 1936 for France’s defeat. From the beginning, and without pressure from the Germans, his regime enacted a series of measures openly hostile to Jews—particularly those of foreign birth who had become French citizens. Stein and Toklas, as Americans, were not subject to certain regulations. But naturalized French citizens found that their naturalization could be revoked by a law passed in Vichy in July 1940. The Vichy government was ready to please the Germans, and anti-Semitic propaganda was permitted by a law passed in October 1940. This law defined Jews on the basis of racial criteria, and excluded them from many public service jobs and professions. A law passed in Vichy on October 4, 1940, allowed the French police to arbitrarily arrest “any foreigner of the Jewish race.” At the end of 1940, French officials in the Occupied Zone took a census of Jews—the following year Jews in the Free Zone were subjected to the same census—which in essence meant registration. The mass arrest of Jews was started in May 1941, and in August 1941 a major round-up of foreign Jews took place in Paris. Of these, more than 1,000 were placed in Drancy, a camp in the suburbs of Paris. The deportation of Jews from France did not begin until March 27, 1942 when more than 1,000 people were transported by train to Auschwitz.
How much of this did Stein know is difficult to determine. But it is impossible to believe that even in her small village in southeastern France she was not aware of what was happening around her. The story of Stein’s survival in France during the occupation is really two stories. The story of her relationship with the people in and around Belley whom she had known since the mid-1920s when she first discovered this town in the valley of the Rhone and had spent summers in a local hotel until she rented a house in the nearby hamlet of Bilignin. The sentiments of Dr. Chaboux no doubt express how the people felt about Stein and Toklas. They were never denounced, and their survival is in part due to their being well-liked by the people living in the Bugey, the region around Belley.  Stein was a familiar figure who roamed the hills with her dog Basket. She talked to farmers, and had a genuine interest in the lives of the people she met. She participated in the life of the community, and she was considered one of their own. The lesbian relationship between Gertrude and Alice was known by many of the local people; it does not seem to have mattered to most of them. Robert O. Paxton, the American historian whose books forced the French to confront the horrors of the Vichy regime, has written about the officials in small towns across France who simply omitted information when it was demanded of them. This was clearly the case for Stein and Toklas. 
The second story, which helps to explain Stein’s ability to live out the war in France, is the story of her relationship with Bernard Faÿ, a friend since the 1920s. Faÿ was a historian of the Eighteenth Century and a specialist in American intellectual history. He came from a family of bankers and lawyers with Royalist and Catholic ties. He was well-connected in the world of power, intellectual circles (he was Professor of American Civilization in the Collège de France), and in the world of the arts. Pétain appointed him Director of the Bibliothèque Nationale after dismissing the Jew, Julien Cain. In this position, Faÿ made frequent trips to Vichy and he became the eyes and ears for the Marshal in Paris.
We do not know the precise circumstances under which Faÿ proposed that Stein translate a volume of speeches by the Marshal, Paroles aux Français. Messages et écrits 1934-1941. But there seems no doubt that he convinced her that it was important for Americans to understand what was happening in France and that Marshal Pétain, whose government at this time still maintained diplomatic relations with the United States, be presented in a favorable light. Did he confide in Stein his fears for what might happen in France as the Germans took command of the government? Probably without articulating it, he must have been convinced that if Stein did this translation it might be a bargaining chip to protect her and Toklas should the time ever arise when they were in danger. We just do not know how he proposed the project to her and what she knew about his motivation.
The translation project would need the approval of Pétain and his staff to go forward, and Stein first began work on an Introduction to present the Marshal to an American audience. On February 7, 1942 Faÿ wrote Stein that he had talked to the Marshal about the proposed translation and that he was pleased with the idea.  Stein must have worked quickly, because on February 20, 1942, when he was in Vichy, Faÿ sent her Introduction to be reviewed by Dr. Bernard Ménétrel, the Marshal’s private secretary. Faÿ had a private meeting with Ménétrel to discuss a number of matters—one of which was the Stein project. 
Once the Introduction was approved, Stein began translating the speeches, and her notebooks (preserved at Yale) give evidence that she worked hard at finding a fluent English form for them. In November 1942, the Germans occupied all of France. In spite of a rapidly changing political situation inside and outside of France, Stein continued working on the translations. By January 1943, her friend Paul Genin and the sous-prefet of Belley, Maurice Sivan, urged her to abandon the project. They were concerned that it would bring too much attention to her. We do not know why Stein continued to work on the translation (which was never published) as long as she did. In February 1943, she moved from Bilignin to the railway town of Culoz, a few miles from Belley.
The translation of Pétain’s speeches has preoccupied Stein’s detractors in recent years; they have used it as the wedge (along with a clearly ironic remark about Hitler’s deserving the Nobel Peace Prize) to denounce her—the denunciation by extension extends to her literary works. How can one read this writer, they seem to be saying, when she has such odious pro-Vichy, pro-fascist views. Each retelling of the story enlarges what Stein actually did, and rarely cites specific information, sources, or puts the translation project in an historical context. By focusing exclusively on this aspect of Stein’s life, her detractors avoid confronting Stein’s published writings during the war. If they did, they would find that her publishers were exceptional individuals who struggled to maintain the intellectual tradition of freedom of thought and expression. 
A fact rarely mentioned is that Stein’s name appeared in the “Liste OTTO, ” a list of proscribed writers, published on May 10, 1943. Stein is among the list of Jewish authors, “Juedische Autoren, Écrivains Juifs,” writing in the French language whose works were banned. She is listed as “Miss Gertrude Stein” together with the name of Floury, the publisher of her 1938 book Picasso. Listing of writers and specific books which were censored by the Germans, with the complicity of French publishers, began with a “Liste Bernhard” in August 1940. 
Inclusion of a writer’s name on the “Liste OTTO” meant their books could not be sold and were to be removed from libraries. Interestingly, it did not completely forbid publication in journals—or at least that was how the “Liste OTTO” was understood by the poet, René Tavernier (1915-1989) who published translations of some of Stein’s earlier works and some new works in his journal Confluences beginning in July 1942. Confluences had been founded in Lyon by Jacques Aubenque in July 1941. Others connected with the journal were Marc Beigbeder, Marc Barbezat, Auguste Anglès, Alain Borne, and Georges Lorris. Confluences was published from 1941 to 1943, and among the writers published in the journal were: Louis Aragon, Pierre Emmanuel, Paul Éluard, Henri Michaux, Françis Ponge, Robert Desnos, Max Jacob, Eugène Guillevic, Andre Frénaud, Jean Wahl, Louis Martin-Chauffier, Jean Paulhan, and Gabriel Marcel. Stein’s poem “Ballade” (translated by the Baroness d’Aiguy) appeared in the same issue as Aragon’s Nymphée (it was the publication of this poem, a thinly disguised attack on the French and on Vichy, which resulted in the journal being temporarily banned). It seems highly unlikely that Tavernier, who visited Stein during the occupation and remained a friend after the war, would have published her if there had been any indication that her behavior towards Vichy and the Germans had not been anything but correct. Journals such as Confluences and Fontaine, which was published in Algiers, appeared in a semi-authorized environment (with the consent of censors) or completely in secret.
Fontaine, the other journal where Stein published during the occupation was edited in Algiers by Max-Pol Fouchet, a classmate of Albert Camus. Fouchet took over the journal Methra (founded in 1938 by Charles Autrand) and renamed it Fontaine. He published writers living in both zones and those living in exile. The journal became the voice of resistance poetry in French North-Africa and drew the fire of Pierre Drieu la Rochelle who, in his position as the collaborationist editor of La Nouvelle revue française, wrote censors denouncing its contents. Éluard’s “Liberté” was published in Fontaine. Stein first appeared in Fontaine in issue 11 (October / November 1940). Stein’s other connection in Algiers was Edmond Charlot (1915-2004), a heroic defender of freedom and the owner of the bookstore Les Vraies Richesses, who also published books. He published Stein’s Paris France in October 1941 (trans. by Madame d’Aiguy) and her Petits poèmes pour un livre de lecture (trans. by Madame d’Aiguy) in April 1944). 
Stein’s “Est Morte,” a translation of her “Is Dead,” appeared in Fontaine 27/28, a special number (June / July 1944) which celebrated writers and poets of the United States including Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Sara Teasdale, Robinson Jeffers, Conrad Aiken, Lola Ridge, Archibald MacLeish, Horace Gregory, Louise Bogan, Carl Sandburg, Allen Tate, E. E. Cummings, Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, Frederic Prokosch, Marianne Moore, James Agee, Kenneth Patchen, James Laughlin, and Vachel Lindsay. So important was this issue considered as a sign of French-American solidarity, it was reissued by Max-Pol Fouchet after he moved to Paris in 1945. Again, it is difficult to imagine that someone as sensitive to political issues as Fouchet would have published Stein if he did not have confidence in her stand against Vichy and the Germans.
Like other literary journals published during the occupation Marc Barbezat’s L’Arbalète (The Cross-Bow) faced intense scrutiny by censors. There were temporary bans on publication, and police searches of his print shop were a common occurrence. Barbezat, who was encouraged by Tavernier, was a pharmacist in Lyon when in 1940, at the age of 27, he began hand-printing and assembling his journal. He drew on many of the same writers as Confluences, and he viewed his journal as part of the combat against fascism. It was Barbezat and his wife, the actress Olga Kechelievitch, who in 1943 discovered the work of an unknown prisoner, Jean Genet. In the autumn of 1944, Barbezat published issue 9 of L’Arbalète devoted to American writers and American culture.  The issue begins with Stein’s “Langage et littérature américains” (“American Language and Literature”, translated by R.-L. Istre) and includes works by Dorothy Baker, Erskine Caldwell, Donald Henderson Clarke, Peter Cheney, Ernest Hemingway, Horace Mac Coy, Walter Edmonds, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston (listed as Norah Zeale Hurston), Henry Miller, Damon Runyon, William Saroyan, Nathanael West, Thornton Wilder, Thomas Wolfe, and Richard Wright (prefaced by Paul Robeson). The issue was handset by Barbezat and printed in an edition of 2,150 copies. It is evident that the planning began before the liberation of Paris in August 1944. It is hard to believe that Stein would have been included in this volume if there was any question about her political views after the end of the line of demarcation in November 1942. 
The insecurity that Stein felt after the move to Culoz in February 1943 is mirrored in the journal she was keeping, Wars I Have Seen. The rationing of scarce food and fuel enter the book. Neighbor did not talk to neighbor on the telephone fearful that conversations were being monitored. Travel became difficult, and Stein was aware of the forced travel of French workers to factories in Germany. She was aware of the deportations, and she knew the reality of being in a combat zone when the nearby city of Chambéry was bombed on May 26, 1944, and reports of the dead began to filter in the area. Cut off from the United States, and having used the money she had brought with her from Paris in 1939, Stein relied on the generosity of her neighbors Paul and Elena Genin. For almost a year, the Genins, who had moved, with Elena’s daughter Joan Clegg (now Chapman) from Lyon to the hamlet of Chazey-Bons not far from Belley, were Stein’s bankers, lending her money. Fearful that she would be unable to repay them, Stein arranged in late 1943 for a Paris art dealer, César M. de Hauke to come to Culoz to discuss the sale of Cézanne’s portrait of his wife. On January 1, 1944, de Hauke wrote Stein that Madame Cézanne was on his walls.  Stein was not, as some detractors have stated, buying and selling art during the occupation. The Cézanne was the only work she sold.
In Wars I Have Seen Stein mentions the generosity of Paul Genin, and she also writes that a young member of the Swiss legation in Lyon, François Lachenal, a friend of Tavernier’s, arranged in February 1944 for Stein and Toklas to obtain a Passeport de Protection. This document declared them to be temporary residents in France and therefore entitled to enter Switzerland. The “Passeport” was never used. She speaks, too, about seeing the “mountain boys”—members of the maquis. Romain Godet, a neighbor of Stein’s in the country and a leader of a resistance group in Grenoble, told me when I spoke with him in 1969, that when he attended the performance of Stein’s two children’s plays on August 29, 1943, at the Château de Béon (his sons Mark and Maurice were in the plays), he spoke to Stein of the willingness of his group to help her escape France if it became necessary. 
Stein and Toklas returned to Paris in mid-December 1944. It was only after their arrival that they learned from Picasso and others that two Gestapo agents entered their apartment on July 19, 1944 with authorization to search for papers. They showed the concierge photographs and demanded to know how these two Jewish women had remained in their apartment. While the Gestapo searched the apartment, the concierge sent her son down the street to alert Picasso. Picasso immediately telephoned to Faÿ at his office in the Bibliothèque Nationale. The Gestapo returned the next day, and before they left they took a small footstool that Toklas had embroidered after a watercolor by Picasso, some pieces of silver, and some linen. They threatened to return in a few days to confiscate the pictures. As documents seized in Faÿ’s office when he was arrested on August 19, 1944 reveal, he alerted two different German agencies and insisted that they each had authority over Stein’s pictures. By the time the Germans had begun to sort out under whose authority the collection fell, the Paris insurrection had begun and the Germans had more important things to think about. In a letter to Picasso written on July 31, 1944, Faÿ details the actions he took, and the specific people he spoke to. 
After his arrest, Faÿ was held in various prisons. His trial was held from November 29 to December 6, 1946. He was charged with an anti-Masonic crusade which provided the Germans with information on the Masons in France. Many of these men and women were brought into custody, charged with crimes and deported. Faÿ was not charged with their deaths or being involved in their deaths; the specific charge against him was giving aid to the enemy between June 16, 1940 and the date of the liberation of Paris. He was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor. Stein, not being a French citizen, was not permitted to appear before the court. She did, however, give a deposition on March 14, 1946 to Faÿ’s attorney, Maitre Chresteil in which she spoke of her relationship with Faÿ and her knowledge of his devotion to Franco-American relations. She also credited him with saving her art collection. The two page testimony was sent to the court on April 12, 1946. In numerous court documents Faÿ is credited with saving many “Israelites”—in particular Gertrude Stein, and his role in saving her art collection is also cited in several documents submitted to the court as proof of his loyalty to France and his willingness to help Jews.
After Stein’s death, Alice Toklas continued efforts to have Faÿ’s sentence reduced or commuted. On September 30, 1951, with the help of friends, notably Toklas, Faÿ escaped from prison. He went first to Spain and then to Fribourg, Switzerland, where he lived under an assumed name and, under the protection of the Catholic Church, worked in schools. In 1958, he was pardoned by the then Minister of Justice, François Mitterand, and allowed to return to France. 
In the aftermath of the defeat of 1940, Gertrude Stein, like many people in France, at first took an attentiste position—placing their faith in Pétain to steer France to better days. She was not, by any interpretation of the facts, a “major collaborator with the Vichy regime and a supporter of its pro-Nazi leadership,” as Alan Dershowitz has asserted in a May 1, 2012 posting, “Suppressing Ugly Truth for Beautiful Art,”  In “Gertrude Stein: September 1942 to September 1944” in the Stein-Wilder letters, Ulla Dydo and I address the Lansing Warren interview with Stein which appeared in the New York Times Magazine of May 6, 1934, in which she said, “I say that Hitler ought to have the peace prize” (see Stein / Wilder p. 414) and the denial by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo that Stein nominated Hitler for the peace prize. Stein’s knowledge of the Gestapo raid on an orphanage in the village of Izieu, about twenty kilometers from Belley, and thirty kilometers from Culoz, in which forty-four Jewish children (ages four to seventeen) and their seven supervisors were seized and sent to death camps, was raised in response to Janet Malcolm’s second article about Stein and Toklas in The New Yorker. Malcolm spoke with Joan Chapman about what Stein might and might not have known at the time. Chapman’s intimate relationship with Stein and Toklas during the last years of the war is a reliable source of information about this tragic moment. Only a handful of people knew about the orphanage in Izieu and the Jewish children hidden there—it could only work if it was a well-kept secret. The horror of the deportation only became widely known after the war. To suggest as Dershowitz does, that Stein had knowledge of what was happening in Izieu, is to fabricate a situation in which Stein was kept informed by some Nazi network of all they were planning. 
In this essay I have emphasized that that Bernard Faÿ is not the only thread in the complex tapestry of Stein’s life during the occupation. I have provided information which calls into question Dershowitz’s description of “Stein’s ignoble role in the Nazi occupation of France.” Stein's survival during the war was aided to a significant degree by the people of the Bugey who respected her as a friend and did acts large and small to provide for her well-being. The admiration for Stein's work, as evidenced by her friendship with active members of the French resistance and by those whose publications stood for resistance to fascism are key, and too often overlooked, facts. 
Edward Burns is Professor of English, William Paterson University of New Jersey.
As part of the Stein dossier, we have also published:
Burns and Ulla E. Dydo, Appendix IX (War Years) to The Letters of Gertude Stein and Thornton Wilder (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996): pdf
Edward Burns and Ulla E. Dydo, letter to the editor, The Nation, Dec. 5, 1987: pdf
Marion Van Renterghem, “Edmund Charlot, éditeur du monde libre,” in Le Monde, Feb. 28, 1997 [The sign of true wealth, the adventure began in 1936, Algeria: A bookstore, a publishing house, a place of resistance, led by a man of daring, discoverer of Camus, Lorca, Gertrude Stein ...] :pdf
1 Stein and Toklas moved from 27 rue de Fleurus in March 1938 to the rue Christine, a street one block long between the rue Dauphine and the rue des Grands Augustins (Picasso lived and had his studio at No. 7).
2 Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Introduction to Gertrude Stein’s Painted Lace and Other Pieces [1914-1937] (New Haven: Yale UP, 1955, Volume 5 of the Yale Edition of the Unpublished Writings of Gertrude Stein, ix-xviii, see particularly xvii-xviii).
3 Stein’s complex relationship with Faÿ has been explored in a number of books: see Edward Burns and Ulla Dydo, eds., The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, Appendix IX (New Haven: Yale UP, 1996), 401-21. See also Barbara, Will, Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma (New York: Columbia UP, 2011), Janet Malcolm, Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice (New Haven: Yale UP, 2007), and Antoine Compagnon, Le Cas Bernard Faÿ: du Collège de France à l’indignité nationale (Paris: Gallimard, 2009). Another useful source of information about Faÿ is Martine Poulain’s Livres pillés, lectures surveillées. Les bibliothèques françaises sous l’Occupation (Paris: Gallimard, 2008). Faÿ writes about his relationship with Stein in his memoir, Les Précieux (Paris: Librairie Académique Perrin, 1966).
5 It is important to remember that denunciation sent the poets Robert Desnos and Max Jacob (a Jew who converted to Catholicism) to German death camps. After the Liberation, collaborationist authors were denounced and old scores were settle in trials which resulted in about 1,600 death sentences and 38,000 prison terms. The CNE, Comité national des écrivains (CNE, National Writer’s Committee) established blacklists of collaborationist writers and boycotted any publication that accepted their work. My research has not uncovered any mention of an investigation into Stein’s activities during the war, nor have I located documents which advocated retaliation against her.
6 Dominique Saint-Pierre’s Gertrude Stein, le Bugey, la guerre: d’août 1924 à décembre 1944 (Bourg-en-Bresse, France: Musnier-Gilbert Éditions, 2009) is a meticulously researched account of Stein’s life in this region (once she rented the house in Bilignin, she usually left Paris in May and returned in October).
7 Faÿ’s letters to Stein are in the Gertrude Stein-Alice B. Toklas Papers, The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University (usually cited as YCAL, the Yale Collection of American Literature).
8 Stein’s Introduction is printed in full in Burns and Dydo, eds. The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder (New Haven: Yale UP, 1996), 406-8.
9 Stein’s only publication in a Vichy-sponsored journal was her “La Langue Française,” in Patrie: Revue Mensuelle illustrée de l’Empire (August 10, 1941), 36-7. The magazine was edited in Vichy and in Algeria. In YCAL there are cables from Jean Masson, the editor in Vichy, asking Stein for a photograph. She sent one of her by Carl Van Vechten and the other of her on the terrace at Bilignin which they used and labeled as Stein in her home on Long Island (“dans sa maison de Long-Island, près de New York”). Whether this was a deliberate error I do not know.
10 The most comprehensive study of French publishing during the occupation is Pascal Fouché’s L’Édition Française Sous l’Occupation, 1940-1944 (Paris: Bibliothèque de Littérature française contemporaine de l’Université Paris 7, 1987); this work is part of a series, the numbers for Fouché’s volumes are 3 and 4. Fouché includes reproductions of all of the Liste OTTO as appendices in his first volume (#3 in the series). The Liste Bernhard is named after a German general who, while visiting in Paris, found books hostile to Germany on sale. He prepared a list of these books, and on August 27 and 28, German soldiers, aided by French police, visited publishers, book stores, and libraries to remove them (see Fouché, #3, his Vol. I, pp. 287-90 for a facsimile of the list (in citing the lists I follow the French “Liste.”). The first “Liste OTTO” was issued in September 1940, it was followed by a second list issued on July 8, 1942; the third and final list of undesirable books was published on May 10, 1943. These lists are also reproduced in Fouché (pp. 291-347). The background to the lists is given in Fouché’s chapter, “Les Listes d’Interdiction,” pp. -44 (volume #3, his first volume).
11 Details of the specific works can be found in Robert A. Wilson, Gertrude Stein: A Bibliography (Rockville, MD: Quill & Brush, 1994).
12 Charlot was a key figure in French letters, his career as a publisher and his courageous work during the occupation are detailed in Michel Puche’s Edmond Charlot, éditeur, Preface by Jules Roy (Pezenas, France: Domens, 1995).
13 On November 3, 1944, a month before she returned to Paris, Stein was invited by René Tavernier to Lyon to give a lecture, “An American and France.” It was probably at this time that she met Barbezat and arranged for him to translate and to publish the essay. [Ed. note: see, in the Stein dossier, Marion Van Renterghem, “Edmund Charlot, éditeur du monde libre,” in Le Monde, Feb. 28, 1997 (The sign of true wealth, the adventure began in 1936, Algeria: A bookstore, a publishing house, a place of resistance, led by a man of daring, discoverer of Camus, Lorca, Gertrude Stein ...) :pdf]
14 Collaboration and Resistance: French Literary Life Under the Nazi Occupation by Robert O. Paxton, Olivier Corpet, and Claire Paulhan is the essential volume on this subject (New York: Five Ties Publishing, 2009). The book was published in connection with an exhibition at the New York Public Library at 42nd Street organized by the Library, the Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine (IMEC), and with the cooperation of the Mémorial de Caen. The catalogue presents a nuanced view of literary life under the occupation. Paxton and his colleagues point out that many writers resorted to double lives, working for an official agency during the day and engaging in clandestine activities in the evening. Mrs. Robert Antelme (Marguerite Duras) worked during the day for the agency which allotted paper to publishers. Robert Desnos was employed by the German-sponsored newspaper Aujourd’hui, nevertheless permission to publish his Le Vin est tire was refused.
15 In 1952 de Hauke sold the painting to Emile G. Bührle, the Czech industrialist living in Zurich.
16 Lachenal later founded Éditions des Trois Collines.
17 The trial documents in Faÿ’s case are in the Archives Nationale, Paris.
18 Barbara Will’s book, cited earlier, traces Faÿ’s life in Switzerland. Toklas’s role in selling art works to raise money for Faÿ’s escape is documented in my essay, “Alice Toklas and the Gertrude Stein Collection, 1946-1967” in The Steins Collect (New Haven: Yale UP, 2011), 259-65.
19 I received his statement in an e-mail from a friend.
20 See Janet Malcolm, Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice (New Haven: Yale UP, 2007), 182-84. Dershowitz argues that the Metropolitan Museum gives a false explanation of how Stein and Toklas survived the Holocaust, and that it “failed to point a finger of blame [for Izieu] at collaborators such as Stein, who made it possible.”
21 I find it curious that Barbara Will, who discusses at length Stein’s brief article which appeared in the Vichy picture magazine Patrie, does not discuss Stein’s appearances in either Confluences or Fontaine.
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008)
“Stein and History”
In writing “Stein and History”—the penultimate section of my introduction to Gertrude Stein: Selections (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), I was trying to understand both Stein’s attitude toward history, something she frequently wrote about from both an American and European point of view, and her sense of what was going on during the Vichy years. As with so many other things concerning Stein, what seems to be the truth of the life, the poetics, the politics, the performance of sometimes capricious opinions, the ethics (all of which I think of as the poethics) was intertwined, complicated, and not always entirely admirable. Stein—as I hope I make clear in the pages included here—was a republican of the sort whose priorities were national security (government dedicated to protection of its citizens) and individualism. She was no fascist. That her clearly ironic (sardonic is probably more accurate) statement about Hitler and the Nobel Peace Prize has been excised from its considerable context—which can leave no doubt of its irony, judicious or not—is a testament to the motives and intentions of certain readers, not to her own.
The most egregious accusation currently circulating about Gertrude Stein is that she seriously thought Hitler deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. The often quoted or paraphrased remark about Hitler appears in a 1934 New York Times interview where she says that by “driving out the Jews and the democratic and Left elements, [Hitler] is driving out everything that conduces to activity. That means peace.” What is not noted, in Barbara Will’s or others’ accounts, is that for Stein “driving out activity” is deplorable because, among other things, it drives out the multiple points of view brought by immigrants (like her Jewish family, one might add) which is precisely what gives a society its interest and vitality.
In the extensive interview from which the sardonic (and sole) remark about Hitler is excised Stein goes on to say these things: “What matters is competition, struggle, interest, activity that keeps a people alive and excited…Protection, paternalism and suppression of natural activity and competition lead to dullness and stagnation. It is true in politics, in literature, in art. Everything in life needs constant stimulation. It needs activity, new blood. … That is the reason why I do not approve of the stringent immigration laws in America today.” See, the full interview in which the statement occurs, provided here by Charles Bernstein. See also Edward Burns and Ulla Dydo’s “Gertrude Stein: September 1942 to September 1944” (Appendix IX to the Yale edition of the Stein-Wilder letters) and Burns’ updated, annotated chronology of Stein’s interactions with both right and left-wing figures during the German Occupation of France.
Sometimes coupled with a report of the Hitler remark is a contention that Stein actually nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Everything in this vein that I’ve read is persuasive only if one believes at the outset that Stein's remark about Hitler and the Peace Prize was serious. That comment (though not its interpretation) is the sole piece of actual data anyone has offered. Here are some facts from the Nobel Peace Prize Nomination website & database which I suggest you visit if this particular accusation has been nagging at you.
The Nobel Peace Prize nomination database.
Facts you’ll discover:
1. Nominators must be invited by the Norwegian Nobel Committee to submit nominations. It's not a freelance affair.
2. In searching the database where names of all nominators and nominees from 1901 to 1956 have been archived, there is no match with either Gertrude Stein or Adolph HItler.
In addition, I’m providing a link to a 2009 New York Review of Books review-essay by Ian Buruma—“Occupied Paris: The Sweet and the Cruel”—not because it includes Stein (it doesn’t) but because it is such a striking model of a balanced and compassionate treatment of similar Vichy matters. Buruma’s analysis acknowledges social, historical, and psychological complexity without ethical equivocation. More of this is sorely needed with respect to Gertrude Stein.
updated May 20, 2012
Joan Retallack is John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Humanities at Bard College. The new Yale edition of Gertrude Stein's Stanzas in Meditation, with introduction by Retallack, has been designated An Approved Edition by the MLA Committee on Scholarly Editions. Her book on/with John Cage, MUSICAGE:John Cage in Conversation with Joan Retallack, won the America Award in Belles Lettres. Her most recent volume of poetry, Procedural Elegies / Western Civ Cont'd /, was chosen by ARTFORUM as a best book of 2010.
Karen Randall started Propolis Press in 2001. My introduction to the press was Rosmarie Waldrop’s Within the Probabilities of Spelling, produced in an edition of just eighteen. A few years later, I had the pleasure of meeting Karen in person in New York, and a few years after that, I had the pleasure of including her edition of Christina Strong’s The New York School in Poem & Pictures. Other poets published by Propolis include Nancy Kuhl, Elizabeth Willis, Jane Rice, and Randall’s own poems. The images in all of the books are created by Randall, who is the leading authority on four-color letterpress printing on gampi.
She is currently collaborating on an artists’ book with Lee Ann Brown entitled Bagatelles for Cornell, which includes three poems written in homage to Joseph Cornell accompanied by Randall’s digital collages printed via cyanotype and gum bichromate photography, as well as mixed relief techniques. She is also collaborating with Anne Tardos on Ginkgo Knuckle Nubia, a segment in The Dik-dik's Solitude (Granary, 2003).
In addition to the limited-edition collaborations, Randall is working on the third series of Least Weasel chapbooks, including Sueyeun Juliette Lee’s Primary Mother, Debrah Morkun’s OG * POSEIDA * RA-TA, and Kristin Prevallet’s Alter, Body. You can find the other chaps here, including works by Joanna Furrman, Chris Funkhouser, Brenda Iijima, Erica Kaufman, Jane Rice, Christina Strong, Susan Landers, Jenn McCreary, Jennifer Moxley, Kyle Schlesinger, Elizabeth Treadwell, and Mark Weiss.
Randall will be teaching letterpress this summer at Naropa’s Summer Writing Program.
Allen Curnow, ‘A Small Room with Large Windows’ (1962)
I think that we’ve had enough generalizations about various different types of New Zealand poetry for a bit. It’s time to descend to cases. But which poems should we talk about?
There’s not much point in doing a mini-anthology of my favourite contemporary poets. In any case, that’s something I’ve already been asked to do for Jacket2. It appeared last year as the feature “Look and look again: Twelve New Zealand Poets.”
Instead I thought it might make sense to concentrate on big-issue public poetry: those “state-of-the-nation” poems which poets more often find themselves writing by accident than actually sitting down to compose (or so I suspect, anyway).
Robert Lowell specialized in such poems: “For the Union Dead”, for example – or “Waking Early Sunday Morning.” It’s a form of engagé, ex cathedra discourse which many modern readers are understandably suspicious of, but when you reread those Lowell poems, or Derek Walcott’s superb sequence “The Schooner Flight,” or even Philip Larkin’s “The Whitsun Weddings,” it becomes clear that there are ways of avoiding pompous attitudinizing within this mini-genre.
I suppose that the whole thing began with those mid-nineteenth century / early twentieth-century “condition-of-England” novels: Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1848), Dickens’s Bleak House (1853), Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1875), Wells’s Tono-Bungay (1909), Forster’s Howards End (1910), to name just a few. These are books which quite consciously set out to diagnose the maladies of contemporary society – in the guise of fiction, but with the force of fact (their prototype and progenitor is Carlyle’s 1839 pamphlet on the "Condition of England Question" – or rather, as he himself put it, “on the poor, their rights and their wrongs”).
Joyce never wrote one – neither did Conrad. The First World War virtually wiped out the subgenre, I suspect (unless you like to see Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001) as a kind of condition-of-England-in the-twentieth-century novel. That’s what it appears to aspire to in formal terms, at any rate …)
I’m turning fifty this year, and so it occurred to me that it might be interesting to see what New Zealand poets had had to say about our own place in the world in my birth-year, 1962.
And there it was! “A Small Room with Large Windows,” the title poem in the Selected Poems published in that year by Allen Curnow, perhaps our most celebrated modern English-language poet. What’s more, he was around fifty himself when he wrote it, a little over halfway through his extremely long life (1911-2001), so it does seem ideal.
Obviously I can’t reprint the whole poem here for copyright reasons, but I’ll do my best to quote enough of it for you to see the poet’s drift. I have discussed it in class on a number of occasions. It forms part of a course we call “Auckland Writers in their region.”
The students (for the most part) don’t get it. It requires too much explanation. It’s too drily critical of the predominant modes of thought. “What if?” it asks:
What it would look like if really there were only
One point of the compass not known illusory,
All other quarters proving nothing but quaint
Obsolete expressions of true north
Rather a strange idea, this metaphor of the fixed, unmoving compass. What would it look like if there were only one fixed truth, awe-full and inexorable? “The unwinding abiding beam from birth / To death. What a plan!”
Well, yes, we do like everyone to agree with one another here: there’s not much room for healthy dissent in New Zealand society (even less, one presumes, in the 1950s):
One way to save space and a world of trouble.
That’s part one of this four-part poem. Part two goes on to describe a particular scene: the seascape visible (one presumes) out of the window of Curnow’s own house on the shores of Auckland Harbour, the “small room with large windows” of the title:
Seven ageing pine trees hide
Their heads in air but, planted on bare knees,
Supplicate wind and tide.
The pine-trees are trying to stand tall in the midst of some tidal mangroves, a landscape:
half earth, half heaven,
Half land, half water, what you call a view
Strung out between the windows and the tree trunks
Below sills a world moist with new making …
The pines, clearly symbolic of some “old order” of things, are (however) under threat:
a bad bitching squall
Thrashes the old pines, has them twitching
Root and branch, rumouring a Götterdãmmerung.
For the moment, though, they’re:
To creak in tune, comfortable to damn
Slime-suckled mangrove for its muddy truckling
With time and tide, knotted to the vein it leeches.
The mangroves live half in, half out of water, drawing sustenance from land and sea. Their “muddy truckling” may be parasitic, ignoble, but the Götterdãmmerung, the Twilight of the Gods, will most likely pass them by – above all, they’re survivors.
“In the interim,” in part three, we move back to the general:
how the children should be educated,
Pending a decision, a question much debated
In our island realms. It being …
Out of the question merely to recognize
The whole three hundred and sixty degrees
Naturally not. Recognizing the whole 360° of possibilities would never do! Provincial societies are, after all, distinguished by the fanatical zeal with which they try to enforce conformity, convinced (or trying to pretend that they’re convinced) of the transcendent merits of their own institutions. So
It is necessary to avail oneself of aids
Like the Bible or no Bible, free swimming tuition,
Art, sex, no sex and so on.
“Not to direct / So much as to normalize [my emphasis] personality, protect / From all hazards of climate, parentage, diet, / Whatever it is exists.” Curnow has put his finger on the fear that motivates such schemes of societal self-improvement, the need to guard against “whatever it is exists”
While, on the quiet,
it is understood there is a judgement preparing
Which finds the compass totally without bearing
And the present course correct beyond a doubt …
Part four returns us to the particular – again to the view (what we “call a view,” at any rate) out of those “large windows” in the “small room” of our "truckling" culture. They’re among the most famous lines he ever wrote:
A kingfisher’s naked arc alight
Upon a dead stick. In the mud
A scarlet geranium wild on a wet bank
A man stepping it out in the near distance
With a dog and a bag
Some wiseacre took it upon himself at the time to write a letter to the paper pointing out that Curnow was wrong about that “scarlet geranium wild on a wet bank.” He said that geraniums don’t grow in the wild, and that this was therefore a poeticism, not a factual possibility. Curnow wrote back to say that he was “rooted in the particular. From where I am sitting I can see a scarlet geranium growing wild on a wet bank.”
It may be unusual, he was saying, but it is exact: he was describing precisely what he saw (as he was in the rest of the poem, by implication). I don’t think that it would have troubled him unduly if you’d disputed his view of the dullness and conformity of the small room our “island realm” has confined itself to. Criticizing the accuracy of his description, though, was another matter. Facts, the essence of things, were to him paramount, perhaps because of the fanciful reputation of “poetry” as a form.
And finally, this geranium, that man with a dog and a bag, together with:
a gannet impacting
Explode a dozen diverse dullnesses
Like a burst of accurate fire.
It’s only through that precision of image that we can begin to make the best of our “large windows” here, cleansing our Blakean “doors of perception,” seeing things “as they are, infinite.”
There’s a lot going on in Curnow’s poem, as it moves expertly from general to particular in form, from satirical to celebratory in tone. It balances his usual preoccupation with the next world (he trained for the Anglican priesthood as a young man) with his addiction to precision and provable facts (instead he became a newspaper journalist).
This piece, this whole book, written in the middle of his journey, shows as much hope as it does disdain for the “way we live now” – we’re a little frightened, still, by the view out those windows. They are, after all, so terribly large, so potentially threatening to our head-in-the-sand, Ostrich (Moa?) culture.
There really is so little of interest in the “small room” we’ve confined ourselves to so far, though. Time to walk out of Plato’s cave – time to see the reality of what we’ve been debating so long in shadow form.