Barbara Will, unliking Stein, and scholarly malpractice
If there was no identity no one could be governed.
– Gertrude Stein, “What Are Master-pieces” (1935)
Now there is no opposition to anything being together.
– Gertrude Stein, Listen To Me (1936)
Between [Urbain de Bellegarde] and [Christopher] Newman, his whole manner seemed to declare there could be no interchange of opinion; he was holding his breath so as not to inhale the odor of democracy. Newman was far from being versed in European politics, but he liked to have a general idea of what was going on about him, and he accordingly asked M. de Bellegarde several times what he thought of public affairs. M. de Bellegarde answered with suave concision that he thought as ill of them as possible, that they were going from bad to worse, and that the age was rotten to its core. This gave Newman, for the moment, an almost kindly feeling for the marquis; he pitied a man for whom the world was so cheerless a place, and the next time he saw M. de Bellegarde he attempted to call his attention to some of the brilliant features of the time. The marquis presently replied that he had but a single political conviction, which was enough for him: he believed in the divine right of Henry of Bourbon, Fifth of his name, to the throne of France. Newman stared, and after this he ceased to talk politics with M. de Bellegarde. He was not horrified nor scandalized, he was not even amused; he felt as he should have felt if he had discovered in M. de Bellegarde a taste for certain oddities of diet; an appetite, for instance, for fishbones or nutshells. Under these circumstances, of course, he would never have broached dietary questions with him. (227-28)
– Henry James, The American (1877)
In Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma (Columbia UP, 2011), Barbara Will examines a relationship not unlike Christopher Newman’s with Urbain de Bellegarde in Henry James’s The American. (Just to say: Stein knew James’s work, and Will does not refer to any James text.) With Unlikely Collaboration and The American side by side, Gertrude Stein is Newman and Bernard Faÿ is de Bellegarde; Newman and Stein are the innocent Americans in France, and de Bellegarde and Faÿ are the wicked French monarchists. In the novel, Newman is forced into talk with Urbain because he falls in love with Claire, Urbain’s sister. Urbain and his mother disapprove of Newman’s marriage proposal, and at the novel’s end, although Newman is handed blackmail material that could possibly halt Claire’s drift toward a convent, he does not let himself use it. While motives and actions do not receive the full iterative Jamesian scrutiny one sees in, for instance, The Portrait of a Lady (1881), and Newman’s decision not to blackmail reassures us of his commitment to transparency and self-determination—Newman struggles to understand Claire’s subservience to her nasty elders—the story ultimately challenges a strict American-French dichotomy, particularly in Newman’s intimacy with the third sibling, Valentin. Urbain may hold his breath and Newman may stare, unamused, but James’s story—and Will’s too—follows the uncanny crossings of desire.
Christopher Newman will (unlike Stein) return to America, and James will continue his stories of American expatriates, some of whom go bad—such as Gilbert Osmond and Madame Merle in Portrait. James worked over the theme of American innocence amidst European deceit. In Unlikely Collaboration we get another expatriate gone bad: Gertrude Stein. According to Will, the abiding friendship between Stein and Faÿ brought out her anti-democratic tendencies and led her to support the leader of the Vichy government, Philippe Pétain. Not every American believes in or understands democracy—let’s pause on how contrary the country’s policies have been to its promises, and on its current president—so it is another form of American naïveté to believe that all Americans believe in democracy. But Stein has long been celebrated for her nonhierarchical aesthetics: as she stated in an interview, “in composition one thing [i]s as important as another thing. Each part is as important as the whole” (15). (Who did she credit with teaching her this? Henry James is mentioned, but the blue-ribbon credit goes to Paul Cézanne, a Frenchman.) One word is as important as every other word; any word can go beside another. Will would have us believe that Stein was largely, though not entirely, the aesthetic radical she seemed, and friend to nonconformists and political radicals—until she met Faÿ. First he built up her sense of self-grandeur, encouraging her forward on the path to the monumental success of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) and the American lecture tour (1934-35); then he—and this is the main subject of Unlikely Collaboration—converted her to the Urbain de Bellegarde side, the Faÿ side, the Pétain side.
At the first meeting of Faÿ (1893-1978) and Stein (1874-1946), the latter was, like Newman, not amused. Here is Stein’s version in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (written in 1932) of their meeting in 1924: “It was [René Crevel] who, in early days, first talked to us of Bernard Faÿ. He said he was a young professor in the University of Clermont–Ferrand and he wanted to take us to his house. One afternoon he did take us there. Bernard Faÿ was not at all what Gertrude Stein expected and he and she had nothing in particular to say to each other” (237). But a few years later “Gertrude Stein and Bernard Faÿ met again and this time they had a great deal to say to each other. Gertrude Stein found the contact with his mind stimulating and comforting. They were slowly coming to be friends” (245).
What changed? We can start with Stein’s recognition of Faÿ as a French counterpart to Carl Van Vechten in New York. Both men were devoted promoters of her work and well-connected; both were queer. Faÿ, however, was even more savvy to power and achievement and came with a conservative politics. By the early 1930s “the balance of power in Stein and Faÿ’s relationship was shifting subtly but irrevocably” toward Faÿ, Will argues (55). As Stein and Toklas settled into a rural lifestyle in Bilignin, she listened seriously to Faÿ, who believed that “federalism in its most noble incarnation—as in the American eighteenth century—was perforce a system in which ‘harmonious unity’ between separate interests could coexist with authoritarian leadership vested in a benign elite” (Will 157). A member of the “benign elite,” Faÿ subscribed to “a ‘third way’ between liberalism and communism centered on aristocratic and Catholic values” (Will 193). More than in the international Parisian milieu, these ideas sounded normal in rural France, where Stein spent much of her time in the decade before World War II. (Winter and spring were in Paris, summer and fall in Bilignin.) Unlike James’s Christopher Newman, then, Stein did finally broach political questions; and like Frederick Winterbourne in James’s Daisy Miller (1878), we might wonder if she had “lived too long in foreign parts” (59)—Winterbourne in Geneva and Stein nearby, fifty miles south (and fifty years later).
What did Faÿ see in Stein? In 1919, Faÿ began “a master of arts in modern languages” at Harvard University, on Franco-American relations in the late eighteenth century, and while a doctoral student at the Sorbonne in the early 1920s, he also had “teaching stints at Columbia, Kenyon College, and the University of Iowa” (26, 24). According to Will, Faÿ largely idealized America and Stein was for him the apotheosis of its values; even when “he began to sour on America and its politics in the late 1930s,” he did not sour on her (28). The emblematic American, he thought, embodied “joy” (28) and so did Stein and her writing; they gave evidence for his belief. (Having translated The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and other Stein texts into French, he knew her writing at least as intimately as the person.) Although Will’s book aims to track Faÿ’s deleterious effect on Stein and Stein’s own culpability, it does concede, at the end, that “Faÿ’s response to Stein’s writing as brilliant, profound, and joyous seems, in hindsight, at once anomalous and fascinating—a sign of aesthetic openness that was lacking in other facets of his life” (193). As much as Will tries to show that Stein was easy prey for Faÿ—“[g]iven Stein’s lifelong identification with the figure of the child” (141) he could play the father, the Svengali—she suggests here that her book might have attended more to their shared interest in “openness,” aesthetic and otherwise. Instead, Unlikely Collaboration is an indictment. Faÿ was charged with “collaboration with the enemy” and, on 6 December 1946, found guilty. Stein died on 27 July 1946 and escaped judgment. Will’s book redresses that escape and tries Stein in absentia.
Stein is the “unlikely” of the book’s title. The term speaks to an innocence and all that would make her an unlikely associate to Faÿ, as unlikely as Newman becoming pals with Urbain de Bellegarde. Yet even into the late 1930s, when Faÿ’s conservatism was pronounced, she remained friendly with him. It may have seemed unlikely, but there it was. And Will gets her both ways: Stein may have been naïve but she was guilty; she was a child who needed male authority figures, but she was no dupe. Will argues that both writers blamed the global turmoil of the 1930s on the intellectual and political left (including communists).
It was, after all, the ‘eighteenth-century passion for freedom’ that Stein found so deplorably absent in the America she visited during her lecture tour of 1934–1935. In the 1930s, she repeatedly laments the decline of the American agrarian ideal embodied in the worldview of the founding fathers and places the blame firmly on the liberal and mass-oriented ‘reform movements’ of the monstrous Roosevelt administration, which had ‘enslaved’ a pioneering people through ‘organization.’” (Will 131)
And, says Will, Stein’s “blast in Everybody’s Autobiography  against ‘liberals that is intellectuals, the kind of people that believe in progress and understanding,’ shows the ever-hardening shift of her politics to the right” (96). If Stein was seduced by Faÿ’s politics, it was not because Stein abandoned her American principles; it was because America had abandoned her, Will suggests; the American individual she remembered was slipping away. Faÿ felt that way about France. “Roosevelt and his French counterpart Léon Blum were both pushing their countries along a slippery slope toward a soulless and debased form of social organization” (9). What Stein said of her old neighborhood in Oakland when she visited in 1935, “there is no there there,” could apply to the country (Everybody’s 298). The conservative mode, a nostalgia, is what Will would hear in the “no there there” comment. In contrast, I hear Stein—who was not a sentimental writer or person—accepting a past that is gone.
The difference between my perspective and Will’s is more than a matter of interpretation. Will tries to connect a set of clipped moments from Stein’s life and writing with Faÿ’s belief in “authoritarian leadership vested in a benign elite,” and I will show that the result is a seriously flawed work of scholarship. Because so many comments lack requisite evidence, I cannot trust the book overall. For instance, in the previous paragraph, neither “she repeatedly laments the decline of the American agrarian ideal” nor “the ever-hardening shift of her politics to the right” is proven or true. Repeatedly? Stein worried that Americans might become like Germans—organized, obedient—but she does not identify the “agrarian” class as the only source of independent thinking. Ever-hardening shift? Stein disagreed with Roosevelt’s policies—as did Zora Neale Hurston, for instance—but her politics were probably about the same thirty years earlier; it was the policies that were new, not her rentier-based mindset.
The “shift” is Will’s. To review Unlikely Collaboration is to be reminded of something Will says in it, about “a shift in Faÿ’s position from historian to ideologue” (86). Before Unlikely Collaboration is Will’s first book, Gertrude Stein, Modernism, and the Problem of “Genius” (2000). In her career too appears a turn from literary historian to muckraker. Will notes that “Faÿ’s technique is not to impugn directly but to taint through inference”; especially “in the wake of Revolution and Freemasonry , Faÿ’s critique is much sharper, his inferences more developed, and his paranoia more pronounced” (87). What she says about Faÿ’s work can apply to her own. She quotes a critical review of Revolution and Freemasonry that is apropos her own work: it “was a ‘fascinating piece of historical sophistry,’ one that pushed its ‘large thesis’ despite all facts to the contrary and that blithely resolved problems of causality that had perplexed historians for decades” (85). Will employs Faÿ’s paranoid tactics in playing prosecutor for this imaginary trial. I echo that critique of Faÿ’s book here in responding to Will’s.
I opened with a comparison of James’s fiction about an American in Europe and Will’s non-fiction. In James’s The Portrait of a Lady, the innocent American abroad, Isabel Archer, finally learns the truth about her husband, Gilbert Osmond, and his child, Pansy—who is the daughter of the scheming Madame Merle—yet does not decisively break from Osmond. Regarding the Stein-Faÿ friendship, most Stein critics have seen her as someone like Archer, inexplicably remaining, through the 1930s and into WWII, connected to an unprincipled man. Will’s book argues that Stein is more like Merle, in cahoots with Osmond-Faÿ. And like a James novel, Will’s book never really gets to the big reveal. For James, a flat narrative allowed for an immense exploration of his characters’ psychology; for Will’s flat narrative, in Stein’s case, there is simply a lack of evidence.
One example of Will tainting through inference comes in her narration of Faÿ’s winning “the inaugural chair in American civilization at the elite Collège de France, in Paris,” in 1932 (61). Will quotes a Stein letter: “‘Do get into the academy,’ she writes Faÿ after his Collège win, ‘get into everything and then afterwards be as naughty as you can that will be nice’” (66). Will would read “naughty” as a sign of the “ever-hardening shift of her politics to the right” instead of something disruptive to academic protocol. “Naughty” sounds childish but is—for Will—a cover for “fascist.” Will concludes her story: “With the Collège de France’s commitment to not interfering with the work of its professors, Faÿ had at last found a venue to disseminate openly these ‘naughty’ ideas. In this, Gertrude Stein understandingly spurred him on” (66). Understandingly? Stein was not the child—she was the rider “spurring” Faÿ on? What?
The book’s two main topics, Stein’s conservatism and the Stein-Faÿ friendship, are vital to understand. I am in complete agreement with Will as far as that goes. But I remain concerned that the book is misleading readers into thinking that Stein, along with Faÿ, was guilty was “collaboration with the enemy.” Readers eager to denounce Stein—because the popularity of her writing rankles, or prejudice against an outspoken Jewish lesbian—have seen Will’s book as proof. Other, Stein-friendly readers have expressed their concerns about Will’s interpretations and conclusions—see Charles Bernstein’s dossier, and his recent essay, “Gertrude and Alice in Vichyland”. The dossier highlights the facts about Stein’s WWII years and a reasonable interpretation of them; as Bernstein shows, when we get to the limit of what we know, we must speculate tentatively and question the motives of those who speculate wildly. In the context of the dossier, Will is regarded as just one writer who has propounded misleading claims. Here I focus entirely on Unlikely Collaboration. I want to parse the book’s scholarly contributions from the role it has played, as “proof” that Stein helped promote fascism. In the end, although I learned much from it about Faÿ, the book’s contribution to Stein studies is limited. Even if there are aspects of Faÿ’s contributions to American history that remain insightful, we will handle his oeuvre with skepticism. I suggest we do the same with Will’s book.
What interests me in the academic reception is how a reviewer summarizes Unlikely Collaboration. Angela Kershaw in French Studies, along with noting “Stein’s obsessive attraction to authoritarian figures,” writes: “Stein and her lover Alice B. Toklas—Jewish lesbians residing in the Vichy zone throughout the Occupation—famously, and still inexplicably, escaped unscathed from the war. It is clear from Will’s account that, unlike those of Faÿ, Stein’s opinions were often ill-informed, incoherent, and without direct consequences—although they were no less abhorrent for all that” (575). Still inexplicably? Will describes quite exhaustively how Stein and Toklas survived. (From 1939 to 1942 they were in Bilignin, a village in the Unoccupied Zone, and Faÿ’s authority might have provided them some protection; and from 1942 to 1944, when the Germans had control of the area, they were protected by their neighbors.) And no less abhorrent? How can “ill-informed opinions” without direct consequences be no less abhorrent than the actions of a collaborator? Moreover, the idea that Stein had an “obsessive attraction to authoritarian figures” is not true. A close reading of Unlikely Collaboration distinctly controverts Kershaw’s insinuations and conclusions, but I put the blame on Will, not Kershaw. Just as Faÿ felt that Freemasons were up to more than appeared, Will feels that way about Stein. Her book overwhelmingly emphasizes a paranoid reading—that is, even though the evidence does not exist that would prove an insinuation, it could.
Michael Kramer’s review in Common Knowledge is similar: “When confronted with Elisha ben Avuya’s apostasy, Rabbi Meir continued to study with his teacher over the objections of his talmudic colleagues, arguing that he could eat the fruit served and dispose of the rind. After the Pound, Céline, Heidegger, de Man, and now Stein scandals, can we still do likewise?” (522-23). Again, despite Will’s acknowledgement that Stein did nothing with, in Kershaw’s words, direct consequences, Kramer feels that Unlikely Collaboration secures for Stein a place alongside Ezra Pound and Louis-Ferdinand Céline, unarguably fascist sympathizers and anti-Semites. Kramer’s reading of Will’s book leads him to conclude that we simply stop reading Stein (stop “eating the fruit”). Sarah Posman’s review in Modernism/modernity observes that “the stunning amount of research that has gone into the book enables [Will] to draw conclusions that are well-founded and nuanced” (194). There are more than fifty pages of endnotes in Unlikely Collaboration, and I concur that becoming acquainted with Faÿ’s life and oeuvre must have required much labor for Will. There are moments of nuance, but “well-founded conclusions” is not true, especially if they lead to summaries such as those by Kershaw and Kramer.
Posman also informs readers that Faÿ “is staged as the missing link in understanding Stein’s political views” (194). Posman fails to interrogate this “missing link” claim. This claim is, as Birgitvan Puymbroeck in Modern Fiction Studies has pointed out, a fundamental weakness of Will’s book: “One wonders, then, whether Will does not attribute too much importance to Stein’s admittedly significant but non-exclusive friendship with Faÿ” (223). One strength of the book is the material on the Stein-Faÿ friendship. However, Will relies on the story of that friendship to explain Stein’s conservatism, and as Puymbroeck notes, Stein had other friends and America itself is hardly an unalloyed liberal state; we need much more than Faÿ to understand Stein’s life and writing. Stein’s conservatism must also be understood in an American context, not just European—so full scope of this topic will be the work of scholarship-to-come. “The downside of this highly contextualized approach is that Stein’s texts are used instrumentally so as to demonstrate her affiliation with a right-wing regime” (Puymbroeck 223). A context rarely explains a Stein text, which does not represent in a conventional way. Yet in Unlikely Collaboration, Will sets up a massive, Faÿ-driven contextual edifice to explain a few moments in Stein’s writing. There is much more to the story. Puymbroeck thinks that “Will refrains from either an apologetic or a condemning story, and instead explores the ‘grey zone’ of Stein’s and Faÿ’s politics” (222). At times Will does concede the difficulty in drawing conclusions. But one can easily ignore those quieter moments for the “powder-keg” (to cite the Columbia UP blurb) insinuations, which apparently dominate many readers’ perceptions of the book.
Stein critics need to know Faÿ’s bibliography from the late 1920s through the 1930s. We do not know how much of his writing she read, but “Faÿ’s biography of Washington, published in 1931 as George Washington: Republican Aristocrat and in French as George Washington: Gentilhomme, was read and edited by Stein in manuscript” (Will 56). They both addressed the emblematic life of this American gentilhomme—also in 1931, for instance, was Stein’s “Scenery and George Washington.” Her study of Washington and American history pre-existed their friendship, but the subject was an adhesive. Will rightly suggests that we consider Stein’s five articles on “money” in The Saturday Evening Post in 1936 in relation to Faÿ’s Roosevelt and His America (1933). Perhaps surprisingly, given Faÿ’s suspicion of freemasonry—both Roosevelt and Washington were members—and other points of contention, “[f]or the most, this is a favorable representation” of the president’s leadership (Will 87). This book came out not long after Roosevelt took the office and was for American readers, capitalizing on the moment; however, and by the time Stein wrote about money, they were both expressing doubt that America’s president should be so invested with power and focused on economic matters. Readers of Stein will find Will convincing as she unfolds a “convergence between the writing of Stein and Faÿ in the early 1930s” (55), even if history was for Stein a plastic subject more than something to argue a point.
Faÿ published on another eighteenth-century American, Benjamin Franklin (in 1929), and I suspect it was the books on great American individuals that held Stein’s interest most. Her own writing pulled from the details related to such figures, the names and stories of their everyday life; she had long devoured biographical material. Political history or theory was not her métier, but it is that aspect of Faÿ’s career that Will emphasizes, overall, in her effort to link him and Stein and with fascism. Two of Faÿ’s books in particular, The American Experiment (1929) and Revolution and Freemasonry, 1680–1800 (1935), establish his deep cynicism about democratic institutions in America and France. I will quote extensively from Will and Faÿ to convey their assertions.
According to Will, Faÿ regarded the democratic experiment as a failure, especially in France:
Far from redressing inequalities and bettering the lives of ‘the humblest,’ the French Revolution had done the work ‘of leveling and obliterating, of destroying the great and reducing the strong and active’ (Faÿ, American 253). [. . .] Moreover, the vacuum in leadership opened up by revolutionary events had been filled, clandestinely, by a cabal of shadowy figures who secretly directed society to their own ends—a subject that would increasingly preoccupy Faÿ as he turned his attention to the ‘problem’ of French Freemasonry. (43)
Democracy in France failed because the real power was not in the politicians’ hands. Faÿ argues:
In our complicated world of today no one save economists and bankers has the right to speak unequivocally and to make demands. There is no aristocracy in the true sense of the word, except for a number of Jews, whose international situation and technical knowledge place them apart. The fate of nations, in the final analysis, is decided in the private offices of business men, who alone may dictate and alter conditions. This is a cruel, derisive and ludicrous fact. (American 262; qtd. in Will 46)
Politicians merely represent, with control of elections and legislation held by shadowy figures in private offices, whether Freemasons or businessmen. Real power hides or hides in plain sight (and is overlooked). With “great” and “strong” and “aristocracy,” Faÿ seems to favor a language that undermines the spirit of democracy, which holds the strength of a nation dependent on its weakest or most vulnerable members. Will’s summaries and quotations suggest that Faÿ inveighed against shadowy figures in part because he envied them.
The American Experiment is thus a comparative book, weighing the differences between France and America since their respective late-eighteenth-century revolutions. The great in America were never destroyed; in fact, “America appeared to have escaped the problem of mass rule in large part because the framers of America’s revolution and constitution were themselves an elite and hence committed to a system that would reflect and support their interests” (Will 43). At its beginning, the nation was run by an elite who declared that success would be measured by achievement more than equal rights:
Although Americans express a great deal of public conformity—“Clothes, pleasures, attitudes, styles, opinions, momentary preoccupations, belong to all, and are adopted or rejected by all” (Faÿ, AE 132)—within themselves, Americans are each individual strivers, each dreaming of a way to break free from the pack. Blessed with enormous natural resources and prodigious geographical space, America has been able to sustain its central ideology of individual achievement and call it “democratic.” But, in fact, in this “land of strong and ambitious men,” democracy is less important than the “tendency to avoid strict limits and to seek a constantly enlarging scope.” (Faÿ, American 50, 155; Will 44)
Americans did not reject hierarchical power in the never-ending quest for independence. In short, “Bernard Faÿ presented eighteenth-century America as a model for present-day Europe” (47). Ennobled by the democratic spirit and driven by a pioneering instinct, early American white men constructed individualism as a bulwark against the miasma of mob rule.
Then with Revolution and Freemasonry, Will reports,
a new strain of paranoia has entered into Faÿ’s writing. From the book’s title to its bibliography, Faÿ abandons the nuance of his previous works in order to drive home two basic points: that Freemasonry was the principal agent behind the French and American revolutions and that these Masonic-driven revolutions are the cause of present-day social degeneration. In France in particular, Faÿ argues, Freemasons used an activating ideal like democracy to gain support for eighteenth-century revolutionary events, but the subsequent destruction of traditional social and religious institutions had been catastrophic for French society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Committed to effecting an ‘equal footing’ among social classes by dissolving social and political hierarchies, the Masonic-driven French and American revolutions only served to impoverish the lives of the masses while secretly consolidating power among the Masonic ranks. Indeed, Freemasonry’s interest in cloaking its own will to power within eighteenth-century revolutionary rhetoric is the book’s most tendentious claim. By ‘preparing’ and ‘achieving’ the French and American revolutions, Freemasons transformed the modern world. Yet ultimately their efforts served only to exchange an older, traditional, hierarchical social system for another, more modern, but much more secret and sinister one. / Secrecy is a central idea to this analysis, as it allows Faÿ to interrogate the transparency of ‘Masonic’ words such as democracy, progress, and rationality. (82-83)
Will draws a straight line from Faÿ’s claims in this book to his abuse of power in the war:
In April 1941—some nine months after he first installed himself at the Grand Orient—Faÿ was given funds from Pétain to create a Service des Sociétés Secrètes (SSS): a secret service devoted to the investigation of secret societies. The SSS, which Faÿ directed from May 1941 to April 1942, would mark both the nadir of his paranoid crusade and the pinnacle of his power within the two spheres governing France: the Pétainist Vichy regime and Nazi-occupied Paris. [. . .] [The SSS’s] most notorious effort was the compilation of a fichier of the names of Freemasons, a task that had already begun when Faÿ moved to the rue Cadet in 1940. [. . .] In all, more than 170,000 names were included in the fichier [and] some three thousand Freemasons lost their jobs. [. . .] According to information presented at Faÿ’s 1946 trial, six thousand Freemasons were directly questioned or placed under surveillance over the course of the war, 989 were deported to concentration camps, and 549 were killed, either by firing squad or through deportation. (171-73)
Ultimately I find Will’s portrait of Faÿ’s writing confusing and contradictory—to what extent did his books support democracy, progress, and rationality?—and even the magnitude of his war crimes remains somewhat speculative. Here is Will’s conclusion to her account of his trial: “No document exists that directly links Faÿ to these deportations or killings; whatever involvement he had in the system that facilitated these actions was steps removed from their terrible final outcome” (173). What does “steps removed” mean? Even in Faÿ’s case the connection between what he wrote and did with what happened during the war—the harassment and murder of Freemasons—is apparently uncertain, and no one I have read considers Faÿ as, finally, anything but despicable. I will return to the facts of Stein’s case in a few moments, but, suffice to say, any connection between what Stein did and the atrocities of the war is many steps removed.
Unlike some of her modernist contemporaries, Gertrude Stein never attended a fascist rally, was never an official functionary of any fascist organization, and was almost never celebrated in the fascist or profascist press. Of course, not many Jews were. And this, above all else, seems to make Stein’s Pétainism even more troubling than the more rabid support for fascist regimes of her contemporaries such as Pound, Céline, and Heidegger. For it is not the outspokenness of Stein’s commitment to Philippe Pétain’s Vichy regime that matters but the very fact that she willingly sought to produce any propaganda in support of this regime that shocks us to this day. One can hear this shock in Picasso’s voice in a conversation reported by James Lord: “Gertrude was a real fascist. She always had a weakness for Franco. Imagine! For Pétain, too. You know she wrote speeches for Pétain. Can you imagine it? An American, a Jewess, what’s more.” (Will 18-19)
Whereas Will’s quote from Lord is clipped out to suit the notion that “Gertrude was a real fascist,” I will err on the side of amplitude in this section and give the full context. Not only does Will make changes to the James Lord quote without indicating them—a minor but telling issue—but she utterly misrepresents his anecdote. Will notes that her quote comes from page 15 in Lord’s Six Exceptional Women: Further Memoirs (1994), and it was after reading Lord’s chapter on Stein and seeing how badly Will had used it that I began feeling distrustful of Unlikely Collaboration overall. As her reader, I rely on her scholarly ethics and on the publisher’s editors, as I cannot follow up on everything—in particular, all the Faÿ material. So I think it’s fair to ask: How much in her book misrepresents the original material? To what extent did Will’s need to malign Stein—for Faÿ it was the Freemasons—force her into the position of an ideologue? Here is Lord’s telling of Picasso’s comment:
So you see what she’s like. I must say it took you long to enough to realize it. That very first day, when I sent you over there to see her, I expected you to come right back in half an hour and tell me what a slut she is. That pig! A real fascist, what’s more. She always had a weakness for Franco. Imagine! For Pétain, too. You know, she wrote speeches for Pétain. Can you imagine it? An American. A Jewess, what’s more. And she’s fat as a pig. You know, she once sent me a photo of herself standing in front of an auto, and you couldn’t even see the auto. Gertrude took up the whole photo, that pig. (Lord 15)
Before I contextualize this, let’s note that Lord admits he “did not record” (10) comments at the time, so they were reconstructed later and are perhaps invented. As I understand the perspective Lord takes for his memoir, it combines his personal experience with other people’s accounts of Stein in her last years; it reads as if his view of Stein was highly mediated. Lord was just twenty-two years old when he visited her in Paris in the spring and summer of 1945, and he remembers both feeling “overawed” (4) and having a “callow nonchalance” (12). The memoirist laughs a little at his younger self and does what he couldn’t do back in 1945: affectionately chides Stein for her sense of her own greatness, while also admitting the parameters of the occasion: an elderly celebrity was generously keeping an open door for American GIs who were enjoying themselves in Paris before heading home. He had occasion to disagree with her, and spoke out, but never really overcame his subordinate posture—and was therefore angry with himself, then. Later, after she died, he would know Stein better—and his chapter therefore mixes naive and wizened perspectives.
Lord met Picasso first and it was Picasso who arranged for Lord to then meet Stein. When he arrived at their rue Christine apartment, Stein was on her way out to do errands, with Basket her poodle. Lord walked along and she talked and talked, with “authority” and “well” (6). He likens her to an “autocratic schoolteacher” (7) who yet evinced an “indomitable immediacy” (9). As he visited with Stein and Toklas, “Alice was the inferior,” he says, though I suspect her reserve must have been partly from knowing that young James was there to see Stein, not her (9). He found Stein’s “monolithic egotism” (10) exasperating, but she read a play of his with “care” and responded “with a thoughtful seriousness not in the least condescending” (11). At the time, or later, he felt that she saw him, the individual, but also that he was a generic GI who should be flattered by his proximity to the legendary figure.
“The last time I saw her” (12): it was late summer and he showed up at Stein’s with Youla Chapoval, a young painter. At first Stein was annoyed that Lord was treating her her apartment like a “museum” and said that if they wanted to look at Picasssos, “Picasso has a lot more Picassos than I have. Go and ask him to show them to you, and then maybe you’ll see what sort of a man Picasso is, too, if you don’t know it already, and then you’ll see something about Picasso” (12-13). Clearly some point of disagreement between Stein and Picasso was bristling. She cooled off a little, and then, as they had done a few months earlier, they went errand-walking. The tension of that day was never far from the surface. Stein suggested that demobilizing American soldiers were finding the prospect of returning somewhat sad; “never again in their lives would they so happy” (13). He disagreed, saying that they had seen suffering and death and all the men wanted was to go home and “eat apple pie” (13). She insisted that “their wartime experiences were ones they would look back on their lives with pleasure and nostalgia, because then they had been carefree among other men and because men loved fighting” (13). He retorted, “You’re wrong. And you’re a stupid old woman and you don’t understand anything”; “I never saw Gertrude Stein again” (14).
It’s then that Lord goes to Picasso’s and tells him the story of that argument, with “indignation” (14), and Picasso launches into his “So you see what she’s like,” which we can hear is an echo (or a storytelling tic of Lord’s) of Stein’s “you’ll see what sort of a man Picasso is.” Picasso’s rant goes on. He calls Hemingway a phony, and “‘[a]s for the Toklas, that little witch, do you know why she wears her hair in bangs?’ Picasso laughed loudly. ‘She had a horn,’ he said. ‘In the middle of her forehead. A growth like a rhinoceros. So they made the perfect couple, Gertrude and Alice, the hippopotamus and the rhinoceros. But then Alice had the horn cut off, and her bangs are supposed to cover up the hole.’ He kept on laughing for a time, and then he said, ‘So now you know what Gertrude is like, that slut’” (15). Lord was “dumbfounded” but realized that “I didn’t know him very well then” (15).
Three crucial items are still to be mentioned about this day in Paris in late summer 1945. First, Lord’s memory of that day fills him with “regret” for his “own rudeness and ignorance” (12). He admits, after Stein’s comment that GIs could be willing to defer apple pie, “I had done no actual fighting myself, but I had seen some of it”; “I had seen too much and all of it was too recent and too overwhelming for me to be able to understand or to acknowledge in what way Miss Stein was, of course, right” (13-14).
Second, he says that in the late 1950s he learned the cause of “Picasso’s abusive outburst” (16). In 1941 Picasso had taken some electric radiators from Stein and Toklas’s empty apartment. When the couple returned to Paris in December 1944, at the start of a “cold and long” winter, they asked Picasso to return the radiators but he did not do so until the spring (18). Even if there is more to their mutual antipathy in 1945, Lord believes it involves something borrowed—something so relatively trivial that it’s likely true. Moreover, when Lord visited Picasso in the mid 1950s, the painter was of the opposite opinion: Stein was now “an extraordinary being” who “understood painting” and was a “friend” and “writer of the first importance” (17).
Third, Lord says, “I found out later that, in fact, for reasons I do not know which were obviously good enough for her, Gertrude had simply translated some of Pétain’s speeches into English” (16); and when he visited Toklas in 1947, “I tried to see beneath her bangs the hole Picasso had mentioned, but neither then nor afterward did I ever discern any trace of it” (24). As I read them, his conclusions suggest that he found little “trace” of truth in Picasso’s outburst. His rhino rant and the fascist hippo complement were bluster from a man eager to appear always right. Lord accepts (“for reasons I do not know”) that he will never, radiators aside, come to the bottom of that acrimony and Picasso’s shifting attitude on Stein. Of course Barbara Will wants to dig down (“truly mined” [xv]) and uncover a crime. How Lord frames the outburst and his conclusion undermine her argument—so they are effaced.
This misleading us on Lord’s memoir stands out, but there are numerous others, and there are plain errors. For one, historical dates: she says that Stein published Paris France “the day [June 14] France fell to the Germans in 1940” (6), as if Stein’s book helped the Germans to victory; in fact she started writing it in summer 1939 and it was first published in London in April 1940. She uses dates for Stein’s texts that I have never seen, and sometimes changes them from page to page. Or when did Stein and Faÿ meet? First she says “1926, when the two first met” (xiv), then refers to “their first encounter [in] 1924” (24). Two pages later she says they met when Faÿ was “the age of thirty-one,” which means 1924 (26); then it’s “1926—the year she met Faÿ” (31). (As mentioned above, the correct date is 1924.) As well, she refers to Richard Bridgman, author of Gertrude Stein in Pieces (1970), a critical study, as “Stein’s early biographer” (209, n30). And in 1931 Stein published Before The Flowers Of Friendship Faded Friendship Faded, thirty poems in English based on poems in French by Georges Hugnet. Will miswrites: “This translation would ultimately appear as one of Stein’s most hermetic published works, Stanzas in Meditation” (139). Flowers and Stanzas are separate. Errors in academic books are not unheard of, but Will is a Stein scholar and this amount and range form a strange and alarming compound.
Will also puts into play a word or phrase that is associated with fascism, and then tries to connect Stein with it. For example, “the free creative spirit at war with the bourgeoisie who refuses to accept any limits” (Will 14), a phrase in Jeffrey Herf’s Reactionary Modernism (1984) that describes not only modernists but the Nazis. On the next page Will writes: “Stein also believed deeply in the value of the ‘free creative spirit . . . without limits’ who might lead his or her nation into this brave new era” (15). (Again Will misquotes, changing “any limits” to “without limits.”) Two pages later: “What Herf calls ‘the free creative spirit at war with the bourgeoisie who refuses to accept any limits’ is powerfully captured in Stein’s sense of her unprecedented (and lonely) endeavor in The Making of Americans,” which Stein worked on from 1903 to 1911 (17). And by the time Will concludes her book, she acts as if Stein had, throughout her career, followed a Nazi aesthetic: “Like her fellow modernists drawn before the war to the political Right [. . .] Stein was taken by the promises of political authoritarianism, always complexly tied to her sense of her own genius and of the ‘free creative spirit . . . without limits’ that coursed through her aesthetic” (191). Repeating the phrase, Will thinks, will make it stick. Does it by now go without saying that there is neither evidence nor sustained analysis for these claims?
Similarly, to associate Stein with the cleansing metaphors of the Nazis, Will asserts that the word “wash” was code for assimilationism (20, 31, 58, 59), and that “personal hygiene” was “a particular obsession of Stein” (57). As evidence that it was an “obsession” Will cites an early 1930s letter from Stein to Faÿ with the word “clean”: “I love you very much and it will be nice seeing you this summer and it is lovely here . . . and we are all clean and peaceful” (223, n56). Later in this conspiracy-theory narrative, when we read “utopia from a clean slate” (111) or “clean the administration” (152) or versions of “clean-up operation” (164, 174, 175, 193), we are to supposed to think of Stein’s “all clean and peaceful” and thus believe that she endorses political purity or genocide or, at the least, traffics in euphemistic support for destroying undesirables and dissent. The usual story on Stein is that she was criticized for being slovenly when she was younger, and was teased for liking “fresh sheets every night” (Rogers 195-96) when she was older. Bedsheet preferences and politics?
Will quotes Linda Wagner-Martin’s comment that the “modernist writer aimed to be universal, above political alliances, washed clean in the purity of serious and innovative aesthetics, and Gertrude certainly wanted to play that game well” (Will 21). Will apparently wants us to see only “washed clean” (a fascist politics) and ignore “above political alliances” (21). I can return us to Henry James again and, in The Tragic Muse (1890), Nick Dormer’s mighty speech in favor of the (portrait) artist’s life over the politician’s:
“There it is,” said Nick at last—“there’s the naked, preposterous truth: that if I were to do exactly as I liked I should spend my years reproducing the more or less vacuous countenances of my fellow-mortals. I should find peace and pleasure and wisdom and worth, I should find fascination and a measure of success in it—out of the din and the dust and the scramble, the world of party labels, party cries, party bargains and party treacheries—of humbuggery, hypocrisy and cant. The cleanness and quietness of it, the independent effort to do something, to leave something which shall give joy to man long after the howling has died away to the last ghost of an echo—such a vision solicits me at certain hours with an almost irresistible force.” (437-38)
One task Will was faced with in arguing for such incredible things as “she legitimated violence as a necessary means to a nationalist end” (9)—which is utter fiction—is showing that Stein became a politician. Faÿ did—but Stein was an artist, aiming at, to quote Nick, “the independent effort to do something, to leave something which shall give joy.” As I showed above, that was what Faÿ felt about Stein’s work; and I have also said that Unlikely Collaboration does contain hiccups of contradiction. While Will wants us to associate “clean” with Stein and fascism, she also links her with “stench”:
Faÿ takes pains to emphasize that Stein’s joy is inseparable from her relationship to language: a means of confronting the world through words that was refreshingly affirmative: “it was stylish to balk at the real, to find it so full of defects, of disadvantages, of stench that one couldn’t resign oneself to love it. Gertrude rejoiced in living, in seeing life and in feeling that one was living.” (30)
Will then argues that Faÿ is actually praising “the ‘purity’ of Stein’s language,” but as I read this I see both Faÿ and Will straining to ignore to difficulty of pinning a name on Stein other than artist.
Will’s paranoid thesis also suggests a collusion among scholars and a university, one that has kept us from a monstrous truth about Stein—even her handwriting is “slanted, notoriously bad” (xiii). The opening sentence of Will’s book is set in the Stein archive at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, at Yale University. There she finds “a few yellowing manuscript notebooks tucked away” (xiii). (See also: “tucked away in the Stein archives” ). Those particular notebooks—Stein’s draft translations of some Pétain speeches—are no more “tucked away” than the notebooks for Tender Buttons or any other item at the Beinecke. And when Will references the first publication of Stein’s draft introduction to the Pétain speeches, she says that it was “buried in the back of Edward M. Burns and Ulla E. Dydo’s book The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder” (11). Stein wrote the introduction in 1942 and it remained unpublished until 1996. One would more rightly express surprise that Burns and Dydo included it, since Stein’s correspondence with Wilder was primarily from before the war (1934 to 1941). Burns and Dydo did not “bury” it; they brought it to light.
Let’s return to Will’s tone of disbelief as she introduces Picasso’s outburst, as remembered by Lord: “For it is not,” Will says, “the outspokenness of Stein’s commitment to Philippe Pétain’s Vichy regime that matters but the very fact that she willingly sought to produce any propaganda in support of this regime that shocks us to this day” (19). This is Will’s main accusation—that Stein was a propagandist. What propaganda? Near the end of her book Will lists together the three texts she has highlighted: “the approval of Pétain’s regime evident in ‘The Winner Loses,’ ‘La langue française,’ and the ‘fetishistic’ introduction to his speeches, throws her actions into stark relief. Especially at a moment when many other writers in France at the time were choosing either to write clandestinely or simply to be silent, Stein’s vocal Pétainism is notable” (145).
• “The Winner Loses: A Picture of Occupied France”: written in July–Aug. 1940, and first published in The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 166, no. 5, Nov. 1940, pp. 571-83.
• “La langue française”: written in May 1941, and first published in Patrie: Revue Mensuelle illustrée de L’Empire, 10 Aug. 1941, pp. 36-37.
• “Introduction to Pétain’s Paroles aux français; messages et écrits 1934-1941”: written in January 1942, and first published in The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, edited by Edward Burns and Ulla Dydo, Yale UP, 1996, pp. 406-08.
“The Winner Loses” is something of a letter to American readers, reassuring them that she and Toklas are surviving in German-occupied France. Will cites Stein’s comment that when armistice came in June 1940, “a great load was lifted off France,” and then says: “It is important to note that Stein published these words in the Atlantic Monthly in November 1940, well into Pétain’s regime and well past the point, during the mid-summer of that year, of initial relief at the signing of the armistice” (119). Her point is that by November 1940 Pétain was clearly collaborating with Nazi demands, and that support for Pétain was support for such things as the “Statut des Juifs,” a harsh anti-Semitic decree. But Stein wrote this in the summer: in the essay’s last paragraph, in fact, she tells us that it was “the eighth of August.” Typical for Stein, she writes about the time of composition in the composition. For anyone who has read Stein’s essay, Will’s point, as stated, collapses.
Moreover, Stein’s “The Winner Loses” says almost nothing about Pétain. It describes her life since September 1939 and expresses confidence in an eventual Allied victory—the current winner, Germany, will lose. When she heard that “the Maréchal Pétain had asked for an armistice,” she thought: “Well, then he had saved France and everything was over. But it wasn’t, not at all—it was just beginning for us” (626). The armistice would buy France time to regather and build its forces: “The French do naturally not like that life is too easy, they like, like the phoenix, to rise from the ashes. They really do believe that those that win lose” (634). Here is the extent of Stein’s “propaganda”: “It was natural that, since the Third Republic had not defended them from their enemies, it would end”; “the government had changed, but [the life of people in her area] was to go on all the same” (634). (As Will says, the country had experienced “rampant political instability”: “While France remained a liberal democracy during the inter-war period, its administration changed thirty-five times in the years between 1924 and the installation of Pétain’s Vichy regime in 1940” .) Stein strongly implies an end to support for Pétain if he is unable to defend France and its citizens. To refute Will’s claims, read Stein’s actual words.
Will tells us that in the Bugey region where Stein lived “in 1940, there was particularly strong support for Philippe Pétain’s National Revolution; at the outset of the Vichy regime, the region was a bastion of Pétainism” (129). Counting on her neighbors for protection, having lived in that region for more than a decade, she knew and could understand their perspective, even as an American garden-farmer with a cosmopolitan, other life. Observe how Will phrases this: “Later in 1941, Stein did manage to publish a pro-Pétainist piece, ‘La langue française,’ in the Vichy journal Patrie” (117). Will says “Later in 1941” instead of August 1941 for no reason that I can tell except to conflate it with the translation project in 1942. And just before this sentence she erroneously claims that Stein started translating Pétain “early in 1941.” Again, historical dates are one victim as Will forces them to subtend a paranoid narrative.
In an endnote, Will cites a Stein letter to Van Vechten from May 1941: “I have been asked to do a little thing in french on the french language, for a new review called Patrie, an official thing under the patronage of Marshal Pétain” (Burns, GS–CVV 725). So the main text reads “Stein did manage to publish” while the note clarifies: “I have been asked to do.” Will’s evidence contradicts her insinuation that Stein had been seeking a venue for her propaganda. According to Will’s summary of “La langue française,” Stein says that geography affects writing, which is not a new theme for Stein, going back to, at the least, Narration (1935) and The Geographical History of America (1935). What baffles me most, however, is Will’s decision not to include this brief Stein essay in her book. Whereas Burns and Dydo included the Pétain introduction in their Stein-Wilder volume—a scholarly gesture that lets readers see for themselves—Will excludes, basically, a Stein text that very few people have seen. This exclusion implies that the piece is minor, a recycling of earlier texts.
Will never sufficiently contextualizes the three highlighted texts, so I give here a Stein bibliography for the war years. Absent from it but significant are her short pieces in “resistance publications such as Confluences, Fontaine, and L’Arbalète” (Galvin 263), which Will does not address. (On Stein’s publications during the war, see Edward Burns’s “Gertrude Stein: A complex itinerary, 1940–1944.”) I leave Stein’s “Introduction to Pétain’s Paroles aux français” out as well simply because the translations were unfinished, and the introduction likewise, perhaps. Stein left work in her posthumous archive that she wanted published, but the Pétain translations—although she kept them—can be considered archival material, like a letter or notebook, not intended for publication. Any one Stein text from this period should be read in relation to the rest, yet Will ignores or gives little attention to most of these.
- Ida A Novel: written in 1937-40, and first published by Random House, 1941.
- Paris France: written in 1939, and first published by B. T. Batsford, 1940.
- To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays: written in 1940, and first published by Yale UP, 1957.
- “The Winner Loses: A Picture Of Occupied France” [1940, see above].
- Mrs. Reynolds: written in 1940-42, and first published by Yale UP, 1952.
- The First Reader & Three Plays: written in 1941, and first published by Maurice Fridberg, 1946.
- “La langue française” [1941, see above].
- Wars I Have Seen: written in 1943-1944, and first published by Random House, 1945.
- In Savoy or Yes Is For A Very Young Man: written in 1944-45, and first published by Pushkin Press, 1946.
- “The New Hope In Our ‘Sad Young Men’”: written in 1945, The New York Times Magazine, 3 June 1945, pp. 5, 38.
- “Off We All Went To See Germany”: written in 1945, Life, 6 Aug. 1945, pp. 54, 56-58.
- Brewsie and Willie: written in 1945, and first published by Random House, 1946.
- The Mother of Us All: written in 1945-46, and first published Music Press, 1947.
- “Reflection On the Atomic Bomb”: written in 1946, and first published by Yale Poetry Review, vol. 7, Dec. 1947, pp. 3-4.
The aborted translation project is Will’s central piece of evidence in her case against Stein, whose introduction begins: “I want to present to my compatriots the words that Maréchal Pétain has spoken directly to the french people” (406). She addressed this project to Americans, thinking it would help maintain or generate American support for France and the Vichy government. She knew French but was not adept at translating, and as every commentator on this project has said, the drafts she did for three-fifths of the collection are not, at least technically, well done (see Galvin 270-80). She was supposed to have had the help of at least two men, Paul Genin, a neighbor, and a Monsieur Cusset, of the Comité France-Amérique, “under whose auspices the [Pétain] volume had appeared” (Burns and Dydo 405). Although we lack definitive dates for this project, Stein probably started translating in spring or summer 1942—she was finishing Mrs. Reynolds then—and was definitively stopped by around January 1943 (Burns and Dydo 409-10). A second motive for the project was Faÿ and Pétain’s protection. As Will shows, though, while Faÿ wielded some power from August 1940 to at least the fall of 1941, by the spring of 1942 he was a marginalized figure. And by late 1942, when Germany had taken control of the whole of France, “the Vichy state could no longer [if they ever could] assure Stein and Toklas of protection” (126). If protection was an incentive, by late 1942 it was kaput.
Much has been said about these translations in recent years, and more could be said here about them—but this has already become a voluminous response to Will. I offer a final thought on the issue of Stein’s motive. First, “during this period, Gertrude and Alice ran terribly short of funds [and] could barely eke out an existence among people who cared for them” (Wagner-Martin 250). Stein never wrote just for the paycheck, but I wonder if she thought a book introducing Pétain to American readers would generate some income for her. By November 1942, “when the Germans occupied the free zone, Stein and Toklas could no longer draw on American funds [and] [a]fter six months of drawing on the loan from Genin, Stein apparently decided that she could not continue to become indebted” (Burns and Dydo 418). In 1943, economically vulnerable, she sold the Cézanne portrait, Madame Cézanne with a Fan (1878-88), that she had had with her for almost forty years.
Not until the publication of Stein’s journal-autobiography Wars I Have Seen in 1945 was her writing again a source of income. She began this book in late spring or early summer 1943—“And now it is June 1943” (35)—and concluded it in August 1944 when the American army liberated her region. Will refers to this book multiple times, but cannot, to her chagrin, highlight it along with the other three because Stein presents Pétain as clearly lacking the people’s support (see Wars 81-93). Stein still believes that armistice was tactically smart—it will be “an important element in the ultimate defeat of the Germans” (87)—but about Pétain: “So many points of view about him, so very many. I had lots of them, I was almost French in having so many” (82). In October-November 1943, after sharing one local view—“Petain is a cretin” (92)—she suggests two possible fates for the man, both unpleasant: “I always say you can have any government you like but those who take to the sword will perish by the sword and if you persecute you will be persecuted”; or, “And all the time there is Petain, an old man a very old man and mostly nowadays everybody has forgotten all about him” (92). To the extent that both came true, the latter may be especially so, as historians have recognized the broad complicity of the French people.
Back in 1995, Linda Wagner-Martin wrote: “Aberrant as the [translation] project now seems, Gertrude saw the French people’s devotion to Pétain as an important part of their character. She was thinking about the situation in France as she helped Janet Flanner, still in the United States, write a long profile of Pétain for the New Yorker. Flanner’s assessment was as positive, and as innocuous, as Stein’s introduction” (246-47). “From the end of 1942 to the beginning of 1944, Janet immersed herself in the research and writing of an extended, four-part profile [Feb. 12–Mar. 4, 1944] of Marshal Pétain, the eighty-seven-year-old head of Vichy France” (Wineapple 179). When Simon and Schuster published Pétain: The Old Man of France in July 1944, “all reviews were favorable” and, as Brenda Wineapple says in her 1989 biography of Flanner, “[s]he herself thought it the best work of her career” (180). I am not explaining Flanner’s enthusiasm or the American interest, only noting that they existed. Remembering this Flanner biography leads me back to my wondering about money and motive: Stein would have been correct in estimating a popular interest in America for Pétain. Will does not mention Flanner’s Pétain biography.
There is a cost to Will’s focus on Faÿ as the man behind Stein’s writings in the 1930s and into the war. Conspiracy theorists prefer a unitary explanation for highly complex human events, and Will forces her book into all manner of distortions: fudging dates, ignoring context (the Lord memoir or Flanner’s Pétain biography), and insinuating false (“ever-hardening shift of her politics to the right” or “she legitimated violence as a necessary means to a nationalist end”) or under-analyzed (“free creative spirit” or “clean”) connections. Like Faÿ and his Freemason obsession, Will projects a conspiracy to protect Stein—involving scholars and an institution—with the implication that those who protect Stein now are like the collaborators that (possibly) protected Stein then. She acts as if the old and new explanations of Stein’s conservative politics are hiding something worse (Faÿ and more Faÿ), and intimates that Stein supporters demand a “pure” Stein, free of Faÿ mud, which I don’t believe is the case. Perhaps the worst outcome of her approach is not the scholarly malpractice it involves, but how it ironically obscures an understanding of Faÿ’s work and his relationship with Stein. We still lack an accurate sense of the limits of his influence.
Besides documenting some of the misquotes and misleading claims, I have, in this essay, surveyed the academic reception to raise the concern that even academics who read Unlikely Collaboration are likely to ignore Will’s cautionary moments for the “powder-keg” ones. Also essential was making clear the paucity of Stein texts that Will considers propaganda; giving more—through quotations as much as possible—of Will’s arguments than are typically in a book review; and conveying her summaries of Faÿ’s academic work. The narrative on Faÿ that Burns and Dydo provided in 1996 (see 410-12) remains vital, but its brevity demands amplification. Will’s book does offer new information on Faÿ, but it is difficult or impossible (unless we can check the original texts ourselves) readerly work to parse facts from argument, and I lack confidence in the credibility of her summaries. And, especially at the beginning of my essay, I alluded to Henry James’s fiction on Americans abroad because I was struck by what is perhaps Will’s ultimate paranoid insinuation, that Stein was a Madame Merle, the force behind Faÿ, not the other way around—that she was hardly a naive or innocent American corrupted by the autocratic European sensibility. Because this theory reminds me of a James novel, and I think of Stein when I read his stories about Americans abroad—I think of Stein reading James when I read James—I wanted to suggest the fictional nature of Will’s book and challenge the American-French dichotomy.
My essay’s first two epigraphs, “If there was no identity no one could be governed” and “Now there is no opposition to anything being together,” come out of Stein’s thinking on what she called entity and identity, or human mind and human nature, in the mid 1930s. The latter terms stand for remembering and recognition—the things that pin us to the past and the idea of stability—while the former speak to our creative being in a space of openness and fluidity. Entity was a marked preference for Stein. The less governing the better, in aesthetics or politics. Yet Will would have us believe that Stein expressed those sentiments fearfully, as if the world’s problems could be solved with more governing and less togetherness. She would have us see what appear to be progressive statements as code for something sinister.
There was some anxiety in Stein’s articulations and certainly we can debate their potential ambiguities, but Will’s book, finally, returns me to the observations of people who knew Stein in those years—people like W. G. Rogers, who, in his 1948 Stein memoir, was the first to publically draw attention to the Pétain translation project (see 212-14). (Will sometimes pretends she discovered this project even though from 1948 on, Stein’s friends, biographers and critics made reference to it.) What we need to know about Stein in the war years has long been on record. Rogers was a New England journalist and would unhesitatingly admonish Stein for conservative comments in her letters. If Stein had something to say about politics, she didn’t look for conspirators; she would say it to everybody, including or maybe especially friends she knew would disagree with her.
Miss Stein was born into a bourgeois background, and was a Republican all her life. The wonder is that she was such a rebel in art and creative writing, where she won her unique reputation, not that she was so conservative in the unfamiliar fields of economics and politics. She was a rentier, and possessed a rentier mentality in matters of taxes, jobs and government. It’s a common habit to ascribe all the virtues to any person distinguished for the possession of one of them. In Miss Stein’s case this is a serious fallacy. Without her fixed income we might never have heard of rue de Fleurus, but with it we should not be surprised to find her disapproving of Roosevelt and the New Deal, believing in rugged individualism, favoring a gold basis for the dollar, regarding a man out of work as lazy or incompetent, thinking every American always could take care of himself, and advising GI’s to fend for themselves instead of looking to the community for a chance to make a livelihood. (220-21)
In that last sentence, this is an annoyed Rogers, painting Stein with a broad brush. He felt she insisted too much on rugged individualism and that diminished her. But he admired her honesty and what it entailed.
[W]hen she held an opinion, whether it was shared or challenged by the world, she was entirely frank about it. It didn’t matter whether she and I agreed, as she once wrote me; it didn’t matter to her whether she and anybody agreed. With a little more reticence, or as I prefer to say, with a shred less honesty, she would never have been confronted with these unsavory accusations [“sympathy for Fascism”]. In her day the woods were full of Fascist-minded writers prudent enough to keep their mouths shut; there are plenty of around now. When all the facts became available to them, they did not change their minds. Miss Stein did. Her record in her last years was faultless. (222-23)
In Mrs. Reynolds, The First Reader & Three Plays, Wars I Have Seen, In Savoy or Yes Is For A Very Young Man, Brewsie and Willie, and The Mother of Us All, Stein offered a set of texts—novel, plays, journal-autobiography, colloquy, opera—that cannot be mistaken for propaganda. Rogers certainly doesn’t make that mistake. Stated plainly, the texts explore the hopes and fears of that time. The play Yes Is For A Very Young Man, for instance, casts both Denise, whose aristocratic family supports Pétain, and Georges Poupet, a member of the Maquis. Or Brewsie and Willie, which wonders if you can be a leader if you “just talk” (726) and whose exhortation to the reader is, at the end, “learn to express complication” (778). A male voice opines, “Anyway what if it is true it dont prove anything” (735) and a woman says that too many people “have to hate everybody to give themselves courage” (740). These texts are not arguing for a side; they express complication.
Earlier I described James Lord’s memory of his visits with Stein in 1945, when she wrote Brewsie and Willie. He was a very young man then and describes his change of mind as he grew old, from “You’re wrong” to “Miss Stein was, of course, right.” Even if she was right, what does it prove? Rogers (1896-1978), almost exactly a contemporary of Faÿ, first knew Stein when he was a very young man in WWI, but by the 1940s he—unlike Lord—neither reacted defensively nor backed down when Stein was brusque. He told her to drop the Pétain translation and felt vindicated when she did. I still wonder about Stein’s investment in the Pétain project—which, for all we know, may have occupied her for only a few weeks in the spring of 1942—but see no reason not to accept Rogers’s conclusion. If new facts about Stein’s war years become available, I could change my mind. Will’s book does not meet that requirement.
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