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. — Henry James, The American (1877)
In Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma (Columbia University Press, 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 the characters’ motives 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 reinforces 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, but James’s story follows the uncanny crossings of desire. That kind of story is what Will sets out to tell.
Christopher Newman (unlike Stein) returned to America, and James continued (after 1877) with stories of American expatriates, some of whom go bad — such as Gilbert Osmond and Madame Merle in Portrait. James worked over some stereotypes involving 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 encouraged an antidemocratic sentiment and led her to support the leader of the Vichy government, Philippe Pétain. Not every American loves 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.” (She credited Henry James for teaching this, but her blue ribbon goes to Paul Cézanne, a Frenchman.) One word is as important as every other word; any word can go beside another. Her description of a genius, someone who listens and talks at the same time, also describes the democratic sensibility. Will would have us believe that Stein was largely 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 (I believe) 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.” 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.”
What changed? We can start with Stein’s recognition of Faÿ as a French counterpart to Carl Van Vechten in New York. Both men became devoted promoters of her work and were 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. As Stein and Toklas settled into a rural lifestyle in Bilignin, Will says, she listened 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.” A member of the “benign elite,” Faÿ subscribed to “a ‘third way’ between liberalism and communism centered on aristocratic and Catholic values.” More than in the international Parisian milieu, these ideas could sound acceptable or proper in rural France, where Stein spent much of her time in the decade and a half 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 can wonder if she had “lived too long in foreign parts” — 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.” 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. The emblematic American, he thought, embodied joy 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 the writing 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.” As much as Will wants to focus on issues of power, claiming, for instance, that Stein was easy prey for Faÿ —“[g]iven Stein’s lifelong identification with the figure of the child” he could play the father, the Svengali — she also concedes that her book might have attended more to their shared interest in “openness,” aesthetic and otherwise. I wish it had. Instead, Unlikely Collaboration is an indictment. Faÿ was charged with “collaboration with the enemy” and, on December 6, 1946, found guilty. Stein had died on July 27, 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 became pronounced, she remained friendly with him. Will argues that they met politically in fearing communism and blaming 1930s global turmoil on the intellectual and political left. Put another way, they disliked politicians who took advantage of the turmoil to justify communist-style policies:
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.”
For 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.” In Will’s account, if Stein was seduced by Faÿ’s politics, it was partly because the America she remembered, one founded on the individual, was slipping away; she was fighting to restore the old ways. Faÿ felt similarly 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.” We could take what Stein said of her old neighborhood in Oakland when she visited in 1935, “there is no there there,” and apply it to the country. In the 1880s her neighborhood had a rural aspect, and she found something more urban in the 1930s. The conservative mode, a nostalgia, an anger, is apparently what Will would hear in the “no there there” comment. I hear an unsentimental Stein accepting change and a past that is gone.
Will tries to get Stein both ways: she may have been naïve but she was guilty; she was a child who needed male authority figures, but she was no dupe. I opened with a comparison of James’s fiction about an American in Europe and Will’s nonfiction. 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 also like Merle, in cahoots with Osmond/Faÿ. Curiously, like a James novel, Will’s book never gets to the big reveal. For James, a flat narrative allowed for a round exploration of his characters’ psychology; however, for Will’s flat narrative, in Stein’s case, there is simply a lack of evidence.
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 aim to show that the result is a seriously flawed work of scholarship. Because so many of Will’s arguments lack requisite evidence, or contradict themselves, I find it difficult to trust the book overall. For instance, in the previous section, 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, as she saw them — 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 so much 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.” 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.” What she says about Faÿ’s work can apply to her own. She quotes a critical review of Revolution and Freemasonry that is apropos of 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.” Will employs paranoid tactics in playing prosecutor for this imaginary trial. I echo that critique of Faÿ’s book here in responding to Will’s.
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. 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.’” Will would like to connect “naughty” with an “ever-hardening shift of her politics to the right,” instead of something like being disruptive of French academic protocol. “Naughty” could sound a bit childish but is — for Will — a cover for something with malignity. 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.” Understandingly? So Stein was not the child — she was the rider “spurring” on her Faÿ-horse?
The book’s two main topics, Stein’s conservatism and the Stein-Faÿ friendship, are vital to understand. I am in agreement with Will as far as that goes. But I remain concerned that the book can mislead readers into thinking that Stein, along with Faÿ, was guilty of “collaboration with the enemy.” Readers eager to denounce Stein — because the popularity of her writing rankles, or because of prejudice against an outspoken Jewish lesbian — have seen Will’s book as proof. Many 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,” which specifically debunks Will’s claims about Stein’s so-called nomination of Hitler for a Nobel Peace Prize and Stein’s so-called Nazi salute. The dossier highlights the facts about Stein’s WWII years and suggests that when we get to the limit of what we know, we should proceed tentatively and question the motives of those who speculate wildly. In the context of the dossier, Will is just one writer who has propounded misleading claims. Here I focus entirely on Unlikely Collaboration, and although I learned much from it about Faÿ, the book’s contribution to Stein studies is limited: it addresses so few Stein texts, and when it does the attention is to words as code (like “naughty”), not literary form or Stein as a writer. While a conservative French historian’s view of America may include noteworthy aspects, we will justifiably handle his oeuvre with skepticism. I suggest we do the same with Will’s book.
In the academic reception I am interested in 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.” “[S]till inexplicably”? Will describes 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 controlled the area, they were protected by their neighbors.) Will’s argument, for Kershaw, is that Stein must have been guilty of something to have survived. Kershaw regards Stein as guilty and she survived — but in saying “still inexplicably” Kershaw is actually, in a jumbled way, admitting that Will does not successfully make her case. 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 impressions, 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 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?” 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 should stop reading Stein (stop “eating the fruit”). In Modernism/modernity Sarah Posman has observed that “the stunning amount of research that has gone into the book enables [Will] to draw conclusions that are well-founded and nuanced.” 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 how can there be “well-founded conclusions” when they lead to conclusions such as Kershaw’s and Kramer’s?
Posman also informs readers that Will’s Faÿ “is staged as the missing link in understanding Stein’s political views.” But as Birgit Van Puymbroeck in Modern Fiction Studies has pointed out, this “missing link” claim is a fundamental weakness of the book: “One wonders, then, whether Will does not attribute too much importance to Stein’s admittedly significant but non-exclusive friendship with Faÿ.” One strength of the book is the material on the Stein-Faÿ friendship; however, Will relies too absolutely on a 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. Stein’s conservatism must also be understood in an American context, not just European — so a fuller approach to this topic will be the work of scholarship to come. Unlikely Collaboration builds a massive, Faÿ-centered contextual edifice to explain a few moments in Stein’s writing, and there is much more to the story: “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 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.” At times Will does, I agree, concede the difficulty in drawing conclusions. But one can easily ignore the relatively quiet explorations for the “powder-keg” (to cite the Columbia University Press blurb) insinuations.
Will introduces us to Faÿ’s oeuvre from the late 1920s through the 1930s. We do not know how much of his writing Stein read, but, for instance, “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.” They both addressed the emblematic life of this American gentilhomme: also in 1931, for instance, was Stein’s “Scenery and George Washington.” Her interest in American history preexisted 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. This book came out not long after Roosevelt took the office and was for an American audience, 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 who know Stein’s work will find Will convincing as she unfolds a particular “convergence between the writing of Stein and Faÿ in the early 1930s.”
Faÿ published on another eighteenth-century American, Benjamin Franklin (in 1929), and I suspect it was the books on great Americans that held Stein’s interest most. History was for her a plastic subject more than something to argue a point. Her writing pulled from details, the names and stories of everyday life; she had long devoured biographical material. Political theory was not her métier (“political theories bore me,” wrote Stein in 1935). But it is that aspect of Faÿ’s work that Will emphasizes, overall, in her effort to link them with fascism. Two of Faÿ’s books in particular, The American Experiment (1929) and Revolution and Freemasonry, 1680–1800 (1935), establish a 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 movement 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.” […] 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.
Democracy in France never really got started, and still, into the 1930s, real power was held by behind-the-scenes figures. 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.
Politicians merely represent, with control of elections and legislation held by shadowy figures in private offices, whether Freemasons, businessmen, or others. With “great” and “strong” and “aristocracy,” Faÿ favors a language that would seem to undermine the spirit of democracy, which holds the strength of a nation dependent on its weakest or most vulnerable members, and empowers minority perspectives. Will’s summaries and quotations suggest that Faÿ inveighed against shadowy figures in part because he envied them. Democracy itself was not the problem, but who owned it.
The American Experiment is a comparative study, 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.” From its beginning, American success would be measured by materialist 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” — 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.”
Americans did not reject hierarchical power in the quest for independence. In short, “Bernard Faÿ presented eighteenth-century America as a model for present-day Europe.” Ennobled by the democratic spirit (at least in spirit) and driven by a pioneering instinct, early American white men constructed individualism as a bulwark against the (potential) miasma of mob rule.
But 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.
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.
After reading Will’s portrait of Faÿ’s writing, I have a lot of questions. Why exactly did Faÿ target Freemasons? Will says that Faÿ blamed them for both “dissolving […] hierarchies” and “impoverish[ing] the lives of the masses,” as if Faÿ in fact cared about the latter — did he? Will says that Faÿ despised Freemasonry for its secrecy, as if he valued transparency, and for “cloaking its own will to power within eighteenth-century revolutionary rhetoric” about “the people” and progress, but most American politicians still do that today. Democratic systems could certainly inspire cynicism in the early 1900s, as they can now too (with gerrymandering, voter restrictions, campaign financing, etc.). What bothered Faÿ most, democracy or its hypocrisies? He valued American-style individualism, just not for everybody? Was it finally, for Faÿ, a matter of his “benign elite” holding power and restoring traditional, France-first institutions?
The factors that impede the fulfillment of the democratic promise go far beyond any one group or epoch, of course. Above, in section III, I cited a review of Faÿ’s book that said he “pushed [a] ‘large thesis’ despite all facts to the contrary” and “blithely resolved problems of causality that had perplexed historians for decades.” It seems that Faÿ’s critics, Will included, regard his singling out of Freemasons as ultimately beyond explanation, concluding that it’s his own paranoid narrative for political instability and loss.
Then there is the magnitude of his war crimes, which 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.” Again, there is Will’s paranoid reading, her “No document exists” (with the suggestion that it could). But the “steps removed” is her admission that even if his actions were clearly despicable, connecting them to outcomes, or even to his writing, is an effort pitted with gaps. Will could have said more about Nazi targeting of Freemasons in Europe (not just France) to contextualize the move, for Faÿ, from writing about Freemasons to playing a role in mass murder. Faÿ wrote accusingly about Freemasons, but the Nazis had an extermination plan.
I ask questions but, for me, Will doesn’t have to solve all of this. Even if I have doubts about the accuracy of Will’s portrait of Faÿ, its often decontextualized focus on him, this is the part of the book I find most compelling and relatively open to nuance. The case against Faÿ is closed so she can explore its contradictions. Will’s paranoid mode is mostly reserved for Stein, tied as it is to the solving of the so-called mystery of her WWII survival.
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.”
Whereas Will’s quote from James 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 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 a reader, I rely on her scholarly ethics and on the publisher’s editors, as (obviously) I cannot follow up on everything. So I think it’s fair to ask: How much in her book misrepresents the original material? To what extent did an intention 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 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.
Before I contextualize this passage, let’s note that Lord admits he “did not record” comments at the time, so they were reconstructed later and were 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” and having a “callow nonchalance.” The memoirist laughs a little at his younger self and does what he couldn’t do back in 1945: affectionately chide 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.” He likens her to an “autocratic schoolteacher” who yet evinced an “indomitable immediacy.” 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. He found Stein’s “monolithic egotism” exasperating, but she read a play of his with “care” and responded “with a thoughtful seriousness not in the least condescending.” At the time, or later, he felt that she saw him, the individual, but also understood that he was a generic GI who should be flattered by his proximity to the legendary figure.
“The last time I saw her”: 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 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.” 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 be so happy.” He disagreed, saying that they had known suffering and death and all the men wanted was to go home and “eat apple pie.” 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.” He retorted, “You’re wrong. And you’re a stupid old woman and you don’t understand anything”; “I never saw Gertrude Stein again.”
It’s then that Lord goes to Picasso’s and tells him the story of that argument, with “indignation,” 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.”
Lord was “dumbfounded” but “didn’t know him very well then.”
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.” 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.”
Second, he says that in the late 1950s he learned the cause of “Picasso’s abusive outburst.” 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. 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.”
Third, and most important, Lord follows up on Picasso’s wild exaggeration, “You know she wrote speeches for Pétain.” 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”; 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.” His conclusion suggests, moreover, that he found little “trace” of truth in Picasso’s outburst — the rhino and hippo rants were bluster. 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. By contrast, Will wants to dig down (“truly mine”) 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 instances, 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,” as if Stein’s book celebrated German victory; in fact she started writing it in summer 1939 and it was first published in London in April 1940. (The British edition was published in America in June.) She uses dates for Stein 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,” then refers to “their first encounter [in] 1924.” Two pages later she says they met when Faÿ was “the age of thirty-one,” which means 1924; then it’s “1926 — the year she met Faÿ.” If there is uncertainty on the date, why not state that openly? As well, she refers to Richard Bridgman, author of Gertrude Stein in Pieces (1970), a critical study, as “Stein’s early biographer.” 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.” 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 an 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,” a phrase in Jeffrey Herf’s Reactionary Modernism (1984) that oddly describes not only modernists but 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.” (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. 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.” Repeating the phrase, Will thinks, will make it stick. This reads as a play on words, a coincidence of terms, not an evidence-based claim.
Similarly, to associate Stein with the cleansing metaphors of the Nazis, Will asserts that the word “wash” was code for assimilationism, and that “personal hygiene” was “a particular obsession of Stein.” 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.” That is not, on its own, evidence of an obsession. Later in this conspiracy-theory narrative, when we read “utopia from a clean slate” or “clean the administration” or versions of “clean-up operation,” we are supposed to think of Stein’s “all clean and peaceful” and thus believe that she endorses political purity or genocidal intent or, at the least, traffics in euphemistic support for destroying undesirables and dissent. It seems almost beside the point, but 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” when she was older. Elsewhere, Will says that Stein’s handwriting is “slanted, notoriously bad,” with the insinuation that slovenly handwriting expresses a moral turpitude. Will tries to get her both ways.
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.” Which game? Will apparently wants us to see only “washed clean in the purity” and ignore “above political alliances.” I can return us here to Henry James again and, in The Tragic Muse (1890), Nick Dormer’s mighty speech in favor of the artist’s life over the politician’s — Dormer, who gives up his English MP seat to become a portrait painter:
“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.”
One task Will was faced with in arguing for such incredible things as “she legitimated violence as a necessary means to a nationalist end” — which is fiction — is showing that Stein became something of a politician. Faÿ did. But Stein was an artist — often a portrait artist — aiming at, to quote Dormer, “the independent effort to do something, to leave something which shall give joy.” As I showed above and Will herself said, that was what Faÿ felt about Stein’s work and what he needed her to be. I have also said that Unlikely Collaboration contains hiccups of contradiction, so while Will wants 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.”
Will then argues that Faÿ is actually praising “the ‘purity’ of Stein’s language,” but as I read this I see Will straining to ignore the difficulty of pinning a name on Stein other than artist.
Will’s paranoid thesis also suggests a collusion among scholars and a university to keep hidden from us a monstrous truth about Stein. 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.” (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 like 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.” 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.” 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.”
• “The Winner Loses: A Picture of Occupied France”: written in July–Aug. 1940, and first published in The Atlantic Monthly 166, no. 5 (November 1940): 57–83.
• “La langue française”: written in May 1941, and first published in Patrie: Revue Mensuelle illustrée de L’Empire (August 10, 1941): 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, ed. Edward Burns and Ulla Dydo (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996): 406–08.
“The Winner Loses” is something of a public 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.” 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, the time of composition is in the composition. For anyone who has read Stein’s essay, Will’s point, as stated, collapses.
Moreover, Stein’s “The Winner Loses” says little 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.” The armistice would buy France time to regather 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.” 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.” (As Will observes, 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 and all of them.
During the war Stein counted on her neighbors for protection, having lived in the Bugey region for more than a decade — a region that was, early in the war, “a bastion of Pétainism.” She knew the Bugey 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.” Will vaguely 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. My primary point of contention, though, is with the “did manage to publish” phrasing. 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.” So Will’s main text asserts “Stein did manage to publish” while her note clarifies, “I have been asked to do.” Will’s own evidence contradicts her assertion that Stein had been seeking a venue for propaganda.
In “La langue française” Stein explores the difference between writing and speech and generalizes about how the French speak their language. These are not new themes for Stein, going back to, at the least, Narration (1935) and Paris France (1939). I question 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 she attaches great importance to but very few people have seen. To remedy this exclusion I have posted it, in the original French, and — with Solveig Daugaard — translated into English. (Daugaard has also written an illuminating introduction.) When Stein was asked by “Richard de Rochement of the American Red Cross” to write an essay “on the importance or prestige of the French language,” she was told that it was to be “non political”; and indeed, contrary to what Will implies in her summary, Stein’s essay does not refer to Pétain. To suit her narrative Will misleadingly translates “profondes” (deep) as “pure” and acts as if Stein used the word “peace” (paix, which doesn’t appear); Will looks for “code” and “subtext” and calls it “profoundly reactionary.” Here is Stein’s piece on “The French Language.”
Because Will never sufficiently contextualizes the three highlighted texts, I offer a Stein bibliography for the war years. Included are some of her short pieces in “resistance publications such as Confluences, Fontaine, and L’Arbalète,” 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 because the translations were unfinished. 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. [Published in French in 1941 by Max-Pol Fouchet’s Fontaine, translation by Baroness May d’Aiguy.]
- To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays: written in 1940, and first published by Yale University Press, 1957.
- “The Winner Loses: A Picture Of Occupied France” [1940, see above].
- Mrs. Reynolds: written in 1940–42, and first published by Yale University Press, 1952.
- The First Reader & Three Plays: written in 1941, and first published by Maurice Fridberg, 1946.
- “La langue française” [1941, see above].
- “Ballade,” Confluences 12, (July 1942): 11–12.
- “Autobiographies” [excerpt from Everybody’s Autobiography, in a French translation by Baroness May d’Aiguy], Confluences 17 (February 1943): 171–90. [Another excerpt appeared in Confluences 18 (March 1943): 284–314.]
- Wars I Have Seen: written in 1943–1944, and first published by Random House, 1945.
- “Language et Litérature Américains,” L’Arbalête 9 (Autumn 1944): 7–16.
- In Savoy or Yes Is For A Very Young Man: written in 1944–45, and first published by Pushkin Press, 1946.
- “Le Retour à Paris,” Fontaine VIII, no. 41 (April 1945): 163–64.
- “The New Hope In Our ‘Sad Young Men’”: written in 1945, The New York Times Magazine (June 3, 1945): 5, 38.
- “Off We All Went To See Germany”: written in 1945, Life (August 6, 1945): 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 7 (December 1947): 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.” 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 commentators on this project have said, the work she did was not, at least technically, well done. She was supposed to have had the help of two men, Paul Genin, a neighbor, and a M. Cusset, of the Comité France-Amérique, “under whose auspices the [Pétain] volume had appeared.” Although we lack precise dates, Stein probably started translating in spring or summer 1942 — she was finishing Mrs. Reynolds then — and was definitively stopped by around January 1943. Václav Paris has pointed out that Stein completed translations of twenty-seven of the fifty speeches, but Will claims thirty-two, and that Stein worked on them for a “year and a half.” Will’s timeframe appears quite overstated; indeed, it’s possible (as far as I know) that Stein translated for a short block of time, maybe just a few weeks.
Another motive for the project, along with American support, 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 took control of the whole of France and America then ended its diplomatic relations with Vichy, “the Vichy state could no longer assure [if it ever could] Stein and Toklas of protection.” If American support and Vichy protection were incentives, by late 1942 they were kaput.
One final thought on the issue of Stein’s motive for the translations. During this period, “Gertrude and Alice ran terribly short of funds [and] could barely eke out an existence among people who cared for them.” Stein did not write 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 [Paul] Genin, Stein apparently decided that she could not continue to become indebted.” 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” — and concluded it in August 1944 when the American army liberated the region. Will refers to this book, but cannot, to her chagrin (I imagine), highlight it along with the other three because Stein presents Pétain as lacking the people’s support. Stein still believes that armistice was tactically smart — it will be “an important element in the ultimate defeat of the Germans” — 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.” In October-November 1943, after sharing one local view — “Petain is a cretin” — 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.” To the extent that both came true, the latter may be especially so, as historians increasingly recognized the complicity of the French populace, beyond Vichy’s leaders.
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.” “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.” 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.” I am not explaining Flanner’s enthusiasm or the positive reception, only noting that they existed. This Flanner biography leads me back to my wondering about money and motive — Stein would have been correct in estimating an interest in America for information on 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 into her book a number of distortions: fudging historical details, ignoring context (Flanner’s Pétain biography or the Lord memoir), 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, one 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. Will 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, which I don’t believe is the case. Perhaps the worst aspect 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 do not have 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 remains vital, but its brevity warrants amplification. Will’s book does offer new information on Faÿ, but it is often 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.
I have 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 progressive 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 qualities of Will’s book. She doesn’t flush this out as much as she might have — how an American can sound like Faÿ, and Faÿ can sound American — but one of Will’s central subjects is, as in James, a deconstruction of the America-Europe dichotomy and of the “Unlikely” in her title.
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. But if I look at these epigraphs through the perspective of Will’s book, they would become sentiments expressed fearfully, as if people need more governing and less togetherness. Unlikely Collaboration practices this paranoid mode, taking things out of context and exploiting ambiguities, never quite believing that Stein is as she appears.
Forerunners for Will’s approach include B. F. Skinner’s “Has Gertrude Stein a Secret?” (1934), which determined that the writing was (mindlessly) “automatic,” by an “arm that has very little to say”; Edmund Wilson’s 1951 essay on Stein, which argued that “the problem of writing about relationships between women” or “an increasing remoteness in her personal relationships” led to obscurity, a “masking” and “ruminative dimness”; and Catharine Stimpson’s 1992 essay on Stein’s “lesbian lie,” which “pins up an accessible star, a brilliant amalgam of democratic openness, spirited realism, and enchantment” to “distract a potentially hostile gaze.” In each case, the critic explains Stein’s obscurity or charm as a cover, a means to hiding a monstrous truth (that she had nothing to say or was a lesbian and a fascist). The evidence will not be manifest, however; one would have to read Stein’s words as “code.”
Will’s book, finally, returns me to the observations of other people (not just Faÿ) who knew Stein in those years — people like W. G. Rogers, who, in his 1948 Stein memoir, was the first in America to publically draw attention to the Pétain translation project. (Will sometimes pretends she discovered this project, even though from 1948 on, Stein’s friends, biographers, and critics have made reference to it.) 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.
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.
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, fears, and confusions 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” and whose exhortation to the reader is, at the end, “learn to express complication.” A male voice opines, “Anyway what if it is true it dont prove anything” and a woman says that too many people “have to hate everybody to give themselves courage.” 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 older, 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 Rogers was a very young man in WWI, but by the 1940s he was an older man and — 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.
Will’s book raises the issues Rogers addressed six decades earlier: Stein’s support for Pétain from 1940 to 1942; her conservative economics and politics, mostly expressed in letters and in person; and her friendship with a convicted collaborator, Faÿ. Will’s book builds on earlier work, notably that by Burns and Dydo, and gives a relatively thorough portrait of Faÿ and French nationalism. But I 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.
1. Gertrude Stein, “A Transatlantic Interview,” interview by William S. Sutton, in A Primer for the Gradual Understanding of Gertrude Stein, ed. Robert Haas (Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1971), 15.
27. Puymbroeck, 223. For more on Will’s narrow focus on archival documents to the neglect of Stein’s published texts and the relationship between the two, see Jess Shollenberger, “Stein After Will: A Review,” Journal of Modern Literature 40, no. 3 (Spring 2017): 161–65.
32. Qtd. in Birgit Van Puymbroeck, “Triangular Politics: Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and Elisabeth de Gramont,” in Gertrude Stein in Europe: Reconfigurations across Media, Disciplines and Traditions, ed. Sarah Posman and Laura Luise Schulz (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 97.
110. See Galvin, 270–80, and this essay by Václav Paris.