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The True Story of Alice B. Toklas: Almost the Same but not Quite/not Straight in the Toklas Autobiographies
Uppsala University, Humanistisk-samhällsvetenskapliga vetenskapsområdet, Faculty of Languages, Department of English.
2004 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study investigates three texts that can be provisionally defined as “Toklas autobiographies,” or inscriptions of “the true story of Alice B. Toklas.” These are Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) and The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (1954) and What Is Remembered (1963) by Alice B. Toklas. While Stein’s text belongs to the canon, Toklas’ “own” autobiographies have been largely neglected in literary criticism and history. In order to counter this asymmetry, this study brings the three Toklas autobiographies together for analysis, and shifts the critical perspective to conceptualize the Stein-Toklas sexual/textual relationship as fundamentally reciprocal, Toklas as indispensable to Stein’s literary production, and Toklas as a cultural laborer and a writer of her own books.

The Toklas autobiographies are characterized by repetition. Repetition in autobiography creates a fundamental ambivalence: the possibility of a crucial split between historical person and autobiographical persona, between world and word. This abyss between text and hors-texte troubles discourse in general. However, autobiography is a special case, often considered particularly problematic in this regard, and the Toklas autobiographies make the text/life rift visible to an extent which is not typical of the genre. As lesbian autobiographies, moreover, these texts defy not only the protocol of autobiographical discourse but also the expectations of normative heterosexuality.

The main hypothesis of this study is that “the true story of Alice B. Toklas” resides in the destabilization and textualization of autobiographical truth, and in the strategic deauthorization of the author. Instead of looking for autobiographical truth, these texts can be reconsidered as practices of writing, as commodities, and in relation to the legendary division of labor in the Stein-Toklas marriage. Instead of looking for the author, these texts can be constructed as indications that Toklas’ authorial agency resides in a certain reverse discourse of absence.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Engelska institutionen , 2004. , 184 p.
Keyword [en]
English language, autobiography, sexuality, textuality, repetition, supplementarity, mimicry, authorship, writing
Keyword [sv]
National Category
Specific Languages
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-4295OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-4295DiVA: diva2:164760
Public defence
2004-05-26, Ihresalen, SVC, Villavägen 4, Uppsala, 10:15
Available from: 2004-04-28 Created: 2004-04-28Bibliographically approved

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