The War and Gertrude Stein

Dining in Paris with Picasso as a zeppelin loomed overhead

Gertrude Stein, the American novelist, poet, and playwright, was the acid-tongued godmother of the expatriate community of writers and artists in Paris. (Associated Press)

The Germans were getting nearer and nearer Paris, and the last day Gertrude Stein could not leave her room—she sat and mourned. She loved Paris, she thought neither of manuscripts nor of pictures, she thought only of Paris and she was desolate. I came up to her room; I called out, “It is all right, Paris is saved, the Germans are in retreat.” She turned away and said, “Don’t tell me these things.” “But it’s true,” I said, “it is true.” And then we wept together …

The dreary winter of 1914–15 went on. One night, I imagine it must have been about the end of January, I had, as was and is my habit, gone to bed very early, and Gertrude Stein was down in the studio working, as was her habit. Suddenly I heard her call me gently. “What is it?” I said. “Oh nothing,” said she, “but perhaps if you don’t mind putting on something warm and coming downstairs I think perhaps it would be better.” “What is it,” I said, “a revolution?” …

“No,” she said, “not exactly.” “Well what is it?” said I impatiently. “I don’t quite know,” she answered, “but there has been an alarm. Anyway you had better come.” I started to turn on the light. “No,” she said, “you had better not. Give me your hand and I will get you down, and you can go to sleep downstairs on the couch.” I came. It was very dark. I sat down on the couch and then I said, “I’m sure I don’t know what is the matter with me, but my knees are knocking together.” Gertrude Stein burst out laughing. “Wait a minute, I will get you a blanket,” she said. “No, don’t leave me,” I said. She managed to find something to cover me and then there was a loud boom, and then several more. It was a soft noise, and then there was the sound of horns blowing in the streets and we knew it was all over. We lighted the lights and went to bed.

The next time there was a zeppelin alarm, and it was not very long after this first one, Picasso and Eve [Gouel] were dining with us. By this time we knew that the two-story building of the atelier was no more protection than the roof of the little pavilion under which we slept, and the concierge had suggested that we should go into her room where at least we should have six stories over us. Eve was not very well these days and fearful, so we all went into the concierge’s room. Even Jeanne Poule, the Breton servant who had succeeded Hélène, came too. Jeanne soon was bored with this precaution and so, in spite of all remonstrance, she went back to her kitchen, lit her light, in spite of the regulations, and proceeded to wash the dishes. We too soon got bored with the concierge’s loge and went back to the atelier. We put a candle under the table so that it would not make much light, Eve and I tried to sleep, and Picasso and Gertrude Stein talked until two in the morning, when the all’s clear sounded and they went home.

Originally titled "The War and Gertrude Stein: Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. III"