Violet Trefusis, Broderie Anglaise
Vive la Difference
“If I like France better it’s because of her reticence, her secret and suspicious heart. Italy hurries to greet you like a hotel manager; France stays at home. France is a stay-at-home, and she only admits her friends, who know she’s the subtlest creature in the world. Don’t you think that’s more flattering?”
Violet Trefusis, Broderie Anglaise
Image Credit: Violet Trefusis: Life and Letters
“We spend our Friday afternoons with friends reading Shakespeare, we have read Julius Caesar, and Macbeth and now Richard the Third and what is so terrifying is that it is all just like what is happening now.”
Gertrude Stein, Wars I Have Seen
Though American citizens, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas elected to remain in France during World War II. In 1945, Stein wrote about their experiences in the slender volume Wars I Have Seen. It is a diary of sorts but only vaguely chronological. There are no identifying dates. In one passage, it becomes apparent that the tide in the war had turned, because Stein writes that Toklas was now free to decipher Stein's near-illegible handwriting and begin typing the book (Stein's logic was that since the German invaders' fortunes had fallen, she no longer feared a legible version of the manuscript might fall into the wrong hands).
There is some controversy about how Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, lesbian women of Jewish descent, not only avoided deportment to a concentration camp but managed to keep their extraordinary art collection intact. In a Julius Caesar dichotomy, was Gertrude Stein Brutus or Marc Antony? But, there is another possibility that does not quite fall into the Julius Caesar paradigm. Maybe she was Switzerland?
When war broke out in 1939, Stein and Toklas were at their country home, Bilignin, near the Swiss border in what would become Vichy France (after the French surrender). In the book, Gertrude Stein implies that it was their obscurity in the French countryside and the goodness of their neighbors that protected them. Of course, it did not hurt that Toklas and Stein were American citizens and that the United States had diplomatic relations with Vichy France until the spring of 1942.
Another compelling reason that Stein and Toklas and their art collection, with its masterpieces of works by Picasso and Cézanne, were spared was that they were protected by Bernard Fay, a friend of Stein's who was in the upper echelons of the Vichy France government. Yet, save for Stein translating into English speeches by Philippe Pétain, the leader of Vichy France, there is no evidence of quid pro quo with either Fay or Pétain. And, even the translating work is a stretch. It was Stein's view that the Germans made a terrible miscalculation in not occupying the entire country and permitting the establishment of the so-called "free France." When she made the translations, the dust had not yet settled on what the Germans would expect of the Vichy government. Stein had already ceased working on the translations when it became clear how little difference in Nazi policy there would be between occupied and unoccupied regions of the nation.
Gertrude Stein's famous art collection must be considered separately. It remained in their rue Christine apartment for the duration of the war in faraway Paris, a city actually occupied by the Nazis. Even outside of Vichy France, Bernard Fay was apparently able to protect it. The only close call occurred just before the liberation of Paris, when Gestapo officers broke in and began packing up the art in order to abscond with it. Neighbors called the police, who convinced the Germans to leave empty handed.
In a sense, anyone in a country occupied by a brutal regime must become somewhat of a collaborator, or at least appear to be, in order to survive. It is the degree that gets one into trouble. In her 2011 book, Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Fay, and the Dilemma, Barbara Will makes the case that Gertrude Stein went too far. In a rebuttal of that book, Edward Burns asserts that Barbra Will failed to consider the degree to which Stein and Toklas were protected by their celebrity status and by their kindly neighbors.
Note: One of the works that remained untouched in Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas's rue Christine apartment was Pablo Picasso's Fillette à la corbeille fleurie. In 1968, the heirs of Gertrude Stein sold it to David Rockefeller, where it hung happily in his Manhattan townhome for nearly half a century. It was the highlight of the David and Peggy Rockefeller sale at Christie's this past May, where it sold for just over $115 million dollars.
Image Credit: Wars I Have Seen
Les Filles D'Or
“French women reveal their age quite freely, and because they are not obsessed by the thought of looking miraculously young, they often do.”
Kennedy Fraser, The Fashionable Mind, Reflections on Fashion, 1970-1981
Image Credit: Horst Portraits: Paris, London, New York
A Quiz: First Lady Edition
Name the American First Lady who declared, "I loathe the French."
The answer is after the JUMP.
When the Spirit Is Willing
“Depend on it when a French soul is damned it puts on a great coat, and compliments the devil on his fine climate.”
Sir Charles Napier, via Lady Lawrence’s Indian Embers
“It’s true that the French have a certain obsession with sex, but it’s a particularly adult obsession. France is the thriftiest of all nations; to a Frenchman sex provides the most economical way to have fun.”
Anita Loos, Kiss Hollywood Good-by
Image Credit: Beaton in Vogue
“In France, you will soon discover, we often raise our voices when we are discussing matters which are of absolutely no importance whatsoever. Philosophy, for instance. Everybody shouts and interrupts each other. It’s most agreeable. If, however, the world is coming to an end, it is de rigueur to remain very calm, and, if possible, to look bored.”
Edward Rutherfurd, Paris
Letter from a Feline Nation
“One thing to be said for the French [is] they have a great appreciation of cats. They beat their dogs too much and are sometimes cruel to their horses, but they do treat cats with kindness and respect.”
Bravig Imbs, Confessions of Another Young Man
Shipping and Returns