Collectors of the Stein-Toklas legend will find that, although this book reveals no significant new information, it is a welcome addition to the bibliography. And in addition to the memoir and the more than 100 letters, the book contains a number of photographs never before published.
Samuel Steward was a young English professor at a college in Helena, Montana, when he first began corresponding with Stein in 1933. In 1937 and again in 1939 he went to France to visit Stein and Toklas at their summer home at Bilignin. His correspondence with Stein continued until her death in 1946; thereafter the correspondence was with Toklas, whom Steward visited some 16 times between 1950 and her death in 1967.
The memoir is of more real interest than the letters for its descriptions of the two women (and various friends, including an unflattering portrait of Henry and Clare Booth Luce) and reproductions of their conversations. When he was visiting at Bilignin, Steward made a practice of writing down the day's events and conversations before he went to bed each night. For Stein-admirers, the re-creation of her speech - its cadences and inflections - is a delight. She spoke just as she wrote and Stewart reproduces her words as she said them, without punctuation.
The picture he presents of Gertrude is of a warm and expansive spirit, a loving and loyal friend, a brilliant mind. The gritty Alice, to whom Steward became especially close after Gertrude's death, shines through as a humorous (sometimes blackly humorous), bright and generous figure. Steward denies reports of her malice and calls her "perhaps in certain areas even more brilliant" than her "beloved companion." (Houghton Mifflin, $10)