Two Lives - Malcolm, Janet - Yale University Press
Literary Studies
Social Science

Two Lives

Gertrude and Alice

  • Janet Malcolm
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Out of Print.

Listed as #5 on the Editors' top 10 list in Biography and #4 in Gay & Lesbian for 2007 by amazon.com

Named one of the 100 Notable Book of 2007 by The New York Times Book Review

Listed as one of the 2007 Biography 'Books We Liked Best' by the Christian Science Monitor

Selected as a Best Book of 2007 by Entertainment Weekly

A 2007 Top Seller in Literature as compiled by YBP Library Services

Fiualist for the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction, presented by the Publishing Triangle.

Finalist for the 20th Annual Lambda Literary Awards in the category of Women's Memoir/Biography, given by the Lambda Literary Foundation.

Winner of the 2008 Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction, presented by the Publishing Triangle.

Winner of the 2008 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography.

Selected as a 2008 AAUP University Press Book for Public and Secondary School Libraries.

Click here for an extended question & answer discussion with the author. 

Listen to Maureen Corrigan's recent review of Two Lives on NPR's Fresh Air.


Read the New York Times review of Two Lives, "Portrait of a Marriage." (Also selected as an 'Editors Choice' in the Times' Sunday Book Review.) 

Read extended reviews in The Wall Street Journal, Salon.com and a feature Q&A with the author from The Boston Globe.

"How had the pair of elderly Jewish lesbians survived the Nazis?” Janet Malcolm asks at the beginning of this extraordinary work of literary biography and investigative journalism. The pair, of course, is Gertrude Stein, the modernist master “whose charm was as conspicuous as her fatness” and “thin, plain, tense, sour” Alice B. Toklas, the “worker bee” who ministered to Stein’s needs throughout their forty-year expatriate “marriage.” As Malcolm pursues the truth of the couple’s charmed life in a village in Vichy France, her subject becomes the larger question of biographical truth. “The instability of human knowledge is one of our few certainties,” she writes. 

The portrait of the legendary couple that emerges from this work is unexpectedly charged. The two world wars Stein and Toklas  lived through together are paralleled by the private war that went on between them. This war, as Malcolm learned, sometimes flared into bitter combat.

Two Lives is also a work of literary criticism. “Even the most hermetic of [Stein’s] writings are works of submerged autobiography,” Malcolm writes. “The key of  'I' will not unlock the door to their meaning—you need a crowbar for that—but will sometimes admit you to a kind of anteroom of suggestion.” Whether unpacking the accessible Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, in which Stein “solves the koan of autobiography,” or wrestling with The Making of Americans, a masterwork of “magisterial disorder,” Malcolm is stunningly perceptive.

Praise for the author:

“[Janet Malcolm] is among the most intellectually provocative of authors . . .able to turn epiphanies of perception into explosions of insight.”—David Lehman, Boston Globe

“Not since Virginia Woolf has anyone thought so trenchantly about the strange art of biography.”—Christopher Benfey


Janet Malcolm is the author of The Journalist and the Murderer, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, and Reading Chekhov, among other books. She writes for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books and lives in New York City.



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