Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma

Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma

by Barbara Will
     
 

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In 1941, Jewish American writer and avant-garde icon Gertrude Stein embarked on one of the strangest intellectual projects of her life: translating for an American audience the speeches of Marshal Philippe Pétain, head of state for the collaborationist Vichy government. From 1941 to 1943, Stein translated thirty-two speeches in which Pétain outlines

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Overview

In 1941, Jewish American writer and avant-garde icon Gertrude Stein embarked on one of the strangest intellectual projects of her life: translating for an American audience the speeches of Marshal Philippe Pétain, head of state for the collaborationist Vichy government. From 1941 to 1943, Stein translated thirty-two speeches in which Pétain outlines the Vichy policy barring Jews and other "foreign elements" from the public sphere and calls for France to reconcile with Nazi occupiers.Unlikely Collaboration pursues a troubling question: Why and under what circumstances would Stein undertake this project? A specialist on the author and her radical writing, Barbara Will links Stein to the man at the core of this controversy: Bernard Faÿ, Stein's apparent Vichy protector. Faÿ was director of the Bibliothèque Nationale during the Vichy regime and overseer of the repression of French freemasons. He convinced Pétain to keep Stein "undisturbed" during the war and, in turn, "encouraged" her to translate Pétain for American audiences. Yet Faÿ's protection was not coercive. Stein described the thinker as a chief intellectual companion during her final years. Will outlines the formative powers of this relationship, noting possible affinities between Stein and Faÿ's political and aesthetic ideals, especially their reflection in Stein's writing from the late 1920s to the 1940s. Will treats their interaction as a case study of intellectual life during wartime France and an indication of America's place in the Vichy imagination. Her book forces a reconsideration of modernism and fascism, revealing what led so many within the avant-garde toward fascist thought. Touching off a potential powder keg of critical dispute, Will replays a collaboration that proves key to understanding fascism and the remaking of modern Europe.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
What was Gertrude Stein, that inimitable Jewish-American doyenne of experimental writing, doing translating for American audiences the speeches of Marshal Philippe Pétain, the head of the WWII collaborationist Vichy regime? In this brilliant and fascinating study, Stein specialist Will (Gertrude Stein, Modernism, and the Problem of "Genius") answers this question through a close reading of Stein's writings, a detailed examination of Stein's and Bernard Faÿ's attraction to Pétain's conservative politics, and Stein's friendship with Faÿ, a Frenchman who moved in both artistic and far right-wing circles and collaborated with the Nazis. Will demonstrates that the pair were reactionary modernists who believed that the democratic ideas of the French Revolution ushered in the decadence characteristic of the early 20th-century French Republic and that the U.S. was going through a similar decline. Pétain captured the pair's imagination and allegiance by articulating a program for returning France to the vitality and pioneering spirit of its pre-Enlightenment agrarian roots. Will shows that Stein never publicly affiliated herself as a Jew, especially after she moved to Paris in 1903. This exceptional study provides new insights into previously hidden corners of Stein's life. Photos. (Sept.)
Choice

Exceptionally well researched and elegantly written, this book is certain to make an important contribution to and beyond Stein studies.... Highly recommended.

Irish Times
Barbara Will's story is well told...

— Phyllis Gaffney

National Post
A revealing and absorbing work of scholarship.

— Robert Fulford

Chronicle Review
...revisited the relationship of Stein and Faÿ, offering the fullest account to date of their professional and personal ties.

— Eric Banks

Washington Times
[ Unlikely Collaboration] reveals a considerably more complex, and perhaps devious, Gertrude Stein than currently accepted legend would dictate.

— T.L. Ponick

Times Literary Supplement
A tenacious work of literary detection and analysis

— Jerome Boyd Maunsell

New York Review of Books
A fine-grained, unflinching, and nuanced history.

— Michal Kimmelman

The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide

Unlikely Collaboration is a fascinating book that explores a sensitive topic with solid documentation.

Jewish Ideas Daily
Extremely detailed and erudite.

— Eitan Kensky

Haaretz
She has given us a fuller, more realistic picture of a multilayered Stein who was fairly talented, but who also, in Will's own words, was in morally significant ways a 'despicable individual.'

— Gerald Sorin

Yale Alumni Magazine

Fascinating.

The New Republic
[An] absorbingly detailed and even-handed book.

— Christopher Benfey

French History
Will's most significant contribution is to challenge the assumption that an individual with a liberal personal lifestyle and/or creative interests will inherently be someone with liberal political views.

— Miriam Intrator

Richard J. Golsan

Barbara Will's Unlikely Collaboration is a beautifully written and engaging work that illuminates the lives and works of Gertrude Stein and Bernard Faÿ, their friendship, and the fascinating and troubled times in which that friendship formed and flourished. Will's book, penetrating in its psychological, literary, and historical insights, will appeal especially to readers interested in literary modernism and its often disturbing political connections.

Robert O. Paxton

An unlikely collaboration indeed. One was perhaps America's most celebrated avant-garde writer, living in France; the other a French biographer of Benjamin Franklin turned anti-Masonic zealot and collaborator with the Nazis from 1940 to 1944. Gertrude Stein wanted to persuade Americans that the Vichy collaborationist leader Philippe Pétain was a French George Washington; Bernard Faÿ helped save Stein's art collection, and maybe Stein herself, from the Nazis. Barbara Will brings alive their association and ponders the compatibility of literary modernism with political reaction.

Irish Times - Phyllis Gaffney

Barbara Will's story is well told...

National Post - Robert Fulford

A revealing and absorbing work of scholarship.

Chronicle Review - Eric Banks

...revisited the relationship of Stein and Faÿ, offering the fullest account to date of their professional and personal ties.

Washington Times - T.L. Ponick

[Unlikely Collaboration] reveals a considerably more complex, and perhaps devious, Gertrude Stein than currently accepted legend would dictate.

Times Literary Supplement - Jerome Boyd Maunsell

A tenacious work of literary detection and analysis

New York Review of Books - Michal Kimmelman

A fine-grained, unflinching, and nuanced history.

Jewish Ideas Daily - Eitan Kensky

Extremely detailed and erudite.

Haaretz - Gerald Sorin

She has given us a fuller, more realistic picture of a multilayered Stein who was fairly talented, but who also, in Will's own words, was in morally significant ways a 'despicable individual.'

The New Republic - Christopher Benfey

[An] absorbingly detailed and even-handed book.

French History - Miriam Intrator

Will's most significant contribution is to challenge the assumption that an individual with a liberal personal lifestyle and/or creative interests will inherently be someone with liberal political views.

French Studies - Angela Kershaw

Her study is a valuable and well-informed portrait of a troubled and troubling literary and political relationship.

WeHo News - Phillipe Mora

A brilliant, disturbing, even shocking historical saga about modernist icon Gertrude Stein.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231526418
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
10/04/2011
Series:
Gender and Culture Series
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
File size:
7 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Barbara Will is professor of English at Dartmouth College and the author of Gertrude Stein, Modernism, and the Problem of "Genius." She has written extensively on modernist literature and culture and is a specialist on the work of Gertrude Stein.

Columbia University Press

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