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.