“It was pleasant being a lion…”
This was how I read this picture, taken in 1935 on Stein’s lecture tour through America:
“She is a celebrity by then, a ‘lion,’ and shows the same unbending refusal to please anyone but herself. Her slightly crumpled, half-buttoned tweed costume, the half-tugged-away scarf, her childlike duck shoes, pay tribute to her comfort — not, however, in an aggressive way that would deny any sense of aesthetics or attractiveness. The fine silk blouse, the decorative brooch, the black velvet collar and matching cap setting off her graying hair bespeak an undeniable pleasure in her appearance. Her stride is grounded, filled with purpose. She does not smile. She looks at the inquisitive eye of the beholder with the intensity of one who is inquisitive herself, for whom it is crucial to know. Of course she knows that someone is looking at her, trying to capture her, read her, decode her, judge her. She must be aware of the situation: an author in fashion, returning from Hollywood, her star rising with every picture taken. It does not for a second distract her. Whatever is sought from her is already there, to be given, generously, in utter simplicity, without rancor about t past ridicule, without speculation about future revenge. She looks, as in her childhood pictures, intensely involved in her very own, personal experience of the present. He face has the same determination, as does her fist, to show herself, not in order to please, but to be — which clearly pleases her.
Stein’s writing can be read with the same eyes. There, too, is her unbending refusal to satisfy any exterior demand, her uncompromising attitude of following her own command. She has made herself comfortable in language, put on words that fit her like her tweeds. Linguistically, she walks in shoes made strictly for her own use. She wears the hats of every literary genre. She caresses the rhythms of words as her brooch caresses her throat. If her sentences give pleasure, it is because they are a pleasure to herself.
Reading Stein’s photographs encourages us to approach the obscure genius as she, in the Del Monte Picture, approaches us. The unflinching, no-nonsense authority of her gaze tells us to trust our own eyes, to trust what we see when we read her.”
(A quote from my foreword, on the eve of announcing that the book is back in print!)