Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 18

“If not why not.”

I talked about the intriguing androgynous qualities of Gertrude and her “bearded Lady” before. In this photo Gert, Alice and a friend amuse themselves at a country fair near their country house (captured by Sam Steward). Would you have imagined that the “High Priestess of Modernism” was a good shot? She was. Having grown up in the California wilderness with three older brothers and without much parental supervision, she was an incurable tomboy. Interestingly, the latest New York Review of Books picks up this thread in an article on “Florence 1900: The Quest for Arcadia.” The book review mentions that Leo and Gertrude, who liked to summer in the Florence, were known as “the Stein frères” — the Stein brothers. Gertrude, we learn, even went skinny-dipping in a lake, “clothed in nothing but her fat,” as a horrified witness reported…
This freedom about who she was and how she looked, no matter who was looking on, has always fascinated me as a significant symbol of her provocative non-conventionality. Which is another reason why I think my photo collection holds a lot of clues and keys to Stein’s personality. One of the many striking facets I set out to highlight is the steady, almost constant presence of Alice in the pictures. When you think of the great writers of modern times and let their image pass through your mind — let’s say Joyce, Proust, Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Hemingway… — do you see their wives, lovers, life companions in the picture with them? In almost every photograph?
How do you analyze the fact that Stein so insistently kept Alice visible right next to her (even though Alice clearly didn’t seek the spotlight and looks increasingly tired of posing as the years go on)? Does it give you pause?
And how many great writers, male or female, do you know who wrote their lover’s life story — the way Stein did when she playfully concocted her homage to Alice’s spirit and voice in “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas”?
As I said, reading photographs can be as revealing as reading books…
Stay tuned.

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