John Watson, from ‘Views of Mount Brogden’
ROMOLA STEIN: “Entrepreneur of moments”, “stage manager for the seeding of events” (Frances Ralph), she was founder of a salon at which a number of writers discussed their works and claimed to receive inspiration. The many references to her in memoirs, diaries, and the acknowledgments of her influence in the anthologies suggest a curious dichotomy: perhaps there were in fact (and not just figuratively) two Romola Steins. It is possible that the salon evening, the manipulated sensations, glances, reveries somewhat suggestive of engineered séances were the project of a Romola Stein quite distinct from the author of the austere verses published under that name as Replicas Without Original. The absence of photographs – there are apparently none – adds to this uncertainty.
From Frances Ralph’s recollections in An Evening With Romola Stein: “… An instance of the sort of thing: we were being shown her collection of faience fruit; she handed us fruit on a platter. Several fruits were ambiguous in the half light. She smiled as she turned the plate over. One fruit was genuine and fell to the floor. I think we were supposed to be startled, perplexed, perhaps be inspired by everything she did. The light was peculiarly silver. Perhaps we were meant afterwards to recollect this incident (there were many others) as if it were a dream… There was something curiously, perhaps deliberately inept about the Romola Stein evening, as if she knew that one should not take discussions too seriously, as if she positively wanted us to form our own conclusions.”
On the matter of photographs, Melanie Bierce wrote: “There were never any photographs of Romola Stein. Once Hiram was photographing the group – we had all gone chestnut-gathering and were standing under a chestnut tree, the ripe fruit like sea urchins hanging perilously over us. Hiram was, I recollect, telling some rambling joke to make us smile – something about a penguin and a message in a bottle and a Scotsman. Perhaps we were distracted and didn’t see Romola slip away, or perhaps she had, as some said, developed the ability which I had seen in the Andes to dematerialise herself momentarily. Whatever the truth we were surprised afterwards to find that in all the collection there was not one image of Romola Stein.”