Mabel describes the Villa Curonia-- From Mother to the Active Muse: Intimate Memories

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Dublin Core

Title

Mabel describes the Villa Curonia-- From Mother to the Active Muse: Intimate Memories

Subject

Art, Modernism, and Bohemia

Description

From Mother to the Active Muse

Somewhere between Buffalo, New York and her first stop in Europe, Paris, Mabel Evans began her transformation from the wealthy daughter of American aristocracy into the vibrant socialite and advocate of the ‘The New” she came to fully embody. Mabel Evans had been sent to Paris with her son John Evans by her wealthy parents. She was avoiding the scandal surrounding an affair she had with her gynecologist. Evans's affair was discovered immediately following the death of her husband, Karl Evans. Once in Paris, she quickly married architect Edwin Dodge and immersed herself in the artist atmosphere of the city at the start of the 20th century. In Europe, Dodge shed her past life of Victorian gender roles and “old money” living. Though she flitted about more as a muse than a “Mover or Shaker” in Paris and Italy, there she was able to form the beginnings of an ideology all her own that would translate into her crucial role as a supporter of the currents of artistic and social reform that would spring from her own salon in Greenwich Village in New York City.

All slight mentions of her son quickly vanish from her personal memoir, Intimate Memories, upon her arrival in Paris, most likely because of her decision to enroll him in boarding school, a decision not uncommon for her class and her era. What was uncommon was she was essentially leaving behind her previous role as a mother in a final distancing from the person she had been as Mabel Evans. Other critics and even some peers depict Dodge as self-involved and promiscuous for her flight from her previous life, but this early display of autonomy is extremely radical for her position. She is beginning the process of reclaiming her life and editing previous decisions once made for her. Her original husband was selected by and approved of by her parents and her new one was not only a type of artist but also agreed to on her own accord. Her quick marriage can be interpreted as her attempt to shed the “Evans” name as quickly as she could in order to be born again across the ocean. The act of distancing herself from her son is therefore an act of rejecting the gender norms of the time and the social expectation of an ideal woman as a mother.

Edwin and Mabel would travel frequently back to Paris, but they eventually situated themselves at the Villa Curonia in Italy after much searching for the perfect residence that could live up to the figures that frequented it (such as Picasso, Matisse, and the Steins, who all made trips at one time or another to the Villa). The purchasing of a villa was actually very common - it was somewhat ‘in vogue’ for the aristocracy of the day - but Dodge began taking a different spin on it, one that would translate to her role in New York later in life. She didn’t just want to decorate the physical space. She wanted to craft an ideological and artistic space as well as a part of the process of crafting her own new persona and finding a role for herself among the figures towering over her. Dodge’s artistic circle was enthralled by her. Historian Helen Baralonini comments on Dodge’s “keen eye fixed unerringly on her guests” and how “her observations found their place in her memoirs” which illustrates Dodge’s early inclinations to not only observe radical ideas, but preserve and expand on the conversations and ideas they presented. Mabel Dodge was never just a muse posing for portraits (Baralonini 280).

In these opening reflections on her life at the villa, Dodge is grasping at the notion of an artistic space and her role within that space as she remarks, “So I wanted life to make use of me, of my cellular intelligence, of my whole attentive being, and I had prepared the setting for my own predestined life, the life my nerves and heart and inmost essence wanted” (Luhan 2006). When she says “I want life to make use of me” and presents the idea of a “predestined life” she is interpreting her own crucial role as someone who does not necessarily have to produce art or radical ideas in order to serve a crucial role in her participation in art and conversation as a facilitator. Her role as a patron goes farther than the monetary implications of that title and her passion for promoting “The New” pervade through her memoirs.

Her writing on love while at the villa also illustrates her continued complicated relationship with the institution of marriage. She describes the villa as having “a noble luxury, deep, deep and subtle, made poignant and precious by its exclusion of banality. Ah, yes! A house for Love” (Luhan 2007). She describes “banality” as a counter to love and romance. Here is her first articulations of a concept she would later call “free love,” which counters all previous expectations of marriage. She is conveying the intersection of art and love and the idea of the excitement of her new perceptions of love can be seen in the effusive nature of her writing in conversational asides like “Ah, yes!”(Luhan 2008). She writes this in the early 1900s, when divorce was highly uncommon and even illegal in several portions of America. Though the idea of free love was common in the artistic circle she frequented, her writing on the subject is still radical and would become important as she carries these ideals of love in marriage with her back to the United States.

Baralonini, Helen. "Mabel Dodge Luhan: in search of a personal South." Southwest Review 8.3 (1998): 280-1. Print.

Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2006-2009). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Rudnick, Lois. Mabel Dodge: New Woman, New Worlds. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1984. Print.


Creator

Mabel Dodge

Source

Intimate Memories

Publisher

University of New Mexico Press

Date

1999 intimate memories publication, memoir written ca. 1905

Contributor

Luis Rudnick

Rights

Luis Rudnick

Format

Abridged memoirs

Language

English

Type

Memoir

Text Item Type Metadata

Text

"And I? As I walked through the rooms, over and over again I felt I was made for noble love, not for art, not for work, not for the life of the worldly world, but for the fire of love in the body, for the great furnace of love in the flesh, lighted in the eyes and flowing, volatile, between the poles. Not lust, not merely appetite or hunger, not ambitious ladder love, not love with any intention beyond itself, but love the element like fire or wind or water. So I wanted life to make use of me, of my cellular intelligence, of my whole attentive being, and I had prepared the setting for my own predestined life, the life my nerves and heart and inmost essence wanted. I had not carried out this design consciously but from deep within, and Edwin had helped me. I think no one could have entered that place without feeling it was spread for life, a sumptuous and protecting preparation for romance. It had a noble luxury, deep, deep and subtle, made poignant and precious by its exclusion of banality. Ah, yes! A house for Love. . . ."

Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2006-2009). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Original Format

Written Memoir