Mabel Dodge: She’s Not Fickle, She’s an Early Feminist: Intimate Memories

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Dublin Core

Title

Mabel Dodge: She’s Not Fickle, She’s an Early Feminist: Intimate Memories

Subject

Sex, Gender, Marriage, and the New Woman & Life of Mabel Dodge

Description

Mabel Dodge: She’s Not Fickle, She’s an Early Feminist

Not long after her arrival in Paris, Mabel Evans became Mabel Dodge upon marrying Edwin Dodge, a well-known architect and budding Bohemian. Though still participating in the institution of marriage, her marriage to Edwin Dodge was a symbol of defiance of Victorian standards of a woman she had known before. He served as a method by which she could assert autonomy after having lived the life of a high society woman in Buffalo, New York. But from early on, Dodge is a woman who is always pushing for the next step, which is why Mabel Dodge can sometimes come off as fickle. However, this frequent dissatisfaction with men and with her privileged position stem from her role as a catalyst for social progress and change, especially in terms of gender roles and sexual liberation.

As she explores the concept of marriage through her relationship with Edwin Dodge, Dodge begins to define marriage in terms of love, which is something not highly accepted especially for her class background in the early 1900s. Specifically, she even breaks down the concept of love and goes further to define marital love as something that should be romantically based when she writes that, “Between Edwin and me there never was a deep marriage relationship, although there was a great friendship,” therefore clearly separating the two (Luhan 2033). This is pivotal in the formation of her radical ideas on the role of woman in society because even the act of defining a marriage is a way of asserting some sort of control and power in a patriarchal institution like marriage. Lois Rudnick, a primary scholar on Dodge’s life, writes in New Woman, New Worlds, “Edwin may have captured her hand in marriage, but Mabel Dodge’s spirit still belonged to the world,” which sums up how Edwin mostly functioned as a practicality though in doing so furthered Dodge’s exploration of the concept of love.

Dodge’s somewhat immediate dissatisfaction with Edwin can be perceived as fickle. Critics often depict Dodge as flippant and fleeting. Dodge is often diminished by her sexual liberation and in one book Barnet even refers to her as the “seductive Mabel Dodge” (21). Mabel Dodge’s criticisms of Edwin Dodge are rooted in her oppressed role in their romantic relationship. Being a woman who values independence, she in unsatisfied with and aware of her unequal role in the union. Dodge is unique though because unlike most of her feminist peers, her massive wealth as the sole heiress to the Ganson family provides her with a unique position of power, which is why she can openly display her dissatisfaction with the institution of marriage and with her husband. Dodge questions her husband’s core beliefs as she calls him “entirely upon the surface of consciousness” and describes how he “never attempted to analyze experience as it touched him” (Luhan 2040). Dodge’s criticism is important because she is not only questioning her subordinate role but also asserting her equality by engaging him in a level of discourse about how one should live their life. Dodge’s irritation with complacency foreshadows her coming into the role of an orchestrator and supporter of change.

Despite spending a paragraph criticizing Edwin, Dodge is not beyond calling attention to her own acceptance of gender roles within her relationship. She describes her compliance with Edwin’s desires, saying, “So I went along beside him in the shut-in loneliness of a self-imprisoned and inhibited young married woman” (Luhan 2034). Her self-awareness of the double standards of married women versus married men and how she describes this state as “self-imprisoned” convey her acute perception of the disadvantages of her gender. She continues to articulate the injustice of the “double standard” when she discusses marriage vows. She writes, “the promise to be ‘faithful’ to him, that promise to which he had paid so little attention but that really became the central fact in my pleasure-seeking day.” Dodge’s reflection conveys her conflicted emotions about allowing her husband to seek out affairs outside of her affection. She is acknowledging how this is a progressive ideal. Dodge conveys that while he can be liberated, her autonomy is compromised by the marriage. Dodge is thus left in the “lonely” state of the married woman not permitted to seek pleasure outside of him while also enjoying the attention she does receive.

Despite her radical revelations, Dodge has still internalized the constraints on women at the beginning of the 20th century, and therefore, they are present in lines of her reflections like when she calls her husband “a veritable saint” for putting up with her criticism and when she accepts the limitations of her freedom based on the promise she made in marriage (Luhan 2039).

Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2033-2043). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.
Rudnick, Lois. Mabel Dodge: New Woman, New Worlds. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1984. Print.

- - -. Utopian vistas : the Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the American counterculture. New Mexico: Univ. of New Mexico, 1996. Print.




Creator

Mabel Dodge

Source

Intimate Memories

Publisher

New Mexico University Press

Date

Intimate Memories Publication 1999, Memoir written ca. 1905

Contributor

Lois Rudnick

Format

Memoir

Language

English

Type

Memoir

Text Item Type Metadata

Text

“But things had come to pass somewhat as she had foretold. Between Edwin and me there never was a deep marriage relationship, although there was a great friendship, for it was impossible not to respond to his even-tempered generous nature and his gaiety. My particular criticism of him was of his avoidance of the deeper undercurrents. He seemed to me to live entirely upon the surface of consciousness, and I thought he never attempted to analyze experience as it touched him; he seemed to prefer the superficies of living, the externals, to the inwardness of things. At that time I was so self-centered that I could not see any raison d’être [reason for being] in any other type but my own, and I have thought many times since then that Edwin was a veritable saint to put up with me as he did. Doubtless his ability to do so came from that easygoing acceptance of things as they were, without questioning them or defining them too closely, that I deplored in him! So I went along beside him in the shut-in loneliness of a self-imprisoned and inhibited young married woman, but I always guarded my behavior very carefully and sometimes, with stoical self-control, for there was that never-forgotten promise I had made when I told him I would marry him—the promise to be “faithful” to him, that promise to which he had paid so little attention but that really became the central fact in my pleasure-seeking days.”


Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2033-2043). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Original Format

Written memoir