Mabel Dodge and the Steins: Acquiring the Spirit of “The New”: Intimate Memories

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Dublin Core

Title

Mabel Dodge and the Steins: Acquiring the Spirit of “The New”: Intimate Memories

Subject

Art, Modernism, and Bohemia

Description

Mabel Dodge and the Steins: The Spirit of “The New”

Among intellectuals, artists, and revolutionaries who passed through the gates of Villa Curonia during Dodge’s time in Florence, the Steins were a pair that stood out. Gertrude Stein is one of the most well-known modernists and some may have even encountered a little poem of hers entitled “Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia”. Historian Helen Baralonini even comments that “The most significant of Mabel's visitors [At the Villa Curonia] for the launching of the next part of her life was Gertrude Stein” (280). Their visits would have a continued influence over the formation of Dodge’s own ideology about the concept of art at the dawn of the 20th century that would eventually carry over into Dodge’s work in the Greenwich Village when she returned to the United States. From Dodge’s encounters with the Steins and their way of life, Dodge comes to shed more of the rigid upbringing that she longs to part with for a new line of thinking and living. The Steins focused less on what was popular and more on their own impulsive and instantaneous reaction and desires. Though much of what Mabel Dodge embodies appears to be a summation of the streams of thought around her (like those of the Steins), the organization of gatherings like hers required a person like Mabel Dodge who was observant, receptive, and open to new ideas in order for those ideas to spread and grow outside of the artistic microcosm where the ideas and artistic styles flourished in Paris.

Upon meeting Gertrude Stein, Dodge is in awe of Stein’s stark contrast to the standards of Victorian women and reacts with fascination. Dodge’s fascination opens her to comprehension of the way of life Stein portrays. Stein’s open and nonjudgmental attitude will continue to be a crucial trait that Dodge takes on and that allows Dodge to serve as a sort of bridge between the radicals she surrounds herself with and more mainstream life and high society life. Dodge explains, “I remember she was the first one—of all those sophisticated, cultured people I had grown accustomed to—who made me realize how nothing is anything more than it is to oneself” (Luhan 2175). Her realization eventually led Dodge to distance herself more from the expectation of her early life and allow her to promote and support artists and radicals like Stein. Stein’s influence guides her to divorce and to New York where her autonomy would flourish and Dodge would become the keystone of the artistic, social, and political “new”.

Dodge’s open and conscience observation can be seen in how she focuses on how appearance translates to ideology when she describes Gertrude Stein. Dodge writes, “When she got up she frankly used to pull her clothes off from where they stuck to her great legs. Yet with all this she was not at all repulsive… She always seemed to like her own fat anyway and that usually helps other people to accept it. She had none of the funny embarrassment Anglo-Saxons have about flesh. She gloried in hers” (Luhan 2176-2180). Though frequently the tone of Dodge’s work generally seems to parallel that of someone observing an animal in nature rather than one of her peers, her intrigue and appreciation of what is different gives her a unique role as someone who is not producing art but is able to support and promote literature and visual art in way the makers cannot. Physical description is predominant in Dodge’s depiction of Gertrude Stein. Dodge’s visual depiction is significant because her portrayal of Stein reveals her desires to distance herself from previous inhibition or what she calls funny “Anglo-Saxon” embarrassment.

Not only does Dodge observe appearances, but she also takes down records of what Stein writes to her and about her during her time at the villa. These records convey that Dodge recognized the value of these fleeting moments. Dodge explains that Stein wrote about her one night. One portion of Stein’s writing reads, “So much breathing has not the same place when there is so much beginning. So much breathing has not the same place when the ending is lessening. So much breathing has the same place and there must not be so much suggestion. There can be there the habit that there is if there is not need of resting.” Stein’s prose conveys how Dodge’s home and her physical presence were seen as a catalyst for new life and the flourishing of art. Stein uses the repeated image of “breathing” and “so much” to illustrate how Dodge positioned herself at the threshold of “The New”.

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 2175-2212). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Creator

Mabel Dodge

Source

Intimate Memories

Publisher

University of New Mexico Press

Date

Published 1999, Original written ca. 1905

Contributor

Lois Rudnick

Format

Written memoir

Language

English

Type

Memoir

Text Item Type Metadata

Text

“Gertrude had direct firsthand reactions of her own about life just as Leo did about paintings. He had taught her this secret. I remember she was the first one—of all those sophisticated, cultured people I had grown accustomed to—who made me realize how nothing is anything more than it is to oneself. For instance, Gertrude didn’t care whether a thing was bon goût [good taste] or not, or whether it was quattrocento [fourteenth century] or not, unless it affected her pleasantly, and if it did please her she loved it for that reason. This is the theory that Leo bases his aesthetics upon and she was his first disciple. [In the summer of 1912] Gertrude and Alice came to stay at the villa. The year before, Gertrude had lived in Fiesole—and she had trudged down one hill and across town and up another to see us. She used to wear a sort of kimono made of brown corduroy in the hot Tuscan summertime, and arrive just sweating, her face parboiled. And when she sat down, fanning herself with her broad-brimmed hat with its wilted, dark brown ribbon, she exhaled a vivid steam all around her. When she got up she frankly used to pull her clothes off from where they stuck to her great legs. Yet with all this she was not at all repulsive. On the contrary, she was positively, richly attractive in her grand ampleur. She always seemed to like her own fat anyway and that usually helps other people to accept it. She had none of the funny embarrassment Anglo-Saxons have about flesh. She gloried in hers. She was a wonderful companion and I missed her after the silence came between us.”
Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2175-2195). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.
“She began the “Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia” and by this time the symbolism had become so obscure that only by feeling it could anyone get the key to what she was saying. This is what she said about me as she sat in the midnight silence:
The days are wonderful and the nights are wonderful and the life is pleasant. . . . Bargaining is something and there is not that success. The intention is what if application has that accident results are appearing. They did not darken. That was not an adulteration. So much breathing has not the same place when there is so much beginning. So much breathing has not the same place when the ending is lessening. So much breathing has the same place and there must not be so much suggestion. There can be there the habit that there is if there is not need of resting. The absence is not alternative. Any time is the half of all the noise and there is not that disappointment. There is no distraction.”
Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2204-2212). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Original Format

Written memoir