Mabel Dodge, Everybody’s Muse: Intimate Memories

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Dublin Core

Title

Mabel Dodge, Everybody’s Muse: Intimate Memories

Subject

Sex, Gender, Marriage, and the New Woman

Description

Mabel Dodge, Everybody’s Muse

Dodge was an individual who was fascinated with making an image of herself. Mabel Dodge was essentially a walking art piece, which might explain why Dodge is not as well known in the present compared to her colleagues whose works are more tangible. For instance, Gertrude Stein’s work can still be reprinted, and photographs still exist of John Reed’s cartoons. Dodge was an experience, so understanding her influence involves finding her in her own writing and the writing of her peers. Barnet comments that “Dodge’s most sustained creative project was ultimately herself yet her commitment to the modernist credo was nonetheless real,” which further conveys how Dodge work was unique and expansive while also being incredibly difficult to quantify (138). Dodge is a paradox because she equally existed to subvert expectation while also being incredibly curious what the public thought of her. Dodge wanted the public to think about her, but she wasn’t seeking a sort of approval. Rather, Dodge sought to have an influence over all different aspects of the public. Dodge is more than just a socialite because she doesn’t just host radical ideas. She tactfully arranges conversations that furthered radical ideas while also creating a self that was also a conversation piece. In her memoir, Dodge’s reactions to people’s perceptions of her further explore the importance of an individual who saw herself as a conversation piece and conveyed her desire to influence others above her desire to be liked or understood by them.

What is interesting about the scene Dodge relays is that she reflects deeply on passing comments that Vetchen and Hapgood exchange about her. Dodge is able to succeed at bringing people together partially because of her introspective nature. It is clear she actively contemplates what kind of presence she creates and seeks to understand that. Dodge reflects, “While I couldn’t rest for the crepitations within me, yet I was gratified at this evidence of my influence on others,” which conveys how her primary concern is to be able to influence others (Luhan 2600). It is important to note how this is slightly different from how Dodge is sometimes depicted as vain or concerned with being the center of attention even by colleagues like Stein who criticized Dodge’s attention seeking. Dodge was only concerned with these things in order to exert an influence, shaping the world around her as it relates to people and the continued conversation of complex ideas. She makes apparent that she is not completely satisfied with how others perceive her as she describes an uneasy feeling or “crepitations” about how Hutch explained, “That woman will drive me crazy” (Luhan 2601). This unsettled feeling suggests that Dodge felt somewhat dissatisfied with how others characterized her, specifically in regards to her gender.

Dodge used the role of the Muse as a tool for power. Dodge goes on to elaborate on her ability to influence individuals and writes, “That at least was, for me, a reward of virtue, for, I believed, this is my body holding within it all my power instead of spilling it in love. I thought that power left my neglected womb and ascended to my brain, and from that questionable point of vantage it could challenge other brains” (Luhan 2603). There is a lot jam-packed into that one sentence. Dodge is tying together distaste for her position as a woman, suggesting that she has to be someone “unsexed” in order to exert influence and continue to use her body and herself as a tool for influence. Dodge calls her womb “neglected,” which conveys her understanding that an aspect of the ideal woman is rooted in reproduction and fertility, and for that reason, Dodge is seen by others as somewhat less than a woman. But Dodge also depicts herself as not concretely female through her rejection of gender norms. She writes how only because of this “unsexed” state can she “challenge other brains,” and by that, she is referring to a male dominated artistic and political culture. Dodge understands that she is unique, and she understands what she must give up in order to exist somewhere between a man and woman. Dodge can do this partially because of wealth and partially because of her boldness.

Dodge faces a sort of loneliness in the role of the muse. She accounts, “It [her power] seemed to me that had it stayed in its proper place [the womb] men might have really loved me” (Luhan 2604). Dodge is involved in dozens of affairs throughout her life. Dodge ultimately tends to stay in the role of the muse, especially in Greenwich Village. Dodge is corralled into the role of the muse mostly by her lovers who usually opt to take a “real” wife instead of continuing their escapades with Mabel. One lover was Hutch Hapgood, who ultimately chooses to stay with his wife, Neith Boyce, after a passionate affair with Dodge (Boyce). Dodge accepts this loneliness in exchange for her influence as a result of the subordinate role of the typical woman of 20th century America.

Boyce, Neith. Intimate Warriors. Ed. Ellan Kay Trimberger. New York: The Feminist Press, 1991. Print.

Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2598-2605). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.


Creator

Mabel Dodge

Source

Intimate Memories

Publisher

University of New Mexico Press

Date

Published 1999, Written ca. 1913

Contributor

Lois Rudnick

Format

Written Memoir

Language

English

Type

Memoir

Text Item Type Metadata

Text

“You have a certain faculty,” Steff told me one autumn afternoon as we drank tea together by the fire that glowed in the white marble chimney place. “It’s a centralizing, magnetic, social faculty. You attract, stimulate, and soothe people, and men like to sit with you and talk to themselves! You make them think more fluently, and they feel enhanced. If you had lived in Greece long ago, you would have been called a hetaira. Now why don’t you see what you can do with this gift of yours? Why not organize all this accidental, unplanned activity around you? This coming and going of visitors, and see these people at certain hours? Have Evenings!” “But I thought we don’t believe in ‘organization,’ ” I told him reproachfully, for had not he and Hutch said again and again that organizations and institutions are only the crystals of living ideas—and “as soon as an idea is crystallized, it is dead. As soon as one makes up one’s mind, it is time to change it!” “Oh, I don’t mean that you would organize the Evenings,” he flashed at me with a white smile beneath his little brown bang. “I mean, get people here at certain times and let them feel absolutely free to be themselves and see what happens. Let everybody come! All these different kinds of people that you know, together here, without being managed or herded in any way! Why, something wonderful might come of it! You might even revive General Conversation!” So, really, the Evenings were, in the first place, Steffens’s idea. I never needed more than a hint of an idea, if it seemed a good one to me, to seize it and make it my own. Just a little push has always been enough for me if I liked the direction. Perhaps intuitive people like Steffens have sometimes seen the possibilities before I knew them myself—have noticed the bubbling before the artesian thrust and rise of energy—and by suggesting the activity already preparing to express itself have helped to bring it to the surface. Certainly this is what skillful psychologists try to do. Anyway, ideas as congenial as this one Steff offered seemed to me already mine as soon as he uttered them, and months later, when the Evenings had become a feature of New York life, I was able to take the entire credit for them in an interview by a Mrs. Pearson: “THE PRINTED PAGE WILL SOON BE SUPERSEDED BY THE SPOKEN WORD,” DECLARES MRS. MABEL DODGE, WHO HAS BEEN HOLDING A NEW YORK SALON FOR FREE SPEECH."

Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2779-2801). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Original Format

Written Memoir