Peter Whiffle and His Life Works

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Dublin Core

Title

Peter Whiffle and His Life Works

Subject

Art, Modernism, and Bohemia

Description

Mabel Dodge’s Literary Counterpart, Edith Dale

Carl Van Vechten’s Peter Whiffle was published in 1922 and was basically a parody of 1913 Bohemia in New York City. Van Vechten models most of the characters off of real figures from the point of view of his fictional “Pete Whiffle”. Van Vechten’s characterization of Mabel Dodge displays her multifaceted role in Bohemia as well as the fascination her Bohemian peers had with her. Dodge’s “peers” (if you want to call them that, because, as far as Dodge was concerned she was the queen and they were the court) were perplexed and captivated by Dodge’s unique role in Bohemia. Van Vechten explores Dodge’s almost mystical abilities as an organizer through his character, Edith Dale. Edith Dale serves a mentor in Bohemia for his two main characters, Pete and Carl, who start in Europe and make their way to New York City as writers. These writers are attempting to write novels about a revolution happening against capitalism and government in New York. Van Vetchen was one of the premiere writers of The Village during Mabel Dodge’s stay and of Early Twentieth Century America in general. He was regarded on an equal level with Gertrude Stein - only Vechten was more largely consumed by the public. Rudnick writes that, “His [Carl Van Vetchen] re-creation of her [Mabel Dodge] as Edith Dale was a tribute to the kind of womanhood he felt she represented: intelligent, amused and amusing, centered on a concept of self that thrived on the vitality of contradictory human impulses” (2186). Dodge was such a character in her life; Van Vetchen didn’t attempt much fictionalization.

Carl Van Vetchen’s literary depiction of Dodge conveys how she was seen as a point person for Bohemia. Dodge and her salons were the connection point. When artists or reformers would visit from Europe, they were actually usually brought through word of mouth and Dodge’s presence in the media to Dodge to make more connections. For example, Staples writes how “Dodge arranged for Stevens to live with Mina Loy, the modern British poet and painter who was living in Florence at the time of the show [Armory Show].” In Peter Whiffle, Pete describes Dodge’s counterpart to Carl. Van Vetchen writes “Do you know Edith Dale?” . . . “Well, she’s a woman, but a new kind of woman, or else the oldest kind; I’m not sure which. I’m going to take you there. . . . Everybody goes there. Everything is all mixed up. . . . Edith, inscrutable Edith, sits back and listens" (119). Pete’s effusive depiction of Edith Dale clearly was meant to mirror Dodge. If it wasn’t apparent enough, Dale’s history also mirrors Dodge’s. Dale “had returned to New York after three years in Florence” and “found of an old mansion in Washington Square exactly what she wanted” (121-2). Dodge was such a pivotal figure in the village that Van Vetchen not only made a character of her, but also used that character as a plot device for Pete and Carl to find their way in The Village. Rudnick writes how Dale serves as the connection to the intricate web of Bohemia, writing, “Edith Dale is the wise and detached sophisticate who helps to initiate young Peter into the world of the avant-garde” (Rudnick 2253). Rudnick continues to discuss the connection between Dodge and Dale, explaining, “For her [Dale], people exist like bits of colored glass in a kaleidoscope that she turns at whim to form patterns whose value lies in their transient charm. Edith thrives in this world because she is so centered and secure” (Rudnick 2254). Rudnick’s description of Dale parallels how Dodge both values the complexity of the individual while also being able to view Bohemia from her “secure” position.

Edith Dale’s character also provides insight into some of Dodge’s attributes that fascinated Bohemia. In one scene when Pete and Carl are discussing Edith Dale, Carl questions, “Is she writing a book?” to which Pete responds, “No, She never does anything like that. She spends her energy in living, in watching other people live, in watching them make their silly mistakes, in helping them make their silly mistakes. She is a dynamo” (Van Vetchen 119). Van Vetchen displays how Dodge herself existed as her own “work of art” or conversation piece. Mention of Dale’s energy being spent “in living” also draws attention to Dodge’s belief that humans should learn to take in the experiences of the moment. Dale serves as a testament to how Dodge was viewed as almost a mascot for Bohemia for her vigor and for her dedication to “The New”. Rudnick writes that both Van Vetchen and Max Eastman (Writer for The Masses) recognized “Mabel’s undammable and discontinuous feminine vitality was particularly suited to express the dynamism of modern American life” (144).

Peter Whiffle was published in 1922, only slightly after Dodge’s “era” in The Village. The immediacy of various depictions of Dodge through poetry and novels, like Carl Van Vetchen’s Edith Dale, attest to the legacy she left behind when she moved from the city to Taos, New Mexico. Less than a decade after her departure, the American public, particularly in the city, came to know Dodge through this representation in Peter Whiffle.


Rudnick, Lois. Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds (Kindle Locations 2290-2291). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Staples, Sherley, and American Studies Department. "The Part Played by Women."
The International Armory Show. Ed. American Studies Program at the
University of Virginia. University of Virginia, May 2001. Web. 8 June 2016.

Van Vechten, Carl. Peter Whiffle: His Life Works. New York: Alfred A. Knopf
Inc., 1922. Print.

Creator

Carl Van Vechten

Source

The John W. Long Library Lycoming College

Publisher

Alfred A. Knopf

Date

1922`

Format

Printed Book

Language

English

Type

Prose

Text Item Type Metadata

Text

Excerpt

Original Format

Full Length Novel