Dublin Core




Art, Modernism, and Bohemia


“If I contradict myself, well, then, I contradict myself.”

Mabel Dodge was a walking contradiction. Her position as both a high society woman and a Bohemian already shows how Dodge was torn between more than two worlds. She was between sides of political debates, artistic debates, and even somewhere between European and American. Though American born, most media still saw Dodge as almost European because of her time in Florence while also acknowledging that she was, in fact, American. When Hutchins Hapgood writes about her, he often depicts her as having “come to us,” illustrating how her peers saw her as something outside categorization. Dodge’s poem “Magnetism” highlights how Dodge’s contradictory nature was no accident; contradiction was part of Dodge’s work to push discourse further. Dodge broke boundaries and countered expectations. Sometimes her contradictions cause her to be perceived as a woman without strong convictions or someone who was taken by whatever train of thought was most popular—but Dodge purposefully wanted to analyze contradiction. Dodge sought to embrace contradiction and not view conflicting views as a barrier.

Dodge uses the symbol of magnetism to convey the ideal of attracting and repelling dualities existing at the same time. Her poem is arguing for the importance of not seeing life in dualities but seeing even opposing sides as part of the same whole. Dodge strove for this in her Evenings by staging contradictions. She invited priests and clergy men alongside radical feminists and birth control advocates. Dodge didn’t do so to create discord, though—Dodge’s Evenings were notoriously passionate debates but never “heated” or “violent.” Rudnick writes how, “In Florence Mabel had adopted Whitman’s motto, which she had embossed in purple and silver as the “seal” on her stationery: “If I contradict myself, well, then, I contradict myself” (1380). Her seal and her poem convey the importance Dodge placed on challenging duality and contradiction.

Dodge writes, “The supreme task of the soul is to encompass all/ experience.” Dodge believes that in order to reach for new ways of thought, no person’s point of view can be excluded. Dodge truly values every individual. Dodge wants to listen to people different from herself, and she doesn’t just want to listen—she wants to elevate their voices. She expresses the difficulty of feeling pulled in so many directions with the symbol of a compass to go along with the forces of magnetism. She says, “In the circle of the compass lies the soul’s activity.” Dodge is saying every individual exists somewhere in the circle of the compass, and therefore all directions need to be explored in order to understand the complexity of each other human’s experience. Yet this can be overwhelming, and Dodge conveys the struggle of feeling paralyzed by options. She compares herself to “the needle” of a compass as she says, “Drawn by every influence lies shivering the needle.” In the conclusion of the poem, Dodge creates a contradiction with her symbols by saying that humans strive for “immobility” and a “more fixed” state after having just commented on the endlessness of possible directions.

Rudnick wrote that Dodge’s “Magnetism” embodied her goal that “was to incorporate the chaos of the diverse social, artistic, and political movements proclaimed by the 'republicans' of Washington Square and direct them through her liberated life-force” (1382). It is interesting to note that “Magnetism” would go unpublished, which reflects how Dodge used writing and art not only as a means of communication with others but also as a part of self-exploration. It is not clear whether or not Dodge would have intended the poem for wider publication. Most of Dodge’s published work features rhyme and attempted rhythm, so it is interesting to see that her more personal work breaks form and is less cliché than the poetry of hers that actually was published in places like The Masses.

Rudnick, Lois. Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds (Kindle Locations 1379-1383). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.


Mabel Dodge


Poems by MDLC, Intimate Memories











Text Item Type Metadata



By Mabel Dodge

The supreme task of the soul is to encompass all
In the circle of the compass lies the soul’s activity.
Drawn by every influence lies shivering the needle,
Yet ever striving for an immobility more fixed.

Original Format