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Digital History at Ursinus

Art, Modernism, and Bohemia

Dodge’s Spirit of "the New" Delivers Modernism to New York: Intimate Memories
Mabel Memoirs: Dodge’s Spirit of "the New" Delivers Modernism to New York

Mabel’s Purposeful “Collection” of Divergent, Differing, and Diverse Individuals

Mabel Dodge doesn’t take a long time to get to know the “Movers and Shakers” of wherever she sets up shop. By the time she’s finished decorating her apartment and finally distances herself successfully from Edwin Dodge, she already has systematically begun to acquire contacts and visitors. What is so interesting and marvelous about Dodge is that she doesn’t just connect people: Dodge is connecting ideas and concepts that come along with individuals. Her memoir illustrates how Dodge has almost a systematic and strategic process for connecting people through the groups and ideals they hold. Dodge doesn’t just collect contacts — she builds relationships, pairings, and stages discourse. Dodge is like a match maker for intellectuals of the areas where she operates. Her personal writing displays her approach to building these important relationships and also illustrates the breadth of influence Mabel Dodge had in the Village. Lois Rudnick writes in her detailed exploration of Dodge’s memoirs that, “In the early 1920s, a Chicago newspaper reporter claimed she [Dodge] was “the most peculiar common denominator that society, literature, art and radical revolutionaries ever found in New York and Europe” (47). A short memoir excerpt alone illustrates that even the term “denominator” falls short of encompassing the complexity of Dodge’s expansive influence.

Dodge explains how she is able to use her relationship with Hapgood to grow her New York circles. She writes, “Hutch [Hapgood] was one of the first of these [revolutionaries] and he, in his turn, brought his affinities” (Luhan 2516). With the knowledge that Dodge frequently used her charms to gain favors out of Hapgood, this is even a more interesting starting place for her gatherings. It is clear there was some purpose behind her pursing Hapgood. It’s not a stretch to surmise she could have known she could persuade him because he was experimenting with an open marriage to Neith Boyce. Dodge knew Hapgood had the right connections to build her connections in the city, thus making him an easy tool to building her contact list. Within her letters to Hapgood, Dodge uses her charms frequently to get favors our of Hapgood—though Dodge never commits to Hapgood and Hapgood eventually commits to Boyce (Boyce 213).

The tone Dodge takes addressing some of the more radical activists is somewhat demeaning or diminutive tone. Dodge writes, “In time there came [Lincoln] Steffens and Emma Goldman and [Alexander] Berkman, that group of earnest naive anarchists” (Luhan 2518). Calling them “naïve” illustrates an important attribute that Dodge has. Though she is somewhat condescending and self-involved, her separating the different groups of radicals illustrates that Dodge recognizes the importance of gathering people with conflicting and contrasting views on similar social issues. Dodge also gathers people with views that conflict with her own. For instance, Dodge tends to side more with John Reed, whose political and ideological stances Dodge follows and supports more closely.

Dodge also clusters individuals who are educated and not educated. She describes, “[John] Reed, Walter Lippmann, Bobby Jones, Bobby Rogers, and Lee Simonson, these but lately out of college” (Luhan 2518). This distinction is relevant because the details she takes note of convey how Dodge may not always be sensitive to social class issues, but that she is aware of importance of gathering people not with just different views but also differing classes and levels of education. 

After listing the “big names” of her current group, Dodge also makes sure to mention that her company also includes “…all the labor leaders, poets, journalists, editors, and actors” in order to try to quantify her own influence (Luhan 2519). It is typical of Dodge to want to convey that she is reaching a wide audience. The range of figures she already enumerated are quite enough to convey the wide range of people she was connecting an engaging as she established her evenings in New York, but Dodge likes to take things over the top. So by 1912, Barnet writes, “Mabel Dodge’s famous Evenings were born, and with them Greenwich Village’s reputation as a place of art, intellectual foment, freedom, and controversy that quickly spread beyond its borders” (143). Though she was tying ideas together that originated from all corners of the 20th century Bohemian culture, it was Dodge who was cultivating the culture as a collective. Without this common denominator, it is important to understand these figures might not have come together in the direct way that they did when they met in pristine white walled apartment of Mabel Dodge. 

Barnet, Andrea. All Night Party: The Women of Bohemia Greenwich Village and Harlem. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2004. Print. 

Luhan, Mabel Dodge. Intimate Memories: The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan (Kindle Locations 2516-2519). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Rudnick, Lois. Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds (Kindle Locations 47-48). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.