Digital History at Ursinus

Two Contentments

Dublin Core

Title

Two Contentments

Subject

Sex, Gender, Marriage, and the New Woman

Description

Contentment in the Self: Mabel Dodge Finds Strength in Herself After Reed

Dodge’s “Two Contentments” establishes how Mabel Dodge felt it was important for women especially to find fulfillment and meaning in themselves. Dodge understood the need for women of The Village to define themselves outside of the male dominated artistic and reform culture of the early 20th century, and she felt this was important not just for reformers in Greenwich Village, but for society at large. Living under oppression of the well-established patriarchy, Dodge struggled throughout her life to find a loving relationship in which she could truly engage with a partner as equals. Though “Two Contentments” does not directly reference love or her relationship with John Reed, the poem was published directly after Dodge ends things with her lover for good. The couple’s relationship featured several fights and estrangements but came to a close only a few months before “Two Contentments” was published in The Masses. Dodge had met Reed in New York and taken a few months abroad in Florence and Paris with him as well. “Two Contentments” signifies Dodge’s growing self-awareness after her relationship with Reed as well as her growing awareness about the issues of gender-dynamics in love and power in The Village.

Dodge and Reed’s relationship was described by Rudnick as the “greatest happiness and most intense misery she [Dodge] had ever known” (1845). Dodge wanted to be desired by a man, but the relationship with Reed also robbed Dodge of autonomy and agency for which she had fought so hard. Reed wrote that he desired his woman “to be ‘full of beauty, love and joy, and ready to follow her man anywhere— be a virtual slave— if only he spoke the magic words ‘I love you’” (Rudnick 1849). Reed clearly enjoyed the image of Mabel Dodge the muse and not Mabel Dodge the revolutionary. Rudnick also comments how “In giving herself so completely to him, she [Dodge] lost the fragile independence she had won with her work for Gertrude Stein, the Armory Show, and the success of her salon” (1901). Therefore, “Two Contentments,” illustrates Dodge learning from her turbulent days with Reed and coming to find a greater strength in herself.

Dodge’s “recovery” from Reed was not an easy one. It is important to see that “Two Contentments” is not just a poem about simply finding power in the self. Rather, Dodge is talking about new life and vitality in the wake of despair. Though she does not address it in her own memoirs, Dodge faced months of extreme depression after things crumbled between her and Reed. Reed ended up leaving with a younger, more traditionally “beautiful” woman. In the farthest reaches of her depression, Dodge attempted suicide by eating figs with shards of glass. She was then hospitalized for “women’s sorrows” and released, only to attempt suicide again by taking a type of opiate called laudanum. Some historians take this action as just another dramatic “Mabel Dodge” move. One, Flynn, writes of the episode as almost comical as he says, “Reed apparently nursed a sick comely American woman back to health and planned an elopement. The woman’s existing husband was threatening to shoot him at the same time that Mabel Dodge was trying to commit suicide” (180). This historian’s account reflects how the stigma for women with mental illness plagued Dodge in her time and has persisted to the present. Dodge attempted to take her own life, and the only records to be found are traces in history books with paper trails to psychiatric hospital records. While Dodge writes about nearly everything, she leaves this crucial piece of her life out of her narratives. This omission is a result of Dodge’s desire for control and autonomy over her own story and the conversations had about her. Dodge didn’t want to be remembered for her lowest points — she also hated to be perceived as weak.

Dodge writes, “My lamp burns bright and the oil is far unspent.” In the wake of such a dark time for Dodge, this poem was Dodge affirming her strength and autonomy as derived from her forces within and not from the approval of society. Dodge chooses the symbol of “light” to show her vitality and life on the other side of depression. She dismisses judgment saying, “No noises reach me from land or sea—,” and declares, “I am content.” The poem reflects how Dodge strove to reach for the new even when it was completely outside of the norms of 20th century America.

Dodge continues to establish a positive tone of forward motion in the second stanza when she writes, “Far runs the road ahead and calls to me.” Dodge expresses the freeing nature of deriving fulfillment from the self as she writes, “In freedom sharing as the sun is free.” The repetition of “I am content,” uses a curt end-stopped line to draw attention to the radical notion of a woman being content with herself. It is as if Dodge is not only affirming this for herself, but also for other women who feel a lack of fulfillment in their heterosexual relationships with men who often view them as their Muses. Weeks before the poem’s publication, Dodge writes, “I’m tired of being the mother of men!” as she begins to recover from her depression (Rudnick 2104). “Two Contentments” echoes this sentiment. In 1916, Dodge became involved with heterodoxy groups, the women’s peace party, and other efforts against the war in Europe, which helped her regain the strength and independence that helped her flourish in her early days in The Village before Reed.

Flynn, Daniel J. A Conservative History of the American Left. New York: Crown
Publishing, 2008. Print.
Rudnick, Lois. Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds (Kindle Location 1845-2104). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Creator

Mabel Dodge

Source

Tamiment Library NYU

Publisher

The Masses

Date

October 1916

Rights

Tamiment Library NYU

Format

text

Language

English

Type

Poem

Text Item Type Metadata

Text

TWO CONTENTMENTS
The curtain falls between the world and me,
My lamp burns bright and the oil is far unspent
No noises reach me from land or sea—
I am content .

Far runs the road ahead and calls to me
Gladly my hear, unwearied, forth is bent.
In freedom sharing as the sun is free—
I am content.

M.D,

Original Format

Print

Files

masses066_lo.pdf

Citation

Mabel Dodge, “Two Contentments ,” Digital History at Ursinus, accessed November 22, 2017, http://omeka.ursinus.edu/items/show/73.