Digital History at Ursinus

The Eye of the Beholder

Dublin Core


The Eye of the Beholder


Arts, Modernism, and Bohemia
Sex, Gender, Marriage and the New Woman


Romanticizing Subordination: Dodge’s Magical Love Tale Glorifies the Inequality in Heterosexual Bohemian Relationships

Dodge’s “The Eye of the Beholder” depicts the destructive and passionate tendencies of the typical Bohemian relationship in a magical and mythical light. Symbolism in the character's roles as poet and performer draws attention to the tragically subordinate role of women in art and in romance as a result of the patriarchy. Within the character symbolism, Dodge also makes a biblical comparison between the poet and the performer and the creator and the creation in order to further convey the plight of women in Bohemia. Dodge employs name symbolism throughout as well as the incorporation of a classic outside text by Leonardo Da Vinci to give the piece a more transcendent quality. Dodge may have done this in an attempt to give her own writing more validity as well. Dodge also frames “The Eye of the Beholder” in the context of a conversation in a library between two characters not involved in the romance, which adds to the mythical quality of the piece while also creating distance from the love affair set in Europe.

Dodge publishes other short stories but “The Eye of the Beholder” is the only short story published in The Masses that bears her name. “The Quarrel” and “The Parting” are both published earlier in 1917 anonymously. “The Eye of the Beholder” is important because Dodge claims it as her own and also because it is her last publication in The Masses before she departs from Greenwich Village in a new direction for her work. By this point Dodge was married to the artist, Maurice Sterne, and had more distance from her break up and months of depression after her affair with John Reed in 1916. “The Eye of the Beholder” can be seen as almost a reflection on Bohemia. Dodge’s glorification could be caused by her ability to distance herself from the emotion of being in an unequal relationship and not having her works recognized because of her gender. “The Eye of the Beholder” also is far from other narrative techniques Dodge had used in the past and illustrates her progression in proficiency with prose. Dodge’s use of the Da Vinci was likely to match the trends of using the classics in early 20th century literature. Dodge also likely wanted to display that she was well read while also using the piece to add to the mythical tone of the romance.

“The Eye of the Beholder” is almost a parable for Bohemian women because it illustrates the thrill as well as the struggles of being a Bohemian woman. The main woman of Dodge’s story, Joyella Delmonte, embodies all the qualities of the ideal Bohemian woman in order to serve as a metaphor for the experience of Dodge and her peers. The narrator of the piece reflects, “we never thought of her as a woman. It seemed rather like listening to a magical evocation that summoned all women and like watching their appearing while we watched her move, (Dodge 10). The narrator conveys how Joyella displayed the ideal of being mystical as well as otherworldly. The ideal Bohemian woman was desired to present a spiritual quality. By making Joyella an actress, Dodge is symbolizing how women had to merely perform for men and that their appreciation was as brief as the glory of the stage. Dodge even writes, “and the curtain was rung down upon her forever,” when her lover, Dorilio, ceases to love her and write plays for her to perform. Dodge is conveying that Joyella’s power and beauty was all a result of Dorilio’s control. Dorilio lives on and was free to choose who to make his next muse. Dorilio being a poet is also a symbol for how men of Bohemia could write their own destiny. Dodge writes that Dorilio, “was a poet—but a poet in the fullest sense. He lived poetry” (10). Dodge describes him as “living” poetry in order to convey how because of his maleness he was able to live a fantasy of his own design.

The story of this actress is framed as tragedy which illustrates the powerful role of men in Bohemia. Joyella literally “exhales, Dorilio’s work (Dodge 10). Dodge uses the verb “exhales” to convey Dorilio’s degree of control over Joyella’s vitality. Dorilio means “gift from god” while Joyella roughly translates from Italian to “jewel”. Dodge uses this name symbolism to further establish Dorilio as the “God” and Joyella merely as the vessel for his light. Though this does illustrate the degree to which men controlled and usurped the work of women in The Village, it also somewhat romanticizes this dynamic. It’s not clear why Dodge would romanticize a dynamic that she had suffered greatly from, though it could also be a result of her distance and attempts to generate a magical tone for the piece.

Dodge uses Joyella’s final performance to draw attention to the tragic role of women in Bohemia. Joyella gives one of the most moving performances of her life and the narrator describes her as being like the "unearthy radiance of sunlight” (Dodge 11). The whole time Joyella is aware that her time is fleeting, which is conveyed by the title of the play being “The Sun Drowned.” Joyella knows that as Dorilio moves on, she will no longer be able to perform because she only has a voice through him. The voice of a woman could not stand alone because the artistic work of women was not given validity. Dodge describes Joyella leaving performing as “magic” leaving her. Dodge uses the magic as symbol to represent fame and notoriety. In Bohemia, without the “light” or attention cast on them by their male counterparts, the works of Bohemian women like Dodge, Boyce, and so on were often overshadowed and forgotten. Most of Boyce’s plays are actually not in print anymore while her partner, Hutch Hapgood, has material more widely available. To take the symbol one step further, Dodge depicts the male as “God” like and Joyella as merely an extension of his creation. Dodge is drawing attention to how the subordinate role of Bohemian women can be traced to Victorian tradition and the Christian influence on American Society in the early 20th century. At the end of her performance, Joyella remarks “Awaiting death, my sunlord. . . if it be death to dissolve in thy light,” to further display the inevitability of Bohemian men to praise women like goddesses only to get bored of them and move on.

In a way “The Eye of Beholder” is Dodge’s departure thesis to leaving the New York City only about a month later. The distance from the Bohemian romance depicted in the story may be because Dodge had already resolved to leave the society where she had had so much conflict and tension with trying to foreign autonomy in the company of men that did not respect or validate her work. Dodge resolved to not face the same fate as Joyella by choosing. Dodge was dedicated to spreading her influence and affirming her role in art, labor, and social reform and resolved to push the societal confines of her sex.

Dodge, Mabel. "Beauty is the Eye of the Beholder." The Masses Oct. 1917: 10-11.


Mabel Dodge


Tamiment Library New York University


The Masses


October 1917


Tamiment Library New York University







Text Item Type Metadata


The Eye of the Beholder
By Mabel Dodge
One wet summer afternoon I strolled to Grizzlewood’s place which lay sheltered from the warm, steady rain, under three great dripping maple trees.
I had found him in his library—hanging over some old yellowish papers which he head lifted out of a square box of green lacquer that always lay on the table, and in his hand was the photograph—now turned yellow, too—of that woman who had spun time out into lyrical opaline hours, and dusky woe-freighted hours, in all the great playhouses of Europe—twenty years ago.
I took the inanimate square of cardboard in my hands and looked on that face once more, and in a flash all that other time was before me!
I had never spoken to Joyella Delmonte, but I had sat before her in the years of my youth and bathed until drenched in the poetry that she exhaled. Lost in the darkness of the house—we had sat before her—we the youths of the great cities—and we had had a vision of what a fine rapture life would be—of what a delicate and powerful thing love would be—
As we listened to Joyella’s voice and watched her entranced movements—we never thought of her as a woman. It seemed rather like listening to a magical evocation that summoned all women and like watching their appearing while we watched her move.
And then suddenly we had seen her no more. She disappeared. We lost her. And with her for most of us I am afraid went the magic and the vision.
“Whatever became of her?” I asked Grizzlewood, as I handed back the faded picture.
“She retired from the stage after Dorilio left her. That is only the baldest fact of it, though. What really happened as I saw it, is a story of one of the great mysteries.”
We drew two chairs up before the window that looks out under the branches, and across the plain and upon the misty green stage before us, Grizzlewood proceeded to spread his memory.
“The thing that happened between Joyella and Dorilio is a story of the creative and destructive power of vision.” He got up and took Da Vinci’s note book from the book shelf. “Listen to what Leonardo says on this:
“Those mathematicians, then, who say that the eye has no spiritual power which extends to a distance from itself, since if it were so it could not be without great diminution in the use of the power of vision and that though the eye were as great as the body of the earth it would of necessity be consumed in beholding the stars; and for this reason they maintain that the eyes takes in but does not send forth anything of itself—
“What will these say of the musk which always keeps a great quantity of the atmosphere charged with its odour and which if it be carried a thousand miles will permeate a thousand miles with that thickness of atmosphere without any diminution of itself.. .
Is note that snake called lamia, seen daily by the rustics attracting to itsef with fixed gaze as the magnet attracts iron, the nightingale, which with mournful song hastens to her death?
It is said also that the wolf has power by its look to cause men to have hoarse voices/
The basilisk is said to have power by its glance to deprive life of every living thing.
The ostrich and the spider are said to hatch their eggs by looking at them.
And the fish called linno, which some name after St. Erno which is found of the coasts of Sardinia, is it not seen at night by the fisherman shedding light with its eyes over a great quanitity of water—as though they were two candles?
And all those fishes which come within the compass of this radiance immediately come up to the surface of the water and turn over dead.”
He closed the book and sat down again.
“I suppose that’s what you would dismiss as ‘twelfth century science too?” he quizzed.
“Well maybe it is and maybe it’s twentieth century science too. For just as Leonardo describes it—so I saw it happen between Dorilio and Joyella.
First he hatched her by looking at her, like the ostrich, and afterwards he deprived her of the life he had given her, by his changed and deadly glance.
She came within the radiance of the poet’s eye and then she died of it. Certainly Joyella’s history should be a warning to women to be wary of that radiance that innocence of the eye of the artist—powerful as a virgin!
Dorilio met Joyella just before she was twenty. She was palying in a small Italian town one night with an obscure company of players. She was beautiful and she was young and she was ready, and that’s about all.
Dorilio was thirty—he was a poet—but a poet in the fullest sense. He lived poetry—and I always fancied his brow was bound with an unseen wreath of mingled myrtle and laurel.
“For forty years his life was a living poem, and he was seemingly an eternally golden youth. He had crisp yellow curls turning back from his round poet’s forehead—and his eyes were deep blue and of an intensity. Joyella’s dark hair sloped back from her white face like two dusky cups before he knew her. They were a little empty and waiting—afterwards he filled them full of himself—and they poured him back into the world in streams of fire. What a pair they made.
“He created her, so to say, the first night he saw her, on the mean small stage of the Arezzo Theatre. The stage—any stage was always Kingdom Come to Dorilio; he never saw, I think, any dust or meanness there. It was enchanted ground where Truth and Beauty walked unblemished.
“He looked across the narrow space between him and Joyella that first night and he saw her rapturously. He lifted her unmeasurably above him and then spread his poet’s wings in the far flight towards her.
“Joyella was waiting—ready to be lifted. It happened in an hour’s time. They were off on their irrevocable journey.
For ten years the world saw her thro’ his vision—and she lived on in his vision. He wrote his great plays for her in those years and she played them before him and before us all, and to see her play them was to see life a little differently afterwards. That for what they gave us! But what they had of each other—who among us dreary everyday mortals can ever know?
“I don’t suppose we can ever guess what a woman passes through who is living out the expectation of a great poet who has created her after his own image. What hours—what hours they must have had together! She becoming ever more his goddess—and he deepening continually the radiance he spread around them both. All we saw was that each year brought us a greater play from his pen, and from her an expanding, glowing presentment of it.
“Great days! Great days all gone forever! When the inevitable hour came and he turned away his eyes from her the glory all died out.
“Buddhists have a knowing phrase:
“Nothing ever takes place save in the presence of a Beholder.”
“Dorilio was Joyella’s great Beholder. When he saw her no longer, she became nothing.
“Of course the world said that he had broken her heart. That was nonsense. It ceased to beat for Dorilio because Dorilio no longer quickened it by his glance. The world regretting her—talked of her tragic face and of what she must besuffering, but once she said to me: “Ah! To love is happiness—even to suffer happiness, but not to feel—not to care—THAT is tragedy.” She simply ceased to exist, I think.
“The actual break between them was not without a certain beauty of its own. It had artistic form—just as every expression of their union had it.
She had been away for three months in her country villa resting and she had returned for a month’s cycle of the plays. She had left him in Rome—where she believed him to be working on a new drama.
“I was there to see her that night—that last night.
“She was giving Dorilio’s tragedy: “The Sun Drowned” which opens—do you remember it?—full in the central motive of hallucination.
“The curtain rose upon Joyella standing in an unearthy radiance of sunlight—and with the transfigured look in her eyes that Dorilio had written there. After the applause had died down—the applause the her enchanted presence always drew from us—she waited poised there for a fraction of time, seeming to with draw herself slightly for the effort of projection.
“She closed her inner eyes to us and looking towards Dorilio, spoke to him.
“Her lips parted on the opening words:
“’As pettando la morte. . . Awaiting death, my sunlord. . . if it be death to dissolve in thy light. . . ‘
“There was a movement and a disturbance of atmosphere that she had created in the house.
“The audience was stirring and looking toward a box where two people had just entered.
“I glanced over too—it was Dorilio! Dorilio the magician had come!
“He was with a beautiful woman who was looking – not at the stage, but in a wonderstruck way, at Dorilio.
“And he was not looking at the stage. He was not looking for Joyella. He was turned away from her, and his powerful gaze was striking into the eyes of the woman with him. Once only he looked back to Joyella, absently, with a look all unseeing and uncaring.
“She knew with some certain instinct what had befallen her. She made a gallant effort to go on—to speak the lines. But her voice faltered—the virtue seemed to flowe out of her limbs—and she swayed a little.
“The radiance streamed around her still and became a little cruel. Now it tormented her. She seemed to grow dim in it, to lessen and to sink vaguely to a lesser level. Her movments became fluctuating and intellectual. . . All this time the words were coming from her lips but with a disastrous lifelessness.
“Again she rallied. She wrestled with death, driving her spirit, with a great effort of the will, up to the intensity that had been its element.
“The dying beauty suffused her again for an instant and was gone. She knew it. We all knew it.
“Dorilio’s eyes had killed something in her. Then she made no more struggle. She quietly walked off the stage into the wings—and the curtain was rung down upon her forever. She went to her dressing room and wrote that one word: ‘Apostate,” upon a piece of paper and sent it around to Dorilio in his box.
“She, as they say, retired then and there from the stage and the rest of the story is commonplace. It is common place. It will not go on with it. . . “




Mabel Dodge, “The Eye of the Beholder,” Digital History at Ursinus, accessed June 22, 2018,