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Corresponding Lives

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An influential New York salon host and perpetual seeker of meaning, Mabel Dodge entered psychoanalysis in 1916 with A.A. Brill, the first American psychoanalyst, continuing until she moved to New Mexico in December 1917. In Taos, she met Antonio Luhan, the Pueblo Indian who became her fourth husband in 1923, a radical union that forever altered her turbulent life. From the beginning of her analysis until 1944, Mabel wrote to Brill and he replied, yielding 122 letters. No other such extensive, elaborate written conversations exist between patient and analyst. This book presents a narrative organized around these letters, featuring the turmoil in Mabel's relationships with others, most notably D. H. Lawrence, as well as her extraordinarily candid memoirs, both published and unpublished, inspired by Brill's fierce insistence upon constructive outlets. In her correspondence, as in life, Mabel was despairing, insightful, insecure, and talented, reporting to Brill her emotional states, seeking his advice. With warmth and frankness, he offered opinions, affection, and interpretations. Corresponding Lives is the story of one woman's sustained connection to her psychoanalyst through letters and a revelation of the vital role an analyst can play years after formal treatment. This correspondence is a rare archival treasure in the history of psychoanalysis.

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Chapter One: Illustrations

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This collection of illustrations offers a visual record of Mabel Dodge Luhan's life, as well as photographs of A. A. Brill and reproductions of their letters to each other, with the flourishes of their handwriting and signatures. The images include Mabel in her New York apartment, a painting she made for Brill, her transformation upon arrival in Taos, New Mexico, and Antonio (Tony) Luhan, the Pueblo Indian who became her fourth and final husband. Not only was Mabel widely photographed herself—as Mabel Dodge, Mabel Sterne, and Mabel Luhan—but she also embraced photography as a medium, meeting and purchasing prints from such masters as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, commissioning photographers such as Laura Gilpin to capture her Taos estate and her beloved Tony, and sitting for portraits by her close friend Carl Van Vechten. Also shown are photographs of her friends, among them D. H. Lawrence and Robinson Jeffers, and pictures that Brill took of her Taos home during his 1938 visit. Considered together, these images speak about one woman's daring pursuit of deeper understanding during the early years of psychoanalysis in America, her sustained and sustaining connection with her analyst through letters, and the inspiring world that she continually created around her.

 

Chapter Two: Early Psychoanalysis in New York

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In the early days of psychoanalysis in the United States during the 1910s, the movers and shakers of Greenwich Village in New York were willing and enthusiastic participants in this radical approach to understanding human behavior and emotions. As championed by Sigmund Freud in his groundbreaking writings such as The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), the unconscious was a compelling force that these pioneers embraced in their struggle towards deeper knowledge. Among the most devoted practitioners of this new psychology in New York were A. A. Brill and Smith Ely Jelliffe. And among the most outspoken and literary of their patients was Mabel Dodge (later Luhan) who seriously immersed herself in this new treatment, first with Jelliffe in January 1916 and six months later with Brill. She was an ardent popularizer of psychoanalysis through her weekly salons and Hearst newspaper columns, becoming a persuasive force who encouraged others to be analyzed.

 

Chapter Three: From Lonely Child to Salon Host

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Born into a wealthy family in Buffalo in 1879, Mabel Ganson was an only child whose parents were drastically unhappy and deeply estranged, their vast economic privilege derived solely from inheritance. Her father's despair and violent moods permeated her childhood years, and the atmosphere in her home was barren of any closeness or warmth. As she described in Background (1933), the first volume of her memoirs, “I have no recollections of my mother's ever giving me a kiss or smile of spontaneous affection, or of any sign from my father except dark looks and angry sound.” She continued: “There never was a sense of life in our house. No one cared to be in it. Really no one lived in it, you might say. My father was in it the most of any of us, but he was usually up in his room,” and concluded, “So there we were, the three of us, separated into our different modes of loneliness—a family” (pp. 23, 49, 36). Mabel's father was plagued by mental and physical illnesses that were expressed in both silences and rages. Her mother was characteristically absent, both when she was actually home and when she was away, leaving her daughter to fend for herself in her dreaded state of inactivity. Mabel searched for excitement outside her house, determined to flee its emptiness and secrets, as well as “escape the fear of the pain of idleness” (p. 42). In a passage that follows a description of Mabel's discovery of her mother's unhappiness, she explained: “My mother, a speechless woman herself, had set an example of mute endurance and I had modeled myself upon her. So it was, in our house, as though we believed that by ignoring and never speaking of the misery we caused each other we would thereby blot it out from our hearts” (p. 37). These two early themes, of flight from boredom and of silence about anguish and melancholy, were central to Mabel's life struggles and her eventual turn to psychoanalysis.

 

Chapter Four: A Jealousy Complex

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In a letter simply dated January 1916, Mabel Dodge, clearly conversant in contemporary psychoanalytic jargon, wrote to Smith Ely Jelliffe in New York requesting treatment:

Dear Dr. Jelliffe—

I want very much to see you to discuss the possibility of your analyzing me. I am obliged to admit to having a jealousy complex which has produced an anxiety neurosis with an increasingly compulsory action on my behavior. I am living in the country now…but I will be in New York on Wednesday, and I will call up your house and try & get an appointment with you if you will have time to see me that day…

Sincerely,
Mabel Dodge

At the time she entered psychoanalysis with Jelliffe, Mabel was living at Finney Farm, a country estate in Croton-on-Hudson, which she had leased for two years. With a main farmhouse and a number of outbuildings, this became a refuge for her and her friends. Her companion during this period was artist Maurice Sterne, whom she had met at a dance recital in 1915 and found irresistible due to “his handsome look of suffering” (M&S, p. 350). She had been separated for two years from Edwin Dodge, would divorce him in June 1916, and eventually marry Sterne in August 1917. The relationship between Mabel and Sterne was characterized by extremes of passion, jealousy, destructiveness, and distance, as well as her intense and violent ambivalence. The “jealousy complex” she referred to in her letter to Jelliffe was often fueled by Sterne's looking at other women or by Mabel's misperceptions of his actions. The “compulsory action” she mentioned often had her searching for clues to his betrayals, but also refers to her own driven sexual behaviors with him that seemed intended to solidify their bond, however temporarily.

 

Chapter Five: “Let's Go and Get Married!”

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Mabel described Brill's assessment of her relationship with Sterne: “Dr. Brill did not seem to try to remove me from Maurice; the most he did was to insist that my feeling for him was aesthetic and not sexual, and that in that sense it was not real and direct. However, he did not press this point, for he trusted to the analytic method itself to bring a final clarification and readjustment in my ideas and feelings” (M&S, p. 512). However, despite the unstable and often destructive nature of their relationship, public enough for many to behold and judge, Mabel and Sterne were married on August 23, 1917. As Mabel reported, she proposed one morning:

“Let's go and get married!” I said, raising one eyebrow.

“But dearest! Why this morning? Are you sure you want to?”

A flush broke over his face and a look of pleasure.

“Yes, I want to…”

“Oh, darling! I hope we are doing the right thing!”

“Well, we’re doing it anyway,” I replied succinctly, getting out of bed. (M&S, pp. 524–525)

 

Chapter Six: Lawrence: “Is Taos the Place?”

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In November 1921, Mabel had written to D. H. Lawrence inviting him and his wife, Frieda, to Taos after reading his Sons and Lovers (1913), Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (1921), and, most influentially, Sea and Sardinia (1921). As she reported in her memoir about their relationship, Lorenzo in Taos (1932):

It was after reading Sea and Sardinia that I wrote to him to come to Taos. That is one of the most actual of travel books, I think; for in it, in that queer way of his, he gives the feel and touch and smell of places so that their reality and their essence are open to one, and one can step right into them…

I wrote him a long letter. I told him all that I could about Taos and the Indians—and about Tony and me. I told him how much I wanted him to come and know that country before it became exploited and spoiled. (p. 16)

Lawrence's travel writing in particular inspired Dodge's attempt to lure him to New Mexico, where she believed he could help articulate her experience with Native American culture, thereby broadening the scope of her audience: “I wanted Lawrence to understand things for me. To take my experience, my material, my Taos, and to formulate it all into a magnificent creation. That was what I wanted him for” (p. 77). She strongly believed that Lawrence would prove to be an impassioned and accurate observer of Taos, and that his words would eloquently describe its ineffable qualities.

 

Chapter Seven: “An Irrevocable Step!”

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Despite Brill's opposition to a union between Mabel and Luhan, they were married in Taos on April 23, 1923, with Andrew Dasburg and his companion the feminist and artist Ida Rauh as their only witnesses. An article in The New York World from April 28, 1923 quoted Mabel explaining that “business considerations” had played a role in her decision to marry. The headlines in papers across the country revealed the intrigue that her marriage generated. On April 29, 1923, The New York World announced: “Patron of Arts, Indian's Bride, Enjoying Her Fourth Honeymoon: Mabel Evans-Dodge-Sterne-Lujan Now Dwells in Radical Art Colony in New Mexico, After Spectacular Career in Italy and New York.” In “Why Bohemia's Queen Married An Indian Chief” from the Pittsburgh Post (June 19, 1923), the story is somewhat cattily told that Mabel “enjoyed the companionship of the Pueblos more than that of many of her civilized friends and is said to have often expressed the wish that she were really one of them” (in Luhan scrapbook, Untitled).

 

Chapter Eight: Lawrence Again

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No longer able to tolerate their rupture, Mabel wrote to D. H. Lawrence in Mexico and he replied immediately on October 17, 1923: “Yes, I was pretty angry. But now let us forget it. At least I will forget, forget the bad part. Because also I have some beautiful memories of Taos. That, perhaps, is what makes the sting burn longer” (LIT, p. 117). Renewed contact with Lawrence was crucial for Mabel: he championed her efforts at transformation and understood her opportunity for meaningful change from her union with Tony. In this same letter, he suggested: “You have striven so hard, and so long, to compel life. Can't you now slowly change, and let life slowly drift into you. Surely it is even a greater mystery…to let the invisible life steal into you and slowly possess you.” He also observed: “When I say in my book: ‘one cannot go back,’ it is true, one cannot. But your marriage with Tony may even yet be the rounding of a great curve; since certainly he doesn't merely draw you back, but himself advances perhaps more than you advance, in the essential ‘onwards’” (LIT, p. 118). Lawrence's ability to speak so directly to Mabel about her character and her marriage is reminiscent of the forceful ways Brill advised her in his letters.

 

Chapter Nine: Flirtations

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Mabel's struggles between conformity and passion were notably obvious in two affairs during her marriage to Tony Luhan. In her first existing letter to Brill, she explains her payment of a new friend's psychotherapy bill in exchange for the handwritten manuscript of D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, a friend later revealed as one of her current romantic interests.

δ

April 24, 1925

Dear Dr. Brill,

I am giving you the mms [i.e., manuscript]1 of Sons & Lovers of D. H. Lawrence in return for your care of [rectangular piece cut out of paper here] & I am very glad to turn it to some creative use. It was given to me by Mr. & Mrs. Lawrence not openly in exchange for the ranch in New Mexico—but sometime after I gave Mrs. Lawrence the ranch she expressed the wish to give me the mms.

Ever yours,
Mabel Dodge Luhan

δ

Mabel had acquired this manuscript in 1924 from Frieda Lawrence in exchange for the 160-acre ranch in Valdez, north of Taos, that she had once purchased for her son, John Evans. Tormented by the unrelenting tensions in their relationship, Mabel had offered the Lawrences her ranch as enticement for them to stay in Taos, hoping the distance might improve their rapport. They accepted her proposal and eventually gave Mabel the handwritten manuscript of Sons and Lovers as payment for the deed to the land. Soon after, Mabel had a letter from Frieda suggesting it “was worth at least $50,000” (LIT, p. 228). However, in her biography of Frieda, Janet Byrne reported that, according to D. H. Lawrence in 1928, the manuscript was worth only $5,000 (1995, p. 300). It is interesting to note that Brill's family kept the manuscript until 1963, fifteen years after A. A. Brill's death, when they sold it to the University of California for $17,000 (Byrne, 1995, p. 378).

 

Chapter Ten: Abreaction

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Brill's next letter, in response to a lost one from Mabel, dates from over a year since his last existing communication. The “enclosure” she sent was almost certainly the order form for D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928); she had mailed one to Jelliffe on April 5, 1928, suggesting, “I think you will want to order one of these.” As stated, the book would be published “unexpurgated” in a limited edition of 1000 with “500 copies for America at $10,” with Lawrence in Italy listed as recipient of both order and payment. Lawrence had appealed to Mabel on March 12, 1928: “I shall send you a few of the little order-forms, and do please send them out for me…It is frankly and faithfully a phallic novel, but tender and delicate” (LIT, pp. 304–305).

δ

April 9, 1928

My dear Mabel,

I am just in receipt of your few lines, with enclosure. I am very glad to know that you are alive, and also where you are. I heard all kinds of rumors about your whereabouts, but only recently, was I told that you are really alive and that you are still in Taos. There must have been something wrong in your conscious relationship to me. Let's hear about it.

 

Chapter Eleven: Another Analysis

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During the summer of 1928 in Taos, Mabel had received a visit from the Jungian psychoanalyst Frances Wickes, who convinced Mabel to return to New York and enter treatment with her: “She had spoken of mysterious separations that were growing between myself and the people of my world, and of a self-sufficiency she felt in Tony that he was building to compensate for lacks in me” (FA, p. 39). Frightened by Wickes's pronouncements, Mabel was further persuaded after two “dreadful dreams” the night the psychoanalyst left:

In one there was a peach-tree growing in the patio of a convent place. A nun came to gather peaches and though they looked fair and ripe on the outside, they were brown within. That faded and I saw a lovely rose-bush with roses blooming on it. When I went up to it, the roses were withered and the petals blighted.

When I woke up in the morning, I telegraphed Mrs. Wick[e]s I would come to her the first of October, and I wrote her of these dreams. If she had understood psycho-analysis deeply enough, she would have sent me to a specialist for a physical examination, for the dreams were true and tried to tell of organic changes that could have been halted. But no one thought this was going on. (FA, pp. 39–40)

 

Chapter Twelve: Lorenzo

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Brill's next letter to Mabel, again replying to a lost one from her, refers to the manuscript of Lawrence's Sons and Lovers she had sent him on April 24, 1925 as payment for his treatment of Everett Marcy. Brill also mentions for the first time his daughter, Gioia, and her upcoming marriage at age nineteen to Philip Bernheim.

δ

May 25, 1930

My dear Mabel,

Was pleased to hear from you, and very interested in what you said. You seem to be hazy about the Mss, so I will tell you what the facts are. You offered it to me in lieu of paying for [name blocked out with blue ink, but reads: Everett Marcy][.] There was no question of giving it to me as a pledge. As you know you didn't have to do that. But you gave it to me as payment for the treatment. I have your note which you have written to the Philadelphia dealer1 telling him that the MSS belonged to me, and it was upon this note that he surrendered it to me. Now, as a matter of fact at the time you offered it to me you also told me that about $2000 was offered by the Phila[delphia] book dealer…Since Lawrence died I have been approached by two people who somehow knew of my having this manuscript. They claimed to represent the best dealers in New York, and the best offer was $600. I told them I do not care to sell it, which is true.

 

Chapter Thirteen: Intimate Memories

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The first book of Mabel's four-volume autobiography, Intimate Memories: Background, was published in 1933 by Harcourt, Brace. Although her original plan had been to wait until some people had died before bringing out her memoirs (as she had indicated years earlier to both Gertrude and Leo Stein), she clearly abandoned this idea and forged ahead. Perhaps she was influenced by Lawrence's advice, offered in a letter from April 19, 1926 after he had read her manuscripts: “Collect your MS and keep them all in a safe. Don't show them to anybody else, just now…Then, after a few years, take out your MSS again, and do what you wish with them” (LIT, p. 268). However, Lawrence had also cried out in a letter that same year: “Why oh why didn't you change the names! My dear Mabel, call in all the copies, keep them under lock and key, and then carefully, scrupulously change the names: at least do that: before you let one page go out of your hands again” (LIT, p. 266).

Mabel did not change any names and was most worried about the effect of publication on her mother. In Family Affairs, Mabel wrote about pressure from her publisher, Alfred Harcourt:

 

Chapter Fourteen: New York Memories

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In Brill's next letter to Mabel, written months before the publication of her new memoir, Movers and Shakers, he makes his first written invitation for her to stay with him in New York—an offer, as mentioned earlier, not unprecedented for psychoanalysts at this time. He also asks her to welcome a friend of his to Taos, Isador Coriat, a Boston psychoanalyst who was among the first in America to view literature and art through the lens of psychoanalysis.

δ

June 30, 1936

My dear Mabel,

Two events have happened in my family! My daughter, Gioia, gave birth to a son about a week ago, and I have the proud added title of “grandfather.”1 Secondly, my son, Edmund, graduated from Harvard2 and I was in Cambridge to see him go through the motions; and that is why this letter. I met an old friend of mine there, Dr. Coriat of Boston. Among other things he told me that he expects to take his vacation in Taos. I told him that I would write to you and that you would be very glad to meet him. Coriat is one of the pioneers in psychopathology…Should he come there, I am sure you will find him interesting and I will appreciate any favours that you might show him.

 

Chapter Fifteen: Brill in Taos

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In the summer of 1937, after many promised and unrealized plans, Brill finally traveled to Taos to stay with Mabel. Although no correspondence exists to document the visit, an unidentified newspaper clipping described “Mabel Lujan's Party for Psychoanalyst”:

Mrs. Mabel Dodge Lujan is entertaining with a party at her “big house” in Taos Tuesday night to introduce Dr. Abraham Arden Brill, noted psychoanalyst, author and lecturer on psychoanalysis and ps[y]chosexual sciences at Columbia university [sic]. Dr. Brill is her house guest from New York.

Several Santa Feans have been invited and are planning to attend. (in Luhan scrapbook, Misc. Vol. II)

At this time, Mabel had begun work on a manuscript entitled On Human Relations: A Personal Interpretation (1938), a description of the psychoanalytic method that she dedicated to Brill: “From whom I gathered whatever I know about psycho-analysis but not holding him responsible for my interpretations.”

 

Chapter Sixteen: Psychoanalysis Again in New York

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Mabel returned to New York in January 1938 and likely stayed some of the time with Brill, accompanied perhaps by Tony, who had also been invited, until she found a more permanent residence. A letter from Jelliffe to Mabel dated February 23, 1938 was addressed to her “c/o Dr. A. A. Brill, 15 West 70th Street” and indicated they met during this time: “It was nice of you to come to see me.” The Santa Fe New Mexican (March 9, 1938) reported that Mabel was “in New York with her husband, Tony Lujan of Taos pueblo this month. Mr. and Mrs. Lujan have been visiting Dr. A. A. Brill, the noted psychoanalyst, whom they entertained in Taos last summer.” Gioia Bernheim remembered their presence at dinner:

Mabel & Tony used to come to NYC regularly & my parents always gave a formal dinner party for them. Tony wore a tux but his hair & decorations were Indian style. He also brought his Tom Tom & played & sang after dessert. He never joined in any conversation during the evening & Mabel seemed to ignore him. The other guests would be prominent people selected to please Mabel. (personal communication, November 31, 1996)

 

Chapter Seventeen: Back in Taos

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After her arrival in Taos, Spud Johnson wrote a lively article in the New Mexico Sentinel (May 22, 1938) about Mabel's extended and transformative visit to New York:

Having left home during January in a more or less anti-social mood which she had nursed for a year, Mabel Dodge Luhan has returned to Taos after a New York whirl, completely “socialized.”

Slightly thinner, with a new, urban manner, she is starting things humming in Taos to a new and faster rhythm…the Big House is being opened, swept, dusted, repaired—and it begins to look like a real social season in Mabeltown this summer.

“Everything suddenly opened up,” she said…of her metamorphosis. “As soon as I got to New York, it was as though someone had pressed a button. I began to see hundreds of people and was on the go from morning to night every day for months…”

“Dr. Brill and his wife [are coming to Taos] on their way back from a ysychiatric [sic] convention in San Francisco. And of course Robin and Una Jeffers and the twins will arrive soon from Carmel. Carl Hovey and Sonia Levine [i.e., Sonya Levien] will come whenever they can get away from Hollywood.” (Misc. Vol. II)

 

Chapter Eighteen: The Jeffers Affair

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In her next letter to Brill, Mabel encloses the completed 100-page typescript of On Human Relations in her continued pursuit of its publication. She also mentions Myron Brinig's 1938 novel, May Flavin, which Time magazine pronounced as “written in a style as choked as the author's emotions” (June 27, 1938, p. 59), and announces that her current writing project features her in dramatic conflict with Brinig, mirroring the mutual distaste and anger that now characterized their friendship. A few days later, she writes again, asking Brill to send her an autographed photograph of himself.

δ

July 1 [1938]

Dear Dr. Brill,

This is the corrected copy of that MMS. There are many improvements I owe to you. I hope you like the new title too. Do you? I am giving you this copy and send[ing] two to my Curtis Brown agent. If it suits you to do so, will you please lend this one to Harry Burton to read—asking him to return it to you—because he really seems to like this effort…

 

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