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Summary Article: Luhan, Mabel Dodge
from Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature

Wealthy patron of avant-garde movements in art, literature, and politics, L. inspired both admiration and animosity in her contemporaries. Curiosity about her now centers on her memoirs of Gertude STEIN, D. H. Lawrence (Lorenzo in Taos, 1932), Robinson JEFFERS (Una and Robin, 1976), and many others, as well as on her long-standing admiration of the Pueblo Indians. An indefatigable hostess and intellectual social climber, she created salons in Italy (1902–12) and New York (1913–18) that attracted a combustible mixture of radical thinkers and celebrities such as Stein, John Reed, Max EASTMAN, Eleonora Duse, Lincoln STEFFENS, Carl VAN VECHTEN, and A. A. Brill. In 1918, she moved to Taos, New Mexico, where she married her fourth husband, a Pueblo Indian named Tony Luhan. Together they built the elaborate homestead that at different times sheltered Lawrence, Willa CATHER, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jeffers, and others over the next forty years.

L. was, by turns, graspingly needy and serenely impassive. Her uncertainty about her own identity allowed her to mimic and reinterpret the ideas and emotions of the people to whom she was attracted, and the resulting cross-pollination helped establish new territories of the imagination. She did not think or write systematically, but she exhibited an intuition and aggressive energy often associated with genius. She found her niche as a publicist and used her time and money to promote artists and causes that appealed to her prophetic instincts.

L. published a four-volume autobiography, Intimate Memories (1933–37), four volumes of memoirs, numerous essays, two stories, and left behind a cache of personal papers. Intimate Memories, which covers the first quarter of the 20th c., is her richest contribution to American literary history. Winter in Taos (1935), in which she celebrates the seasonal changes and perennial comforts of ranch life, reveals her as a poet of everyday sensualities and is her most readable work.

Bibliography Crunden, R., From Self to Society, 1919–1941 (1972) Hahn, E., M. (1978) Rudnick, L. P., M. D. L.: New Woman, New Worlds (1984)

Robin Beaty

© 2005 The Continuum International Publishing Group, Ltd

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