My desire to investigate Mabel's writing career and my participation earlier this year in two Taos-based events, both centered on D. H. Lawrence, inspired this post. On June 11th Katherine Toy Miller spoke on "Spiritual Connections: Georgia O'Keeffe and D. H. Lawrence" as part of the Taos Public Library summer lecture series, which included a tour of the D. H. Lawrence Ranch.
Lawrence home on the ranch. Photo: Linda Lambert, © 2011
In her talk Kathy addressed the spiritual and personal connections shared by the artist and the writer. Both found inspiration in nature, which drew them to depict the same locations in Taos. For example, when Lawrence first arrived in Taos in 1922 he visited, then wrote about Taos Pueblo; seven years later O'Keeffe depicted the same subject.
|Lawrence / O'Keeffe tree. Photo: Linda Lambert, © 2011|
One morning, on his second visit to Taos in 1924, Lawrence woke at the ranch (deeded to Frieda by Mabel in exchange for the original autograph manuscript of Sons and Lovers) to see the trunk of a big pine tree that rose up like a guardian spirit. He included the tree in St. Mawr (1925), the novella he wrote during his five-month stay. O'Keeffe later memorialized the same tree on the D. H. Lawrence Ranch with a painting originally titled "Pine Tree with Stars at Brett's in New Mexico" and now known as The Lawrence Tree (1929).
Although Lawrence and O'Keeffe never crossed paths, they had the "Tony" guest house in common. And through Mabel, both were led to or discovered places they portrayed in word and paint.
|Bill Haller, Steven and Geoff, Dorothy Brett's cabin*. Photo by Linda Lambert, © 2011|
Since then I’ve thought about Lawrence and the writing he did in New Mexico, which Geoff considers his best work. For months I’ve also been pondering Mabel’s writing. In recent research conducted for the profiles I’ve been assigned to write for the Remarkable Women of Taos media campaign, I found a reference to Mabel as a gifted writer. Moved to investigate this part of her life, I delved into various sources and discovered a career for which she has received little recognition. As part of my exploration I also looked at the published and unpublished manuscripts of both authors to see how their work might have connected. My studies revealed a deeper, longer relationship around writing between Lawrence and Mabel than I had imagined. Here’s what I found out.
Here is the only one who can really see this Taos country and the Indians, and who can describe it so that it is as much alive between the covers of a book as it is in reality.
Mabel wrote Lawrence after reading Sea and Sardinia. She told him about Taos and the Pueblo Indians, about Tony Lujan and herself, and relayed how much she wanted him "to come and know the country before it became exploited and spoiled." Lawrence responded from Taormina, Sicily on November 5, 1921 saying that he and the q-b [queen bee, Frieda] would like to come to Taos. Mabel hastened to complete Tony's house for the Lawrences, who finally arrived in Taos on September 11, 1922, D. H.'s 37th birthday. A week later in a letter to S. S. Koteliansky, the writer described Mabel as a rich American woman who lent him and Frieda a "new and very charming adobe house which she built for us: because she wants me to write this country up."***
Writing up the country up happened within days of Lawrence's arrival. After attending a 5-day Apache ceremony near Dulce (NM) with Mabel and Tony, he penned "Indians and an Englishman," his first New Mexico essay. The piece disappointed Mabel: he hadn't captured the essence of the Indians the way she wanted him to portray them. So it thrilled her when one evening Lawrence asked her to collaborate on a book.
He said he wanted to write an American novel that would express the life, the spirit, of America, and he wanted to write it around me--my life from the time I left New York to come out to New Mexico. To take my experience, my material, my Taos, and to formulate it all into a magnificent creation.
The next day Lawrence came to Mabel's home to begin their joint venture. This beginning, seemingly full of promise, came with a foreshadowing of what would transpire. Lawrence wasn't sure how Frieda felt about their collaboration. "She won't let any other women into my books." The next day he informed Mabel: "Frieda thinks we ought to work over in our house." When they arrived there, Frieda "stamped round, sweeping noisily, and singing with a loud defiance." (This incident sparked a life-long rivalry between the two women, but that's another story.)
Although their planned novel never appeared, Lawrence managed to write "The Wilful Woman," a short story about the journey that brought Mabel to Taos. While living in the Tony house, he also wrote several prose pieces and poems. By November, due to Mabel's overbearing ways, the Lawrences sought other quarters. They lived at the abandoned ranch twenty miles north of Taos that they later owned. With interim trips to Mexico and Europe, D. H. and Frieda spent contented months there on their two next visits in 1924 and 1925.
|Cover for the May 1924 issue of Laughing Horse|
During this time both Lawrence and Mabel had works published nationally in The Dial and locally in the Laughing Horse, a small magazine printed in Taos by Willard "Spud" Johnson. Poet, columnist and publisher, Spud worked for a time as Mabel's secretary and became a close friend of the Lawrences. In May 1924 he featured Mabel's poem "Ballad of a Bad Girl" in the Laughing Horse. Two lines in the poem describing a "very, very angry man/With blue, blue eyes and a red, red crest" refers to Lawrence. It was written to him as a reconciliatory offering after his return to New Mexico that spring. The only known response to Mabel's overture is Lawrence's illustration that accompanied her poem. I considered this a collaboration of sorts.
I might have stopped my investigation there, but as I read on in Mabel's book, Lorenzo in Taos, I made a discovery. Lawrence corresponded with Mabel from the time he returned to Europe in 1925 until shortly before his death in 1930. In parts of his letters, he occasionally made reference to his writing in progress or works he had submitted for publication. What surprised me was that he also commented and offered advice on Mabel's memoirs-in-progress. In 1926 Lawrence wrote that he was returning the "Villa" [Mabel's Villa Curonia period] manuscript which seemed all right--even though "a wee bit absurd, but expressive of the phase you wish to describe." Months later he noticed that Mabel's writing had "gone out of gear" perhaps because she didn't want to "do anymore." Lawrence advised her to "Let it rest, for a while." He also cautioned Mabel: "As for publishing the Memories, I don't think it's wise, while your mother lives." and "Don't write if you're out of mood. Don't force yourself. And wait for grace."
Lawrence recognized how Mabel's autobiographical history corroborated with his own views of life in the United States. He expressed this to her in his letter of April 12, 1926:
I should say it's the most serious "confession" that ever came out of America, and perhaps the most heart-destroying revelation of the American life-process that ever has or will be produced.
Three other volumes in the Intimate Memories series followed: European Experiences (1935), Movers and Shakers (1936), and Edge of Taos Desert (1937). She also wrote Taos and Its Artists (1947, a leading overview of the painters and sculptors from the art colony founders through the modernists of the 1940s. Up through the early 1950s Mabel continued to produce the occasional newspaper and magazine article, many dedicated to the history and culture of Taos.
Before any of her autobiographical works went to press, Mabel published Lorenzo in Taos, her memories of D. H. Lawrence. Following the book's 1932 printing in the United States, the Martin Secker company issued an edition printed in London in 1933. Since then her book and Lawrence's volumes written in and about New Mexico have influenced generations of Lawrence scholars, and attracted writers like Geoff Dyer to the area.
Lorenzo in Taos was Mabel's tribute to Lawrence. He also honored her. In his April 14, 1927 letter to Mabel, Lawrence related receiving and correcting the proofs for Mornings in Mexico, a book of essays that he liked. He added: "I inscribe the book to you...since to you we really owe Taos and all that ensues from Taos."
Adios for now,
** Unless otherwise noted, quotes are from Mabel's book Lorenzo in Taos (1932).
*** Quote from D. H. Lawrence and New Mexico, edited by Keith Sagar.
I am indebted to Linda Lambert, author and one of the Friends of D. H. Lawrence for allowing me to use her photos memorializing Steven and Geoff's visit, to Nita Murphy of the Center for Southwest Research, Taos for providing access to the D. H. Lawrence and Laughing Horse materials used in this post, and to Lois Palken Rudnick, Mabel's biographer, whose book Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds is my constant companion and reference source--and, as always, to my husband and in-house editor, Skip Miller. Thank you all.