Friday, November 16, 2007


Mabel; A Biography of Mabel Dodge Luhan by Emily Hahn. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1977.

In every book about New Mexico, Santa Fe, or Taos, the name Mabel Luhan comes up again and again, so I needed to know more about her. Although there are newer biographies and books about Mabel Ganson Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan (1879-1962), I was interested in reading this one by Emily Hahn (1905-1997). Hahn was a freethinker and unconventional woman of her times, as was Mabel, who married and divorced three times before marrying Tony Lujan (Mabel changed the spelling later), a Pueblo Indian from the Taos Pueblo.

Mabel started out as Mabel Ganson in Buffalo, New York, born into a well to do family. During her life she spent time in New York City, in Florence, and in Taos, and was right in the thick of all sorts of societal movements. She “collected” people, and knew revolutionaries, labor leaders, Bolsheviks, writers, artists, early psychologists, and many of the “new women” of the time, including Margaret Sanger and Gertrude Stein. She was headstrong and willful; argumentative and ambitious. She married, divorced, and moved on again and again (and again) like an unstoppable force.

I was interested in learning about Taos history, and this book was tantalizing in its glimpses of the early artistic and literary colony that grew up there. D.H. Lawrence and his wife Gertrude make a tempestuous appearance in the book. Alice Corbin Henderson, Alice Henderson Rossin, and Witter (Hal) Bynner also appear—all of whom were interviewed for the book Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog.

The experience of reading the book was somewhat marred for me by the obvious dislike and almost scorn that Hahn had for her subject. She seemed to want to disprove every autobiographical statement that Mabel had ever made about her life. However, the author’s attitude actually ended up making me very curious about Hahn and her life, and it looks like that will be another subject for me to learn about.

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