"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Monday, February 21, 2022

Anna Bowman Blake Dodd

This charcoal portrait of Anna Bowman Blake Dodd by John Singer Sargent appeared in an exhibition of Sargent drawings at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. It belongs to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, given to them by Anna Bowman Blake Dodd in 1928.

Anna Bowman Blake Dodd

An inveterate traveler who spent much of her life in France, the American writer Anna Bowman Dodd had a gift for lively descriptions of the people and places she encountered. She was a popular and prolific author, writing for periodicals such as the New York Evening Post and Harper's Magazine and publishing more than twenty-five books, including vivid travelogues. Reflecting her skepticism toward socialism and feminism, Dodd's dystopian novella The Republic of the Future (1887) takes place in New York Socialist City in 2050. It envisions the deadening effect of an egalitarian and conformist society in which citizens “have the look of people who have come to the end of things and who have failed to find it amusing.” Sargent likely made this portrait while he and Dodd were both in Paris. She remained in France during World War I, carrying out relief work and raising funds for families in need. -- NPG

 The Academy's label reads:

Anna Bowman Blake Dodd·1848·1929
Author of “Three Normandy Inns” “Cathedral Days” “Talleyrand” & other books. This portrait by John Singer Sargent is  part of a bequest of funds and property made by her to the Academy, and this room is furnished from her Collection.

 Teresa Heffernan in The Reflexive Orientalist, reviews Dodd's biography.

Despite the exclusive social circles she traveled in, despite her prolific publication record, and despite her elite connections in London, Paris, and New York, there is very little biographical information on Anna Bowman (Blake) Dodd, who was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1855. She began writing at a young age, traveled to and studied in Europe, and first wrote short stories and essays on such varied subjects as church music, the Concord School of philosophy, carnivals in Rome, and nineteenth-century French politicians for Harper's Magazine and the Evening Post. She married Edward William Dodd in 1883 and, in addition to her literary career, she was, as one biographical note puts it, “busy with domestic duties,” running a “charming house in New York”; when Edward's health started to decline, they moved to Normandy (Willard 247). Edward Dodd came from a long established line and was, with his sister, the last descendent of John Hancock, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. Dying in Paris in 1929, Anna Dodd left the bulk of her estate to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City; the remainder of it went to a few friends in London, Paris, and New York; and to her servants and maids in France. She was buried in Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn, along with her husband, who had died before the war in 1909; her mother, Elizabeth Ann Blake, and her father, Stephen Mann Blake, both born in Massachusetts and of Scottish ancestry. Although there is no mention of an infant in the cemetery, an 1889 New York Times obituary announces the death of an unnamed baby of Edward W. and Anna Bowman Blake Dodd.

For a contemporary account see Dodd's entry in  A Woman of the Century by Frances Elizabeth Willard, and Mary Ashton Rice Livermore, 1893.

Anna Bowman Dodd is best known in our day for The Republic of the Future. Darby Lewis in Gynotopia, (Legacy , Fall 1989, Vol. 6, No. 2,  pp. 29-41) gives this description of it.

1887 Dodd, Anna Bowman (Blake). The Republic of the Future; or, Socialism a Reality. New York: Cassell. Reprint. New York: Irvington, 1968. This epistolary anti socialist dystopia records the observations of Wolfgang, a Swede who visits America in the winter of 2050. New York has become a Socialistic City: schools are state-controlled, and traditional religious and family values have been destroyed. Romance is seen as a casualty of equality, since “husband and wife are in reality two men having equal rights, with the same range of occupation, the same duties as citizens to perform, the same haunts and the same dreary leisure.” The society's advances --war and poverty have been abolished, and technological improvements have led to a two-hour work day-- seem to be out weighed by its regimentation and lack of excitement.

See Henry C. Adams's review in Science, 1887 or The Historical Dictionary of Utopianism, 2017. 

Dodd's remarks on birth control, “Malthusian doctrine”, were widely circulated in 1911, when various newspapers carried an article entitled Children are Welcomed, an excerpt from her article The Education of French Children in The Century Magazine,  December 1910, pp. 193-203.

Here's Anna Bowman Dodd as she appeared in a 1920 article on American women writers and their post-war popularity in France.

Anna Bowman Dodd
as she is to-day (1920)


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