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The Harvard Man In The Kremlin Wall
February 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 2
It is hard work to fill Madison Square Garden. The dollar and two-dollar seats remained almost empty until workers and strikers were let in free or at ten cents a seat. Instead of making money, the pageant ended with a deficit. The long strike was finally lost. But Jack did not stay to learn the results. The day after the pageant, he and Mabel left for Europe.
When he came to the Village he had a girl he wanted to marry. For the first five months, he wrote, “I was sentimental about it and remained chaste.” Then she was forgotten, and he followed a roving eye and fancy into a succession of affairs, all “wonderful” but none deep. When he told his current love, “Rose, I don’t love you; I love Mabel Dodge,” she shed a few tears on his shoulder and sobbed, “I am so unhappy,” then suddenly raised her eyes in surprise and said: “Why, no I’m not!” But his love for Mabel Dodge was different. It must have been a possessive, even oppressive passion. She owns herself to have been jealous of the stones of Venice, of the way he felt about history, and the way he said, “The things Men have donel” ("Past or present, I did not care what they had done … I jumped into the automobile and returned to Florence, leaving him there to it.") She was jealous of the Harvard friends who soon came to take him on stag explorations. She was jealous of Mexico and his life with Villa’s band, when Steffens had him sent there as a correspondent; jealous of the Great War when he became a correspondent in Europe.
Good-bye, my darling [he wrote in one such quarrel]You smother me. You crush me. You want to kill my spirit. I love you better than life but do not want to die in my spirit. I am going away to save myself. Forgive me. I love you. I love you. Reed.
Yet he returned, and the torment continued. Sud_ denly, after a year and some months, love for Reed died in her as swiftly as it had flared up. Yet he continued to count on it, had editors send her reports on him, wrote her of brief affairs with other girls and his enduring love for her.
For her part, she could not see why they “should not continue to be close friends.” She tried to house him as her guest in the attic of the farmhouse she took with Maurice Sterne, but he could not act out this desperate Village convention. “Why can’t people live their theories, anyway?” she cried. Not until December, 1915, was Jack able to break the spell. Then he wrote: I think I’ve found Her at last. She’s wild, brave and straight-and graceful and lovely to look at. In this spiritual vacuum, this unfertilized soil [he was writing from Portland where he was visiting his mother], she has grown (how, I can’t imagine) into an artist. She is coming to New York to get a job—with me, I hope. I think she’s the first person I ever loved without reservation.
The new love was Louise Bryant Trullinger, wife of a Portland dentist, unhappy with Portland and with her husband, hungering for New York and adventure. New York took on new radiance as Reed showed her its wonders. Thus began a stormy love, broken by intermittent affairs on both sides, yet continuing. In November, 1916, when Jack went to the hospital to get his ailing kidney removed, they were married. In 1917, and again in 1919, she went to Russia when Reed was there, the first time as a correspondent in her own right. She was with him in Moscow when he died.
Following Reed’s loves we have run ahead of his life as a writer. In November, 1913, he went to Mexico to report for the Metropolitan and the World . To Reed the Mexican Revolution was a pageant, a succession of adventures, a delight to the eye, a chance to discover that he was not afraid of bullets. His reports overflow with life and movement: simple, savage men, capricious cruelty, warm comradeship, splashes of color, bits of song, fragments of social and political dreams, personal peril, gay humor, reckless daring. Neither Steffens, who joined and counted on Venustiano Carranza, nor Reed, who celebrated the pastoral dreams and bold deeds of Pancho Villa, had any real notion of the Mexican maze. But Reed’s mingling of personal adventure with camera-eye close-ups lighted by a poet’s vision made superb reporting. The book he made of them, Insurgent Mexico , despite its careless ignorance of men, events, and forces, and even of Spanish, which he mangled in the ballads he quoted, was closer to the feeling of Mexico in revolution than most things that Americans have written on it. When he returned to New York, he found that he had a reputation as a war correspondent.