Posted by Debbi Benedict on September 27, 2016
I don’t really know how to start this post other than to say I loved this book! Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe by Dawn Tripp, is one of my favorites from this year. I just finished it an hour or so ago, so I don’t think it has totally settled inside of me. I have spent this past hour researching Georgia O’Keeffe and her paintings and going through my own library to find my books about her and her work. I know I definitely want to know more about this glorious woman. I know, “glorious woman” sounds rather banal and pedestrian, but I can’t put into words right now all that I am feeling. As I said, I need to let this all settle for a bit.
I have always liked Georgia O’Keeffe and her work. I have a few books about her, but have not read or studied in-depth about this icon. She seems so real to me now, though the book is a work of fiction, imagining what her thoughts and feeling were. The author was able to pull directly from Ms. O’Keeffe’s own letters, which were unsealed finally 25 years after her death in 1986 at the age of 98, along with many other scholarly sources to create a true to life story. It really is a tour de force.
The book seems almost mystical or like a religious experience for me. Her “thoughts” affected me so deeply.
It was interesting how at the beginning of their love story – Georgia and Alfred Stieglitz’s – she feels like he treats her as an equal and that others will see her that way. By the end, she wonders what her life and career would have been like if he had not controlled the dialogue of her marketing and how others saw her and her paintings and how he, as she says, tells her again and again, who she is or how he has made her out to be. He says to her, ” I will find the words to make you a star. I will make you great. I will frame you, hang you, explain your greatness. I will tell others what to think, what to adore.” Very Svengali like, don’t you think?
How Georgia reacted to Stieglitz’s affairs was, I think, quite common for that time. Sometimes it is just easier to stay together. But one thing rang true, he cheated on his first wife with her, and then he cheated on her repeatedly. Remind you of anyone – Brangelina?
Another thing that fascinated me was how much company they always had at the lake and how Georgia also visited people for long stretches at a time. Was that more common during that time period? I can’t even imagine staying with someone at their home for a month or so. Georgia does have to keep finding her own space though where she can work and just get away from everyone. I really identify with that!
I loved that Georgia had work that she kept as her own and work that she put out into the world. It was important to her and she felt like it needed to be that way. I feel that way also. I have some writing that just needs to be for me.
One of my favorite parts of the book was when she is asked to speak at the National Woman’s Party dinner and she tells them “that it matters – to earn one’s own living, to work hard, and to consider oneself an individual with rights and privileges and responsibilities – the most vital of which is self-realization.”
Her relationship with Stieglitz changes as she begins to make significant money from her paintings and when she has an interview with the Chicago Evening Post where SHE drives the interview and creates her own story. It is then that his affairs take hold and she feels he is doing it to punish her, which is probably true. The interview also changes the way other critics respond to her work and they begin to incorporate some of the her own terms and perspectives she used in her interview to describe her intent and vision. Isn’t it interesting how you can do that?
The writer and art patron, Mabel Luhan Dodge is another person I have been interested in for a long time and have several books about her on my to-read list. Though there was just a bit about her in this book, I enjoyed reading more about her. What a fun and interesting life she must have led. I really do need to buy those books on my list!
After she decides to move to New Mexico and not stay living with Stieglitz, she says, “Within a week, I’ve met myself again.” Sometimes, no matter how relationships are, good or bad, we need to take some alone time now and then, to meet ourselves once again. It is good for our souls.
Two parts towards the end of the book were very powerful for me. One where she says the letters she and Stieglitz exchange, ” I used to think the letters told the story of our life together, the truth of that strange beautiful love. But the letters were never who we were. They were who we wanted to be.” We rarely write letters anymore in this day and age. Now we record our life on things like Facebook. I use mine as somewhat of a scrapbook and when I scroll back through it, I think it tells the story of my life, but does it really? I think Facebook may be where we show who we want to be instead of who we actually are. What do you think?
The second part was at the beginning of the final chapter, the last few pages of the book. She says, “Looking back, it often seems it happened overnight. I became the old woman I was meant to be. Fiercely alone.” I am not sure I want to be fiercely alone as an old woman, but I do hope I become the woman I am meant to be in my old age. I especially hope I have the courage to be highly individual. I love that Georgia O’Keeffe was so herself, no make-up, no plastic surgery, her own style of dress. The photographs of her in her 80s and 90s are stunning. Why can’t we all be allowed, or allow ourselves, to find that beautiful?
Portrait by Arnold Newman
Portrait by Arnold Newman
I now want to visit her work in museums and most urgently, visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico and become immersed in all that Georgia O’Keeffe is and was. I love it when books awaken those types of feelings in me, don’t you?
Okay, so this was the end of our summer reading. My question to you, do you want me to continue with a fall series? As I have mentioned before, I can see by my stats that the book club is a popular part of my blog, but your comments have been getting fewer and fewer. The main reason I started this series was to have a discussion about each book, or at least get your feelings on each one. So, in saying that, please let me know if you would like me to continue. If so, I will release our fall picks, if not, I’ll scrap the idea. Thanks so much!