The legendary autobiography, with all the naughty bits restored.
Actually, even the expurgated version of modern-dance pioneer Duncan’s account of her life, loves and art was frank enough to make it a scandalous success in 1927, the year she died at age 50. The passages deleted generally featured the names of people still alive or practices then considered beyond the pale, such as homosexuality or masturbation. (The sentences left in about unabashedly lesbian dancer Loie Fuller are often as obviously indicative of her sex life as the ones that were omitted.) The inclusion of this material doesn’t substantively change the nature of Duncan’s book, which remains one of the great documents of early-20th-century bohemianism and radicalism. She despised marriage, money and the bourgeoisie; she lived for Art (always with a capital A). Duncan’s unashamed self-love would have been absurd if she hadn’t expressed the same enthusiasm for other artists: Fuller, Eleanora Duse and Cosima Wagner are among the strong-minded women for whom she voices vivid appreciation; actors Henry Irving and Jean Mounet-Sully are among the men. The author’s portrait of visionary theatrical designer Gordon Craig, father of her first child, rings with fervent admiration for his genius as it unforgettably captures the domineering personality Duncan had to flee. Dance critic Joan Acocella’s surprisingly grudging introduction focuses on Duncan’s admitted solipsism and “willed naïveté,” somewhat at the expense of her groundbreaking impact as a dancer and a free woman. Yes, it was ridiculous of Duncan to think she had the right to teach modern Greeks how to dance and sing in the manner of their ancestors, and, yes, her endless recitations of the accolades showered on her get wearisome. But Isadora’s sublime faith in herself as a genius was the force that drove her life, and it gives her memoir its marvelous flavor.
A welcome new edition of a classic.