DUNCAN, ISADORA. (1878-1927). American dancer who introduced the art of interpretive dance. ALS. (“Isadora”). 2pp. 4to. Viareggio, (Circa November/December, 1913). On her monogrammed Neuilly stationery the address of which she has crossed out and replaced with, “Villa Rigatti, Viareggio, Italy.”
“I am here in a villa by the sea dying of despair – Eleonora Duse was here very ill but she has left – I am all alone & I have hardly left the courage to move. I feel I am at the end of all & my efforts were in vain. I struggled but the thing has killed me after all – Paris is in place [des] Vosges. Do you see him? Write me your plans. I have no force even to write – …”
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Isadora Duncan with her children Deirdre and Patrick, 1913
A visionary of modern dance, Duncan left the United States at 21 to pursue a career in Europe where her popular performances in Berlin, Budapest, Munich, Vienna, and other European cities, led to friendships with many notable contemporaries. Duncan’s success enabled her to open dance schools in France, Germany, Russia, and the United States.
However, her life changed forever following the death of her two children in a freak automobile accident. On April 19, 1913, seven-year-old Deirdre (her daughter with Edward Gordon Craig), three-year-old Patrick (her son with Singer Sewing Machine heir, Paris Singer, 1867-1932) and the children’s nanny drowned when their car slid into the Seine while the driver was in front cranking the stalled vehicle. Duncan later wrote movingly of her despair in her autobiography: “If this sorrow had come to me much earlier in life, I might have overcome it; if much later, it would not have been so terrible; but at that moment, in the full power and energy of life, it completely shattered my force and power,” (My Life, Duncan).
Raymond, her brother, persuaded Isadora to go with him to Corfu and Albania where she sought relief aiding refugees before returning home to Paris. But once in Neuilly she noted, “Everything about the place brought back only too keenly days when I had been happy. Soon I had the hallucination of hearing the children’s voices in the garden, and when, one day, I saw their clothes and toys scattered about, I broke down completely and realized that it would be impossible for me to stay in Neuilly… I went down over the Alps and down into Italy and continued my wanderings… One day, in a little town by the sea, I received a telegram which read, ‘Isadora, I know you are wandering through Italy. I pray you come to me. I will do my best to comfort you.’ It was signed Eleanora Duse,” (1858-1924), (ibid.).
Duncan joined the Italian actressat her nearby villa inViareggio where she found “courage from the radiance in Eleanora’s eyes. She used to rock me in her arms, consoling my pain, but not only consoling, for she seemed to take my sorrow to her own breast, and I realized that if I had not been able to bear the society of other people, it was because they all played the comedy of trying to cheer me with forgetfulness. Whereas Eleanora said: ‘Tell me about Deirdre and Patrick,’ and made me repeat to her all their little sayings and ways, and show here their photos which she kissed and cried over. She never said, ‘Cease to grieve,’ but grieved with me, and, for the first time since their death, I felt I was not alone. For Eleanora Duse was a super-being,” (ibid.). While at the villa, Duncan, desperate for another child, begged a local sculptor to sleep with her. She became pregnant and, in August 1914, gave birth to a boy who died shortly after delivery.
Duncan’s son Patrick had been fathered by her lover Paris Singer, heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune. Their liaison began in 1909 with Singer showering Isadora with expensive gifts including her home in Neuilly overlooking the Seine. They also occupied l’hotel Coulanges, referred to in our letter, which Isadora used for professional purposes from 1910-1912. Their relationship, however, was stormy as Singer became increasingly frustrated with Duncan’s behavior towards him and her free spirit. Their final falling out occurred in 1917 when Duncan publicly refused Singer’s gift of Madison Square Garden.
Eventually, Duncan overcame her grief and resumed her vocation, devoting the rest of her life to dance. Her brief marriage to the much younger Russian poet Sergei Yesenin made her unwelcome back home due to the anti-Communism hysteria prevalent in America. She lived out the last of her days in Nice where she, herself, died in a bizarre automobile accident after her scarf caught in the spokes of a wheel. Duncan remains a legend of modern dance, whose bohemian life and innovative technique continue to inspire performers around the world. Folded and in fine condition.
Glimpses of Isadora Duncan
Autograph Letter Signed Mourning the Tragic Death of Her Two Children: “I feel I am at the end of all… I struggled but the thing has killed me after all… I am… dying of despair”