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Unexamined Moments in the Life of Thorstein Veblen: Refining the Biographical References

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Second Conference of the International Thorstein Veblen Association
Severance Great Hall, Carleton College Northfield, Minnesota
30 May-1 June 1996


Russell H. Bartley
Department of History
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

*The author is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and wishes to acknowledge that institution's support of his Veblen research. He expresses his gratitude as well to the staffs of the Minnesota Historical Society, the Special Collections Department of the Stanford University Libraries, and the Manuscript Division of the U.S. Library of Congress. He is especially indebted to Charles Sims of Menlo Park, CA, who on two occasions made it possible to examine Veblen papers in his possession, many of which he has since donated to the Carleton College Archives, in Northfield, MN. The author acknowledges with particular pleasure the assistance of his wife and co-researcher, Sylvia, whose constant collaboration makes this paper very much a joint effort.

[Nota bene: This paper represents work in progress,
wherein archival material is quoted without prior authorization from the repositories of origin. Any published reference to this paper should be framed accordingly.]

In our previous research on Thorstein Veblen's connection to Washington Island, Wisconsin, we suggested that there were significant lacunae in the biographical record of the legendary scholar and that, despite the ponderous legacy of the late Joseph Dorfman,2 much remains to be discovered about the man Veblen was. Indeed, it seemed to us, there were grievous faults in Dorfman's imposing work which, overshadowed by sheer scholarly mass, had entered the literature on Veblen as accepted truths--truths that did not necessarily tolerate close scrutiny; that in the half century since Veblen's death had often grotesquely distorted his persona; and which, perhaps, had also prejudiced critical appraisals of Veblen's place in the intellectual history of the past hundred years.

Since the inaugural meeting of the ITVA in February 1994, where we first outlined the implications of our Washington Island research,3 we have delved further into the extant sources for Veblen's life, many of them newly recovered from family heirs and only now available to scholars, based upon which we conclude that all previous assumptions about Veblen originating with Joseph Dorfman must be reexamined. Dorfman, in fact, got very little right in his portrayal of Veblen the man. So pronounced are the distortions--gratuitous we are inclined to think--that they would, as Stephen Edgell notes, seem to tell us more about Joseph Dorfman than they do about Thorstein Veblen.4

One need not turn to new sources, however, to recognize the necessity of reappraising Dorfman's Thorstein Veblen and His America.5 The evidence is plainly at hand in the work itself. Here, as well as in his later study, New Light on Veblen,6 Dorfman offers (and ignores) evidence which negates the very picture he draws of Veblen as the alienated, culturally marginalized academic who cared little for teaching, lacked social graces and perversely violated accepted norms of human conduct.7

Dorfman's further failure to document his sources with the requisite rigor of postwar scholarship should have alerted Veblen scholars long ago. His subsequent attempt to redress that failure with the inclusion of 398 footnotes--many of them lengthy explications or verbatim excerpts from original sources--in his 326-page introduction to Veblen's Essays, Reviews and Reports (1973), while useful, is nonetheless vitiated by the absence of a proper index to facilitate access to the documentation contained in those notes. Both volumes, each in its own way, frustrate the scholarly enterprise and thus call attention to Dorfman's unable handling of the voluminous sources available to him.

In light of these manifest deficiencies, as we have noted in our earlier research, it is quite remarkable "that for the past sixty years virtually all scholars writing on Veblen have deferred to a single biographer, Joseph Dorfman, for perspective on Veblen's life and personality." (The lesson to be learned from this, observes Edgell, "is not that Dorfman blazed a false trail, but that so many others followed it uncritically."9) Even more remarkable, in our view, is the failure of interested scholars to critique Dorfman's 1934 volume as the genre it purports to be.

Directly stated, Thorstein Veblen and His America is not a biography. Not, at least, by any acceptable convention of critical inquiry. It is rather a chronicle of intellectual productivity interspersed, often arbitrarily, with biographical data--some true, some questionable, others patently false; all disconnected from anything approaching a coherent reconstruction of Veblen's life.

The biography proper is confined to the initial 89 pages of Dorfman's 518-page text (five chapters out of 24), where he traces the first 35 years of Veblen's life. Thereafter, Dorfman offers readers disconnected biographical fragments strewn across the book's remaining 429 pages: a few paragraphs on Veblen's life in Chicago in chapter 15; several on his life at Stanford in chapter 16; a number of paragraphs on the Missouri years in chapter 17; a few more on Veblen in the nation's capital in chapter 19. Two paragraphs in chapter 21 recount Veblen's move to New York City and his second wife's conimitment to a mental institution (p. 411); two more describe his meeting with the Soviet representative, Ludwig Martens (pp. 426-427).

In chapter 22, Dorfman devotes a single paragraph to Veblen's time on Washington Island (p. 452), a second to his 1920 trip to California (pp. 455-456), and a third to his rooming arrangements in the house of Alice Boughton and Mildred Bennett (p. 450), while making only passing reference to Veblen's presence at the New School for Social Research. He comments on the death of Veblen's first wife, Ellen Rolfe, and records his subject's final remove to California in two paragraphs at the close of chapter 23 (p. 496). He devotes a total of eight pages to Veblen's retirement years in chapter 24 (pp. 497-504).

Dorfman's pioneering study of Thorstein Veblen, it follows, is neither "meticulous," 10 "conscientious," 11 nor "exhaustive,"12 much less "definitive," as Melvin Brockie characterized it in 1958 13 and Jack Diggins too quickly repeated twenty years later.14 Empirically, the work is "massive," as Rick Tilman has described it. And it does provide "an able analysis of Veblen's economics and sociology." But it fails roundly, in Tilman's words, "to offer a clear or consistent portrayal of [Veblen] as a human being."15

To a considerable degree this failure would appear to be rooted in the author's own personal circumstance. Joseph Dorfman, after all, was a very young man when he commenced his inquiry into the life and times of Thorstein Veblen--much too young to have gained the life experience that would have enabled him to comprehend a man nearly half a century his senior. He had not yet celebrated his 21st birthday when, fresh from undergraduate studies at Reed College, he first approached Andrew Veblen about Andrew's renowned younger brother; he was barely 30 when Thorstein Veblen and His America appeared in print.16 As bright and intellectually gifted as Dorfman clearly was, he simply had not lived enough to plumb the emotional depths of people decades beyond his years. (Which of our own students might we deem sufficiently wise to make sober sense of the lives we ourselves have led? Little wonder that Veblen dismissed Dorfman as a viable biographer!)

Having accomplished the evidently heady leap from Portland, Oregon, to pre-Depression New York City and--by virtue of his exceptional faculties--gained admittance into the rarified academic circles of that singular metropolis, the young Dorfman lost, it would appear, whatever perspective he might have had on himself, his own immigrant origins, and the America of others. Manhattan became his chosen window on the world; he himself a caricature of the myopic New Yorker whose perception blurs at the Palisades. Civilization, it seems, resided in the City; savagery in the broad hinterland west of the Hudson River.

It is doubtful that Dorfman ever grasped the reality of rural America, certainly not in the years he was engaged on the Veblen project. Indeed, the scholastic hubris with which he presumes--at age 26--to instruct Andrew Veblen on the evidentiary requirements of scholarship and why he, Joseph Dorfman, had been correct in his appraisal of the Veblens' cultural and linguistic marginality (Andrew's persuasive evidence to the contrary notwithstanding) bespeaks both metropolitan parochialism and an inflated sense of self peculiar to academic novitiates.

"Any writer in the academic world is expected to judge his evidence," he pretentiously informed the distinguished professor emeritus. "He is in the last analysis responsible for what he says and cannot simply say 'I read it' or 'somebody told me that'. Upon him rests the duty to be careful of his sources. He is not supposed to be an 'innocent babe'."17

In light of Dorfman's subsequent, egregious mishandling of sources in support of undocumentable preconceptions about Thorstein Veblen, this defensive protestation of the scholar's obligation to handle sources with professionalism stands as a severe indictment of Dorfman himself.

The essential preconception on which Dorfman hangs his interpretation of Veblen, of course, is Veblen's alleged existential marginality, which Dorfman pretends to explain with a priori assumptions about the nature of the Scandinavian immigrant experience in the Upper Midwest. Key to Veblen's purported cultural angst in Dorfman's scheme is language, that is, Veblen's assumed late acquisition and thus imperfect command of English in an English-dominant society. It is, in sum, a classic conceptual fallacy to which graduate students all too easily fall prey (and for which Dorfman's academic mentors must also be held accountable): the unsubstantiated deductive premise for which evidence is then sought.

To Dorfman's assertions that Thorstein "knew no English when he entered Carleton" and that this illustrated "the effective cultural segregation of the Norwegian settlement" in which the Veblens lived, Andrew responded that it was "really incomprehensible that an advanced student in a high-standard institution could make such statements awake and conscious.18 After recounting the school textbooks, dime novels, handbooks, Harper's Weekly and other English-language reading material readily available to a voracious reader like Thorstein in that very same "culturally segregated Norwegian settlement," Andrew offered Dorfman the following firsthand testimony:

Thorstein had English-speaking playmates as early as he could toddle 1/8 of a mile to the nearest neighbor; and before that the neighbor's children were daily at our house or in the yard. His four older brothers and sisters knew and spoke English, with these other children, and more and more between themselves. Thorstein was sent to school before he filled 5 years. He had a bilingual training in speech, from the start. When he came to Carleton he spoke as correct and idiomatic English as any of the young people he encountered, and his "rhetoricals"... at once attracted attention for his facility in the use of idiomatic English.19

"Even though one may be only one mile or so from the Yankees and one may do business with them," Dorfman countered obdurately, "it does not follow that the Norwegian would learn English.

"If you should come to New York," he insisted, "I would show you within five minutes walk from Columbia, areas where only Spanish is spoken, areas where only Italian is spoken, areas where only Jewish is spoken. These people have seen Americans and so forth but they and their children live the life of their people in the old country."20

The sources on which he had based his assertion about Thorstein's ignorance of English, Dorfman informed Andrew, were two Carleton classmates and remarks on the subject allegedly made by Veblen himself as reported by former acquaintances. "Thorstein always said he learned English as a foreign language," Dorfman argued. "It is obvious that he must have learned it late and not at an early age, say 5"21

"The persons who told you that [Thorstein] knew no English," Andrew replied, "told you what was not so." As for his younger brother's reported statement to the effect that he had learned English "as a foreign language," he had not meant what Dorfman understood. Thorstein's real native language, Andrew explained, was Valdris and all the languages he subsequently acquired were in that sense foreign, including literary Norwegian, which he learned to read only after he had learned to read English.22

Endeavoring to put the question of Thorstein's mastery of English to rest, together with the corollary matter of his alleged cultural alienation, Andrew gave Dorfman his fullest, most persuasively explicated account of language acquisition among the Veblen children:

I wrote you before that my younger brother and sister had English-speaking playmates with whom they mingled daily from the time of Thorstein's birth. They were the children of a protestant Irishman who lived about an eighth of a mile away. There were several, at ages to fit them well as playmates of all of ours. When the weather permitted the children mingled every day. The father was a man of extensive reading and spoke good English, and the children spoke correct English. Thorstein could not help learning English as early as he could articulate words; and I know he did. There were other protestant Irish families with whom we sometimes mingled. In our school district the Norwegians and these orangemen usually stood together, as against the Catholic Irish, for the control of the school. Of the different teachers we had 3 were Catholics, 7 were protestants. Th[orstein] was early sent to school -- not quite five. His first teacher was Valencia Eldridge, who was very fond of him. Under the circumstances he could not grow up ignorant of English. By the time he was 17 he had read a great deal (a voracious reader you call him). Much of this had been in Norwegian; but our material in that language was scant. By far the greater part had been in English, much of it fiction, but everything else that we could obtain. He knew every word in the "National" spelling book, and synonyms and opposites of every word. Long before this he could not be spelled down on any word in the series of readers and spellers used. It was taken as a mild scandal that he spelled down the teachers. Before 17 he knew Norwegian well enough to write verses (and a lot of them) with facility; and he did the same in English. Along the south side of the Norwegians was a large settlement of Germans. Naturally Th[orstein] came in contact with them. So he learned German and spoke it without difficulty. Indeed he never studied German in school, so far as I can find out, still he read Kant and other difficult German matter that he got out of Mr. Pentz's library, before he had any formal training in the language. In addition to this, he knew the principal Norwegian dialects, not only to understand them, but he could speak them with their individual idiom. Some of these dialects differ in the same degree as the Swedish and Danish languages.23

Moreover, the erudition for which Veblen became known rested precisely on the extensive reading he had done as a young man--principally in English-- of fiction, history, mythology, and general science. It required "a grotesque imagination," Andrew admonished, to conceive that Thorstein had arrived at Carleton ignorant of English.24

While Dorfman was finally persuaded to modify his assessment of Veblen's language acquisition and in his 1934 opus refrains from asserting that Veblen knew no English upon entering Carleton, he could never quite let go of that first facile preconception. In his extended introduction to the 1973 edition of Veben's Essays, Reviews and Reports, he quotes B. K. Nordfeldt as stating that Veblen had once told him that "until he was nine or ten his speech was Norwegian and that Latin came next, on which English was built." In the same footnote he writes that, according to Ellen Rolfe Veblen, Thorstein "knew practically no English" when he entered Carleton. He records as well Mildred Bennett's recollection of a conversation in which Veblen had told her that "his English was quite limited when he entered Carleton."25

Returning to Dorfman's observations about the closed immigrant communities within five minutes' walk of Columbia University, Andrew suggested that one had first to know the cultural and economic background of "the great folk-wandering that made the Middle West" and created the conditions in which the more recent immigrant currents had "brought about the present conditions in the cities" and "largely changed the complexion" of the eastern part of the country. Such knowledge, however, could be acquired only through "a great deal of study" and "years of voluminous reading" -- which Andrew Veblen had in fact done and, as he here implied, Joseph Dorfman had not. Andrew did not blame Dorfman for not having acquired knowledge that youth precluded but did criticize him, and severely, for being "so crassly ignorant of [his] own ignorance as to build up a fantastic misconception of the matter and on that basis account for what thus proves (naturally enough) a condition and influence in the evolution of Thorstein's personality."26

"My quarrel with you," Andrew reiterated, "is because you presume to understand [the Norwegian immigrant reality] so as to use it in accounting for the making of a peculiarly elusive (your own word) personality."27 And Dorfman, manifestly, did not understand -- could not or, less charitably, would not understand. Whatever the case, from the outset he reverts to a pattern of a priori reasoning and selective documentation that violates the scholarly canon and consequently vitiates the end product, just as Andrew Veblen had feared.

That Dorfman relies consistently on hearsay evidence to bolster his preconceived notion of Thorstein Veblen as a culturally alienated intellect rather than consider the richly nuanced, firsthand testimony to the contrary offered by Veblen's erudite sibling illustrates perfectly the flawed scholarship on which Thorstein Veblen and His America rests. Dorfman's failure to acknowledge the wealth of information generously given him by Andrew Veblen, in turn, was at once shameful and deceptive. That he failed to consider that information and to accommodate his rendering of Thorstein Veblen to it is inexcusable--a sin of commission for which both he and his academic mentors must bear the guilt.28

Dorfman's incompetent handling of Veblen's family background is compounded by the contorted personality he fashions from that background (as Andrew had anticipated)--a portrait that has prevailed in scholarly opinion down to the present. Despite his professed admiration for Veblen, the mental image he conjures of the man remains a twisted composite of negative qualifiers: "odd," "queer," "aloof," :conceited," "contemptuous," "supercilious," "indolent," "moody," "maladjusted," "insincere," "cynical," "mischievous," "rustic," "unkempt." Acknowledged qualities of patience, generosity, sensitivity, wit, humor and intellect fail to stem Dorfman's incessant repetition of offensive traits, which he invariably proffers on the basis of unsubstantiated informant testimony--the very same kind of testimony that he assures Andrew Veblen is inadmissible to the academic writer. Just as he shows no judgment in according greater weight to the recollections of former friends and acquaintances than to the firsthand testimony of Veblen's learned brother, Dorfman demonstrates a striking inability to discriminate among his sources generally. Time and again he simply repeats what "somebody told him."

The perverse effect to which this undisciplined practice has worked is well illustrated by the apocryphal tale of the hornets' nest, which Dorfman attributes to Leon Ardzrooni and repeats as fact. According to Ardzrooni, he writes,

Veblen, in one of his walks, found a hornet's [sic] nest and shortly thereafter met a farmer with an empty sack. He asked the farmer if he could borrow the sack for a short while, returned to the nest, put the hornets into it, returned the sack to the farmer, and said, "thank you." The farmer,says Ardzrooni, is still looking for Veblen.29

The account is doubtful on its surface. Dorfman, apparently untutored in the ways of the natural world, neglects to consider the nature of hornets and the practical difficulty of introducing an active nest into a sack If the incident happened at all, the nest was more likely an empty remnant of the previous season utilized in good humor to josh a local neighbor--or, perhaps, to tweak in the telling a gullible Ardzrooni, the gentleman raisin farmer from Fresno.

Dorfman offers no credible evidence that this incident ever occurred. Nor does he clarify whether it was actually witnessed by his informant or in fact recounted to him at some later date by Veblen himself. Yet prominent scholars have accepted this tale uncritically as evidence of perversity in Veblen's personality. It reveals "a buried sadism," avers David Riesman.30 It indicates that Veblen's sense of fun "verged on the sadistic," echoes Jack Diggins.31 Neither Dorfman nor the others who have taken the tale of the hornets' nest at face value demonstrate the slightest appreciation of rural humor. None, certainly, has ever attempted to bag live hornets.

Far more serious than this unsubstantiated attribution of quirky comportment, however, is Dorfman's portrayal of Veblen as a licentious philanderer who is amorously intimate with university coeds, faculty wives and shadowy ladies "who move in on him"--behavior that allegedly costs him his teaching positions at Chicago and Stanford and which, true or false, further marginalizes him as an erratic personality, with the attendant implication that his intellect, too, is flawed. Several factors would appear to have conspired to produce this prejudicial picture of Veblen, including, of course, his one (and only) documentable extramarital relationship--while married to Ellen Rolfe--with the woman who would in time become his second spouse, Ann Fessenden Bradley.

Dorfman's youth seems also to have been a factor, for considering the normal course of human development it is doubtful that, still in his twenties, he had fully come to terms with his own sexuality. Not marrying until his Veblen manuscript was nearing completion (June 1932), he lacked the experience of conjugal relations that might have afforded him some personal insight into Veblen's emotional life. Much of what Dorfman writes in this regard seems more the product of hormone-driven male fantasy than the result of mature scholarship.

One must also take into account the larger context of prevailing institutional norms and societal mores in which Veblen's violations of accepted behavior have been interpreted. The failure of Dorfman's academic mentors to provide proper guidance on this problematic aspect of his dissertation and the readiness of later scholars to embrace his salacious rendition of Veblen's private life says more about the repressed nature of American sexuality than it does about Thorstein Veblen. (American academics seem obsessed with Veblen's sex life, Franco Ferrarotti pointedly remarked at the inaugural ITVA meeting. For European scholars, such matters are inconsequential, have little bearing on Veblen's intellectual legacy, and therefore merit scant attention.32) Jack Diggins, by way of example, extrapolates from Thorstein Veblen and His America to sketch a likeness of Veblen even more grotesque than Dorfman's raw depiction: Veblen, Diggins writes, led "an inspired love life" characterized by "libertinism" and "unconcealed womanizing."33 He was a "notorious philanderer" who delighted "in shocking the sensibilities of Victorian America."34

In the same exasperating manner that Dorfman frequently avers the very opposite of what the evidence he presents would indicate, Diggins acknowledges in one breath that Veblen's relations with women constitute "one of the least documented affairs in American cultural history," only to insist in the next that Veblen was an incorrigible profligate. "Any person's love life is a challenge to serious scholarship," he cautions. And Veblen "is a frustrating cul-de-sac." Be that as it may, he incautiously hastens to add, "there is no question that throughout his professional life [Veblen] was involved in one affair after another, once with a colleague's wife who later became the mistress of Anatole France."35

Diggins ought to have heeded his own sober counsel and eschewed these ad hominem assertions first proffered by Joseph Dorfman, for in actual fact no one has yet presented credible evidence that Thorstein Veblen was ever involved in "one affair after another"--not in Chicago, not at Stanford; neither before nor since. (It is roundly curious, in this regard, that one finds not even a whisper of sexual impropriety on Veblen's part prior to his arrival in Chicago, that is, throughout the first 35 years of his life. Are we to believe that of a sudden, at life's midpoint, his virility burst its restraints, loosed by the hedonism of turn-of-the-century Hyde Park?) Diggins' allusion to the "colleague's wife who later became the mistress of Anatole France"--taken straight from Dorfman--is a particularly infelicitous reference that illustrates the proclivity of some American academics to bestud Veblen's imputed erotic exploits. (A subliminal celebration of his fancied prowess?) It also highlights a case of purposeful source manipulation that again raises questions about Dorfman's Veblen scholarship more broadly.

The colleague to whom Diggins here refers was Oscar Lovell Triggs, an instructor of English on the Chicago campus who, like Veblen, offended the academy's sense of decorum and institutional wisdom;36 Triggs' wife was Laura McAdoo, sister of Woodrow Wilson's Treasury Secretary, William Gibbs McAdoo,37 and at the time of her liaison with Anatole France, the engaging 35-year-old divorce, Madame Gagey--or as France preferred to call her, la belle Floridienne.38 The import of this reference lies in the suggested linkage between Veblen's alleged affair with the glamorous Mrs. Triggs and his subsequent departure from the University of Chicago.

Dorfman provides few particulars in Thorstein Veblen and His America, stating only that "in 1904, when Veblen returned from a trip to Europe during which he had been seen in the company of one of his admirers, he found it advisable to look for another position."39 In the 1973 volume, now in the fullness of maturity yet unable to reconsider the assumptions of his youth, he inserts the additional information about Laura McAdoo's involvement with Anatole France. And five years later, in The Bard of Savagery, Diggins repeats the story, now asserting what Dorfman had only implied, namely that Veblen did indeed have an affair with Laura McAdoo and that his association with the University of Chicago "came to an end when he scandalized the authorities by traveling to Europe with [her]."40

Both Diggins and Dorfman seem captivated by Veblen's imputed ability to share the bed of a woman who also bestows her amorous charms on an icon of French belles lettres. Dorfman in particular embellishes the relationship by attributing an importance to McAdoo in the life of Anatole France that she did not have. "She played an important role in the development of one of Europe's finest writers," he affirms, playing fast and loose with the evidence at hand. (Over thirty years her senior, France was quite fully developed by the time he met the former Mrs. Triggs.) France's liaison with Laura McAdoo, Dorfman writes citing biographer David Tylden-Wright, "was one of his most serious affairs. She had literary taste and some talent. France helped her with some articles and she was his audience for much of Les Dieux ont Soif. This novel of the French Revolution and the Terror is considered his greatest."41

Apparently wishing to link Veblen to the risqué circles of trans-Atlantic haute culture, Dorfman selectively takes from Tylden-Wright only what serves that end. He deceptively alters Tylden-Wright's statement that France's involvement with McAdoo was "his most serious love affair since he had lost [his wife]" to the assertion that it was "one of [France's] most serious affairs." He neglects, moreover, to note that this relationship survived but a matter of months and ended tragically when, spurned by France, McAdoo took her own life.42

As for Laura McAdoo's purported influence on the renowned writer, it could hardly have been decisive given their respective life chronologies and the brevity of their intimacy. Even in the case of Les Dieux ont Soif, notes Tylden-Wright, she must share whatever influence may rightfully be hers with France's deceased spouse, during whose life France had commenced the work. But more than to either woman, Tylden-Wright insists, "Les Dieux ont Soif belongs to France himself," for into the revolutionary experience of the late 18th century he "transfused his own life experience." He played out "not only the revolutionary drama, but his own personal drama, the conflict between his love of life... and his fear of the various eventualities which he saw as pitfalls lying only lightly below the surface."43

In Dorfman's mind, however, the exotic Laura McAdoo remains too attractive a figure among Veblen's diverse coterie of acquaintances not to associate her more intimately with Veblen, which he accomplishes by reporting his discovery of a first edition of The Theory of Business Enterprise inscribed: "To Mrs. Laura McAdoo Triggs, With all my heart. Thorstein Veblen."44 The inscription, he implies, is suggestive of illicit romance. That he should think so speaks eloquently of the neurotic sense of sexuality so prevalent in American gender relations, both in Veblen's day and in our own.

This groundless assumption, in turn, inclines Dorfman to explain Veblen's exit from the University of Chicago as a consequence of this latest in a purportedly long series of trysts outside his marriage. (The apocryphal tale of Veblen's once having replied to President Harper's expression of concern for the moral health of faculty wives that "he had tried them all and they were no good," continues to be recounted with evident delight by otherwise sober scholars.45) In the McAdoo-Triggs matter, however, Dorfman possessed clear evidence to the contrary, which he both ignored and concealed from his readers, to wit: Veblen's own account of the incident as related in a letter to his friend, Jacques Loeb.46

Veblen's situation at Chicago, he informed Loeb, had never been good and recently had become quite untenable, Harper having given him notice that he should "look for no recognition or advancement" and would be let go "whenever it can be done without inconvenience." He was being kept on the staff "as a concession to Professor Laughlin" rather than by Harper's choice. "The president's growing dislike," he wrote, "is connected with the scandalous gossip which has apparently reached you, being the cause of it rather than the effect." Harper's own office, Veblen assured Loeb, was the source of that gossip.47 "At the risk of tiring you with loose talk," he continued,

I will give you an outline of the last half-year's adventures. They are not of such a character as to command belief on the part of anyone not familiar with the methods of our executive. By way of premise, during last year the wife of one of the faculty [Laura McAdoo Triggs] attended one of my courses of lectures. This man (Oscar L. Triggs] was also persona non arata with the president, at the same time that he is a friend of mine. Also, I had left over from the manuscript of the book on Business Enterprise a somewhat long chapter which offered an analysis of the working of business enterprise in the administration of a university. This chapter I proposed to publish as a separate small volume, and in the search for a publisher the manuscript came into the hands of the president. The argument was, of course, of an entirely impersonal character, but the president was apparently not pleased with it and seems to have seen in it some reflexion on the regime here. This was in June last. At the close of the school year I went to Europe for the summer, as did also the man and woman spoken of above, with their child. Hurried counsel was taken to dismiss me from the university on the ground of my having brought the institution into disrepute. No intimation was given me of this proposed action, which after all failed to come to anything because the newspapers refused to print the reports given them. The matter being libellous, the papers refused to print it without some one among their informants taking the responsibility, but these informants who made up the story, being also aware that it was libellous, and having nothing to fall back on, were unwilling to vouch for it. So it fell through, leaving nothing but an added degree of ill feeling between the president and me, and such damage to my reputation as these endeavors were calculated to yield.

"Under these circumstances," Veblen concluded, I should be glad to leave this place."46

No countervailing evidence available to Dorfman or any other scholar to date approaches this document in its credibility and persuasive force. It is consistent with what is known about Veblen's traditional sense of rectitude (not even his severest detractors depict him as deceitful) and concords well with the prevailing state of affairs on the University of Chicago campus at the time. Veblen and Triggs, in turn, shared a disdain of conspicuous propriety, challenged conventional wisdom, and indeed appear to have been good friends.49 There is no reason to doubt Veblen's assertion in his letter to Loeb that he and Triggs were friends still, six months after their return from Europe, a dubious proposition had there been any impropriety in Veblen's relationship with Triggs' spouse. The presence of the couple's child makes such an allegation all the more improbable, unless one can show Veblen to have been a thoroughgoing degenerate, which the evidence simply does not support.

Dorfman had access to this letter and actually quotes a portion of it in his 1973 volume, specifically Veblen's comments about Harper's displeasure with his manuscript on business enterprise in university administration.50 Yet he studiously avoids any reference to the remainder of the letter, which bears centrally on the reason for Veblen's departure from Chicago, suppressing, in effect, evidence that tends to negate the more lurid version of events which he and others seem to prefer.

Press coverage at the time, moreover, would appear to substantiate Veblen's account of the matter, which raises the further question of why Dorfman neglected to utilize this elementary source. (Why has no other scholar done so?) On 20 June 1906, to cite a ready example, the morning edition of The Chicago Record Herald carried a major front-page story headlined: "Professors Resign; Mystery on Midway. Five Men Quit University Faculty in OneDay.

"Another 'faculty mystery,'involving the resignation of five members of the teaching staff, has arisen at the University of Chicago," the article announced. "The five professors severed their relations with the university yesterday, some of them declaring in explanation that the big school, with its $20,000,000 endowment from John D. Rockefeller, was not able to pay them sufficient salary." University administrators countered that the resignations "were perfectly incidental" and "not the result of university poverty."

Among the five faculty members who tendered their resignations was "Thorstein Veblen, assistant professor of political economy and author of the two much discussed books, 'The Theory of the Leisure Class' and 'The Theory of Business Enterprise'." University counsel and business manager, Wallace Heckman, "declared that one of the professors was 'let go,' but declined to give the reason for the dismissal." It was rumored, the paper reported, "that Professor Veblen might be the one in question, as his 'Theory of the Leisure Class' expressed many radical views on political economy. The professor denied that he had been discharged."52

There is not a word in this account to suggest possible improprieties as the reason for Veblen's departure from Chicago, only the obvious suspicion that he had been let go because of his "radical views." What had offended university authorities, as Max Lerner long ago remarked, "was less [Veblen's] unstable menage than his dangerous thoughts," for which they "got back at him in many ways."53 Veblen's academic fame, concurs J. K. Galbraith more recently, "came also from the reaction of the presidents of the institutions in which he taught," who, on perceiving the "grave discontent" his views occasioned among "college trustees and the adjacent business community, found it wise to have him move elsewhere.

There is at work here an elementary sociological principle: quirks of personality commonly ignored in the ideological conformist are not tolerated in the intellectual heretic. Where the heretic's ideas challenge the dominant belief system and cannot readily be refuted on the plane of rational discourse, they are discredited through ad hominem attacks on the individual who articulates them. Typically, those who engage in such personal vilification are themselves fast defenders of the prevailing wisdom, which is, in effect, the primary mechanism for mediating power in society. By force of his ideas, Lerner reminds us, Veblen threatened to pull the temple down upon the Philistine's heads, for which he was predictably reviled.55

Precisely how otherwise disciplined scholars have found it possible to indulge in what amounts to a gratuitous, self-perpetuating execration of Veblen's personality would require a careful inquiry into the personal history of each one. In Joseph Dorfman's case, there is perhaps room to speculate about a felt need to surmount his own immigrant background and that very sense of cultural alienation which he so insistently attributes to Veblen. More to the point for purposes of the present argument, however, is the disconnected nature of the biographical information about Veblen which Dorfman offers scholars and the failure of most of these same scholars to grasp that disconnectedness.

"Veblen was surely one of the strangest creatures ever to walk in the groves of academe," hyperbolizes Jack Diggins, blissfully oblivious to the strange, often wondrous fauna who inhabit the academy all around him. Examining what he describes as a "rare photograph" of Veblen, Diggins imputes qualities of stolidity, quizzicality and shrewdness to the eyes that "peer out" from Veblen's "lean, rough face."56 In this same photograph, Robert Heilbroner sees "peasant eyes" behind a "blunt nose," an "unkempt mustache" that "hides" the mouth, a "short scraggly beard," and "lank, flat" hair that is parted in the middle of "a gnomelike head" and which falls "in an inverted V over a low and sloping forehead."57 (Did he not drag his knuckles, simianlike, on the ground as well?, one wants to ask.)

Veblen covered his "Norwegian peasant physiognomy," Diggins tells us, with "rumpled clothes" that "looked as though they had been slept in." He wore collars "usually several sizes too large" (but not in the photograph Diggins has before him), his trousers were "baggy," and he kept his "thick woolen stockings" up by pinning them to his pant legs. He carried a pocket watch "on a length of black ribbon which he hooked to the front of his vest by a large safety pin."58 The safety pin, Heilbroner notes, is visible in the photograph he and Diggins are examining. The overall effect, he pronounces, is "a strange appearance [that hides] a yet stranger personality."

The photograph that Diggins and Heilbroner remark upon is a 1920 portrait for which Veblen sat at the prestigious Manhattan studio of Underwood & Underwood. It was probably taken for publicity purposes at the request of his publisher, B. W. Huebsch, and is reproduced as a frontispiece in Dorfman's Thorstein Veblen and His America. A subsequent request by Huebsch to use a portrait of Veblen for promoting Absentee ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times met with the author's quick refusal: "I can only say," Veblen responded, "that in my opinion such a portrait would have no value for the purpose whatever; indeed I believe quite simply that it would have less than no value. On this account, as well as on grounds of a senseless sentimental revulsion, I would rather not."60 One wonders whether he perhaps had a premonition of the injurious use future academics would make of his aging countenance. In any event, the portrait noted by Diggins and Heilbroner is of "less than no value" for the purpose they would utilize it.

Beyond the methodological folly of pretending to discover character traits in an uncontextualized photograph, Diggins and Heilbroner neglect to compare the Underwood portrait with an earlier image of Veblen reproduced in the same Dorfman tome -- one that suggests none of the traits they would read into the 1920 photograph, rather portrays a self-possessed, stylishly attired University of Chicago faculty member. And there are other photographs of Veblen as well, some of them available at the time Diggins and Heilbroner were writing, each one suggestive of additional moods and qualities. Even the six-image study of Blanca Will's 1920 Veblen bust made by Sylvia Bartley for the current ITVA symposium is instructive for the variety of perspectives it presents on a single visage.62 Indeed, a second Underwood portrait of Veblen taken from a different angle during the same sitting as the photograph described by Diggins and Heilbroner itself differs markedly in the image it projects.43

The greater error, however, one that Diggins and Heilbroner commit here and elsewhere and in which they are not alone, is to generalize perceptions of particular moments in Veblen's life to his life as a whole. They fail, in the present instance, to consider that Veblen is 63 years old, in marginal health, and preoccupied by the hospitalization of his second spouse, of whom he was very fond and who died in that same year of 1920. The "unkempt" Veblen of "lethargic movements" and "rustic exterior" was but a deepening shadow of earlier, more vigorous selves, not unlike other men who survived six decades in an era when male longevity averaged less. He bore little resemblance to the rakish academic of twenty years before, captured suggestively in the second of Dorfman's two photographs, as well as in a recently recovered snapshot from the same period in which, accompanied by his first wife, another couple and the female companion of the photographer, all formally attired, he impishly hams for the camera. 64

Because Dorfman's Thorstein Veblen and His America remains the standard biographical reference for Veblen's life, its shortcomings as a biography necessarily contribute to such error. While Dorfman offers a generally competent review of Veblen's scholarship, as noted above, he provides no coherent account of his life; no clear and accessible life chronology to which others can refer. Those who rely on Dorfman, consequently, tend to telescope Veblen's life into a single undifferentiated portrait.

Moreover, there are major gaps in Dorfman's reconstruction of Veblen's life, which if filled would add significantly to our understanding of the man Veblen was. His sojourns on Washington Island offer a ready example. The years between Veblen's graduation from Carleton and his enrollment at Cornell are another, especially his time in Stacyville, Iowa. Dorfman provides intriguing fragments about this critical period but little of real substance; no firm basis, certainly, for judgment regarding Veblen's delayed entry into the academic world as a remunerated scholar.

Veblen's travels comprise yet another gap in our knowledge of his life, for they were extensive by any measure and occupied a correspondingly large area of his life experience, with all may imply for a proper appraisal of his intellectual legacy. Contrary to Heilbroner's facile assertion that Veblen found the world "uncomfortable and forbidding,"65 he would appear to have moved through it with an ease and awareness uncommon in his own day as well, perhaps, as in our own. He engaged the world, the evidence suggests, more fully and directly than many of his latterday critics, themselves so immersed in the virtual world of globe-diminishing air travel and electronic imagery that they no longer recognize the spatial and experiential reality in which Veblen led his life.

While Dorfman offers an occasional reference to Veblen's movements and newly accessioned sources promise additional insights, at the present time we still know very little about the travel experiences themselves, often months in duration and which took him to such out-of-the-way places as Nowhere, Idaho, Buck Prairie, Oregon and Mancos Valley, Colorado, as well as to ancestral villages in Norway and the cosmopolitan capitals of Europe. (He did much of his writing while encamped at some of these remote locations, notably Buck Prairie, Mancos Valley, and Washington Island.66) Scholars have yet to discover Veblen in these private spaces, but also, it should be emphasized, in the more familiar settings where our presumed knowledge of him proves quite incomplete as well.

The much remarked irregularities in Veblen's personal life are a case in point, where those who have attributed to him a pattern of licentious comportment in his relations with women have neither scrutinized those relations chronologically nor traced them into the biographical lacunae that still envelop Veblen. It has been erroneously assumed, for example, that his pursuit of a position at Stanford University was precipitated by an excess of profligacy in Chicago and that physiologist Jacques Loeb pulled Veblen's chestnuts out of the fire by intervening on his behalf with Stanford president David Starr Jordan. After the McAdoo-Triggs "scandal" of 1904, his position on the Chicago campus "became intolerable," as Heilbroner states the oft-repeated tale, and he "began casting around for another post."67

In actual fact, Veblen had first approached Jordan about a possible teaching position at Stanford five years before, upon publication of The Theory of the Leisure Class, when his marital relations appear not to have been an issue and his own dissatisfactions at Chicago had to do with rank and remuneration. He had learned of a possible vacancy in Stanford's political economy faculty, he wrote Jordan in March 1899, and wished to be considered for that position should it materialize and his qualifications merit consideration. "I shall in that case feel at liberty to trouble you with further information," he advised, "as well as with letters from the head of the department here and from men in the science elsewhere.

Veblen had already had Macmillan forward a copy of The Theory of the Leisure Class to Jordan69 and the following month informed Jordan that letters of support would be forthcoming from Professors Frank H. Taussig (Harvard), Jeremiah W. Jenks (Cornell) and J. Laurence Laughlin (Chicago).70 Laughlin's letter is especially interesting, for it offers additional insight into Veblen's situation at the University of Chicago. Laughlin's only hesitation in writing on his younger colleague's behalf, he assured Jordan, was that he would have to say things "which might lose him to us."

Veblen, Laughlin wrote, "is one of the brainiest, deepest economists we have, with an unusual preparation for his peculiar kind of work. No other man in our department has as strong a hold as he on our graduate students." Veblen got "a great deal out of all his students, keeping also a close personal relationship with them."

In a formulation reflective of the ideological concerns of the day, Laughlin reported that Veblen had been teaching the courses on socialism at Chicago "with a breadth, depth and discretion that have always commanded admiration, but never got us into trouble." That, he declared, "is the best test I can give both of his scholarship and his general good sense. No man in the country is better read than he in this subject. I might say much the same of other topics which he has taught here for seven years."71

Laughlin told Jordan that he would not think of allowing Veblen to go to Stanford if he could prevent it but that "in President Harper's view, there is not just now income enough to grant Dr. Veblen the promotion which he has deserved." In the circumstances, he could not fault Veblen for seeking employment elsewhere, even as he yet hoped "that he will not be tempted away from us until we can honor him as I think he deserves."72 The Stanford position did not then materialize, although the groundwork would seem to have been prepared for Veblen's appointment seven years later. In the meantime, his situation at Chicago did improve as Laughlin had hoped, when he was promoted the following year to the rank of assistant professor.73

Laughlin's reference to the "close personal relationship" that Veblen maintained with his graduate students also warrants note, for it bears importantly on the question of his relation's with university coeds and women generally. Neither Dorfman nor later critics who dwell on Veblen's disdain of social convention have entertained the possibility that Veblen recognized and encouraged intellect among his students equally, without regard to gender. Where a male student expressed admiration for Veblen, the critics- themselves socialized in the culture of patriarchy--simply acknowledge him as more thoughtful or "abler" than his fellow students; when a coed expressed such esteem, however, they reflexively label her an "admirer," with the innuendo and social loadings which that label carries. Veblen's intellectual discourse with females is dismissed as "friendships" in which "he seems to have been the pursued rather than the pursuer."74 Yet there is no such suggestion in Laughlin's approving acknowledgement of Veblen's "close personal relationship" with his students.

For Dorfman, it seems, Veblen's "friendships" with coed "admirers" could only devolve into "affairs," of which there were any number in Chicago and thereafter at Stanford.75 "He was always engaged in one liaison or another," Heilbroner repeats.76 In Chicago, echoes Diggins, his "unconcealed womanizing" proved intolerable, while at Stanford his "libertinism ... fully confirmed the notorious reputation he had brought with him."77 In California, "young coeds would visit his log cabin [sic!], and a few would linger on for more than tea and conversation.77

All of which has been crudely fashioned from whole cloth, for no one -- let me repeat -- has yet produced a scintilla of hard evidence to substantiate these allegations of successive amorous affairs. What available evidence does suggest is that from sometime after the turn of the century through his divorce from Ellen Rolfe in 1911, Veblen maintained a single extramarital relationship with Ann Fessenden Bradley, a former Chicago student whom he wed in 1914. No documentation has yet come to light to indicate that prior to this relationship Veblen was physically intimate with anyone outside his marriage--not that such intimacy would have been out of the ordinary, given his spouse's physiological impediments to normal conjugal intercourse.

There is intriguing evidence, on the other hand, that Veblen sustained serious intellectual relationships with a number of women whose intellect he admired and with whom he associated in genuine friendship. (His sister Emily may have been the first woman with whom he shared such a relationship.) Indeed, Veblen's readiness to share intellectually with the opposite gender -- rare in his day, uncommon in our own -- is even evident in his relationship with Ellen Rolfe, which transcended their divorce as marriage partners and endured until Ellen's death in 1926.

Perhaps the most illustrative of these relationships is Veblen's longstanding friendship with Sarah ("Sadie") Hardy, which dated from his first years in Chicago through Hardy's marriage to San Francisco attorney Warren Gregory to the end of Veblen's life. Dorfman, interestingly, refers to Hardy several times and provides suggestive information about her association with Veblen, yet once again fails to draw the appropriate inferences from that information .

Like others of his graduate students, Veblen took more than a passing interest in Sadie Hardy's intellectual development, at the same time as he seemed to derive real benefit from her thoughts about his own work. In an exemplary piece of correspondence penned to her in January 1896, on the eve of her departure to the Hawaiian Islands for an extended period of rest and recuperation, he first begs her pardon for writing in such "unprovoked fashion," then for the "dubious stationery" on which he writes, justifying the paper by virtue of the ease with which its surface accepts the ink, as well as the "subsidiary consideration of its inexpensiveness."

"May it reconcile you to it," he further enjoins her, "that it is also the particular paper upon which the Leisure Class emerges, so that it is immediately at hand and resort to it means labor saving on that account also."81

Noting that Professor Laughlin had encouraged her--by way of "producing something"--to undertake "some sort of an investigation into the industrial situation in Hawaii," Veblen wrote Hardy that while this "was no doubt well-meant advice" on Laughlin's part, it was "all wrong" and she should "avoid all work along this line." She must have nothing to do with anything "that savors of workmanship, especially not in the way of practical economics," which, in Veblen's view, she was "by no means specially fitted for nor inclined to."82 What he wished to propose was of a rather different order.

"I have a theory which I wish to propound," he went on. "I do not know how much, if any or all, of this I have told you before [as] I am under the vague impression that I have already told you everything I ever knew or thought." Had she heard it before, she was of course at liberty to ignore "the present exposition."

What Veblen wanted to share on this occasion concerned the future development of economic science. It was, he felt, the task of the generation of economists to which Hardy belonged to rehabilitate economics by bringing it "into line with modern evolutionary science." The point of departure for this rehabilitation, he wrote, will be the modern anthropological and psychological sciences, perhaps most immediately, for economic theory in the general sense, that folk-psychology which is just now taking on a definite form. Starting from this preliminary study of usages, aptitudes, propensities and habits of thought (much of which is already worked out in a more or less available form) the science, taken generally, is to shape itself into a science of the evolution of economic institutions. Detailed theoretical work will of course be in place, as always, and "practical economics" will come in for its share, and these things will have to come into an organic relation with the science, which at present they have not. This theoretical work will have to depend closely on psychological and ethnological data for its premises.

Whether or not economic science actually moved in this direction, Veblen told Hardy, "a reading of some of the books which deal with anthropology in outline would never come amiss." Such reading, he observed, "need not be carried on for a purpose beyond itself, or with a view to systematized knowledge." Should she decide to try it, she must not let it tire her. "Go no further with it," he advised, "than your curiosity will carry you, and never let it degenerate into a task. Drop it without compunction just as soon as you are so inclined. If it does not interest you for its own sake it is of no use to you anyway."84

Veblen offered to send Hardy "two or three elementary books" which he had found useful. They were easy reading, he assured her, and he believed that she would enjoy "at least a part of them." She should not despise them, he added, "because they seem irrelevant; everything seems irrelevant in anthropology if it is taken by itself, nothing if taken with the rest." He offered to send her "another installment" should she want additional books or wish to pursue some special topic.85

Veblen concludes his nine-page missive with a characteristic expression of deference to his correspondent. "I know that I have been bold beyond the limits of conventionality in this," he writes, "but you will be indulgent because you know that I have a very uncertain grasp of the conventionalities at best, and I hope you will not find that I have thrust myself gratuitously and indelicately upon you with all this advice." (This brings to mind the remark by Veblen's grandniece, Colette Sims Van Fleet, that Veblen was "conventionally unconventional."86) Were Hardy to find him intolerably officious, he closed, she should give him "a gentle hint" that she had had enough advice and he would set himself "to the task of bringing about a shrinkage of the supply."87

This is hardly the stuff of erotic license. It is reflective of Veblen's unusual capacity for intellectual relationships with women--a capacity, the evidence suggests, considerably more developed than the frivolity so inconsiderately attributed to him. That very capacity for shared intellect, moreover, would appear to have been the particular quality that best explains his more intimate relationship with Ann ("Babe") Bradley, with whont he was sharing books and ideas already in Chicago -- much as he did with Sadie Hardy -- and who herself took an active part in preparing his own writings for publication.88

Veblen's relationship with Babe is central to an understanding of the individual Veblen was and, as already suggested, would appear to lie at the heart of his ill-deserved reputation for promiscuity. While many details of this relationship remain to be documented, sufficient evidence has come to light to support the conclusion that the "young coeds" who Diggins says visited Veblen at his Stanford residence and "would linger on for more than tea and conversation" were in fact one and the same woman, Babe Bradley -- twenty years Veblen's junior, to be sure, but still a 30-year-old divorced mother of two, scarcely the inexperienced coed of tender age that Diggins implies.

Veblen and Bradley appear to have entered into an intimately personal relationship at least by Veblen's final year in Chicago and perhaps sometime earlier. Babe had separated from her husband, Tom Bevans, and moved with her two young daughters, Becky and Ann, into an artists' colony of single-story frame buildings near Jackson Park left over from the Chicago World's Fair. They referred to this location, which was situated on 57th Street in the shadow of the elevated tracks of the Illinois Central R.R., as "The Corner of Indecision."

Late in life Becky still recalled a particular visit by their "tall quiet friend, Toyse" [Veblen], who had come "to bring Babe a bunch of books to read." Becky and her sister had been quarreling and were crying when Veblen walked in. He took one look at their sorry faces and exclaimed, "Aha! Just what I need. I have this little bottle and I need some tear drops in it. Could I have just a few?" The tears, of course, evaporated and Toyse, as they affectionately called him, read Babe and the girls "some poems from a beautiful Chinese-red volume, by Swinburne."89

One of Bradley's neighbors at the Corner of Indecision was the Swedish immigrant artist B. J. 0. Nordfeldt (1878-1950), who estabished a studio there in 1903 and for the next two years busied himself making etchings and wood engravings of Chicago. In 1905, the year he left Chicago for the East Coast, Nordfeldt painted two portraits of Veblen, one full-length, the other seated, both of which appear to have been lost.90 In her late eighties Becky still remembered Veblen sitting for "Nordy," who included her in one of the portraits as "a little white ghost in the background" watching from a doorway. Babe had objected to the purple and green shadowing of Veblen's face but Nordfeldt dismissed her objection with the retort, "That's just the way he sits around and looks."91

These circumstances place Veblen and Babe in each other's company during the academic year 1904-05 and suggest a more than casual acquaintance. The evidence for the next two years is thin but it appears that Veblen continued to visit Babe and the girls even after he began teaching at Stanford. Then, in 1907, Babe left Becky and Ann with their Bradley grandparents and traveled to Berkeley, where she enrolled as a graduate student at the University of California. She and Veblen saw each other that year on both sides of San Francisco Bay, when she would visit him at Cedro Cottage, on the Stanford campus, or when he would go to Berkeley to see friends and colleagues. Hanging on the wall of her rented room on the north side of campus (2523 Virginia Street) was one of the portraits Nordfeldt had done of Veblen two years earlier.92

The sequence of events over the following year remains to be sorted out, but sometime in 1909 Babe and the girls took up residence on a piece of Bevans family property several miles outside of Grangeville, Idaho, jokingly referred to among themselves as "Nowhere." Veblen joined them in late December of that year and was immediately stricken with a nearly fatal case of double pneumonia. In what was a rather extraordinary drama in pioneer circumstances, Babe nursed him back to health despite a local physician's prognosis that he would not survive.93

Veblen and Babe had obviously been in communication and he did not appear in Nowhere unannounced. Prior to his arrival he had shipped a Christmas trunk filled with shoes, moccasins and slippers for all three -- two or three years' worth of moccasins in half-size intervals for Becky and Ann. The top tray of the trunk was filled with chocolates.94

By spring Veblen had recovered sufficiently to help with the milking and other chores. He left Nowhere "before the Jersey calved."95 obliged by his untenable marital situation to resign his position at Stanford, he was no doubt preoccupied with his professional and financial future and wished to utilize his remaining time as a salaried faculty member to seek out a position elsewhere. (President Jordan accepted Veblen's resignation of 6 October 1909, "to take effect July 31, 1910,1196 and recommended to the Board of Trustees that for the second semester of the 1909-1910 academic year Veblen "be granted leave of absence on full pay, the reasons in detail to be stated verbally to the Board. 1197)

As the summer of 1910 wore on, Veblen grew pessimistic about his prospects of obtaining a position for the next academic year and, in anticipation of having to stay put in Palo Alto, he made arrangements for Babe and the girls to relocate discreetly at Pescadero, just over the Coast Range and not far from his cabin retreat on La Honda Ridge. (His wife Ellen continued to reside near the Stanford campus and their divorce would not be finalized for another year.) Not long after Babe, Becky and Ann had settled into a rented cottage near Pescadero Creek, Veblen secured a position at the University of Missouri. He left for Columbia in December 1910 and commenced his new teaching duties the following February.

In the spring of 1911, Babe and the girls moved from Pescadero to a ranch in Buck Prairie, Oregon, east of Ashland. Veblen joined them there for the summer, arriving with his campaign tent, camping gear and writing material following the close of classes at Missouri. That summer, as noted earlier, he wrote chapter five of The Instinct of Workmanship

At summer's end Veblen returned to Columbia, while later that fall Babe and the girls decamped for Chicago. The chronology of their respective movements over the next three years has yet to be established but enough is now known to conclude that this was Veblen's sole intimate relationship at the time and that it was moving inexorably toward full legitimation.

Veblen's divorce from Ellen was finalized in the Superior Court of San Mateo County, California, on 20 January 1912. Significantly, the Court found that "no evidence was offered or submitted by [Ellen] to sustain the allegations and averments set forth in [her] complaint as to the ground of extreme cruelty," a reference, no doubt, to Veblen's alleged "libertinism," "womanizing" and general licentiousness. The divorce was granted on the grounds of abandonment and failure to support.99

Ellen's failure to sustain the allegations of inveterate philandering she had been making since their days in Chicago bears centrally on the argument advanced in this paper, to wit: that there is no persuasive evidence to support these allegations--none, certainly, that would be admissible in a court of law. Ellen, it seems, was herself the source of the rumors, which then circulated in an ever-expanding ripple effect as unsubstantiated hearsay.

Even David Starr Jordan was leery of these allegations and indicated as much to Ellen. While he was perturbed by Veblen's failure to maintain proper Victorian appearances,100 he had no factual basis to presume Veblen to be of "immoral character." If the university had a legitimate need to know such facts, he told Ellen, "it is necessary at the same time that we should know them in some other than a general way." Responding to allusions she had made to "official statements" about Veblen's conduct purportedly made both in Chicago and at Stanford, Jordan disclaimed any knowledge of such statements. " Neither myself nor the president of the University of Chicago possesses any information on the subject at all," he assured her, "except such as has come from rumors, and we know of no one except yourself who is in a position to indicate what these rumors signify."101

Veblen's stepdaughter Becky, for her part, surmised that "it was easier for university presidents and bureaucrats to believe the woman to whom Veblen was at the time legally married"--herself from a prominent family of educators and entrepreneurs--than accord any virtue to a divorced suffragette with socialist leanings. When Ellen Rolfe made Veblen out to be a philanderer, they were quick to accept her allegations. "She gave Stanford officialdom a good excuse to fire [Veblen] by threatening scandal," Becky records,102 which may have been what President Jordan wished to explain verbally to Stanford's Board of Trustees in support of his recommendation that Veblen "be granted a leave of absence on full pay" for his final semester at that institution.

We can only speculate about the phychology of Ellen's relationship with Veblen, for it appears from afar to have been fraught with contradictions. Her apparent possessiveness and readiness to inflict injury on the object of her affection in order to keep him close are an all too familiar phenomenon in gender relations, complicated in Ellen's case, perhaps, by her physiological under-development and the sense of inadequacy to which it may have given rise. It is conceivable that Veblen's intellectual relations with other women simply proved too threatening to a spouse whose primal bond to her husband was itself intellectual.

It was another two and a half years from the granting of Veblen's divorce until he and Bradley wed. In the interim they saw each other as the demands on their respective lives permitted. They apparently spent time together in the Four Corners area -- without the girls -- in the summer of 1912, where Veblen continued to work on The Instinct of Workmanship. Babe had placed Becky and Ann in a small East Coast orphanage during the previous year while she struggled to make ends meet, then accompanied Veblen west. She had to leave him suddenly to retrieve the girls from the orphanage when Becky contracted whooping cough.103 Veblen returned alone to Columbia, Missouri for the academic year 1912-1913.

Babe and the girls appear to have remained in Chicago until the summer of 1913, when they and Veblen traveled together to Fort Garland, Colorado. At summer's end Veblen again returned to Missouri, while Babe found a school for Becky and Ann in Lindsborg, Kansas, where she rented a cabin and obtained temporary employment. At the close of the school year she and the girls returned to her parents' Ridgewood Court home, in Chicago.

She and Veblen were married on 17 June 1914 by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Richard S. Tuthill104 and departed immediately for Norway on their honeymoon, which in August was interrupted by the outbreak of war. Upon their return they retrieved Becky and Ann from their Bradley grandparents, continued on to Columbia, Missouri, and, at long last, set up housekeeping as a proper family.105

In commenting on an earlier draft of this paper a Milwaukee colleague felicitously described Veblen's association with Ann Bradley as "a monogomous extramarital relationship," which captures well its deeper meaning for the man Veblen was.106 Whatever judgment one may pass on Veblen for not remaining steadfast in his marriage to Ellen Rolfe, that defection alone is open to scrutiny -- and then only with the appropriate caveats about glass houses and first stones. What Veblen seems to have desired -- and to have found --in his relationship with Babe was the sustaining intimacy of compatible companionship that many of us seek in life and which all too often eludes us. "People who called him a philanderer," Becky insists, "just didn't know him. He wasn't that sort of a person."107

The sort of person Veblen was, in conclusion, bears inexorably on the scholar he is perceived to have been, for rare is the critic who unambiguously divorces Veblen's ideas from the personality assumed to have produced them. Unfortunately, the common distortions attributed to that personality by academics carry over to the general public, where they seem to perpetuate themselves in a peculiarly grotesque fashion. Thorstein Bunde Veblen, proclaims a recent issue of Viking magazine, was an "outcast genius" --"lonely," "unappreciated," and "estranged from society.

Quoting Jack Diggins, the author of this article describes Veblen as "an unkempt, lethargic pedagogue who shunned the fraternal joys of companionship and conversation and seemed to have no interest in intimacy." Nonetheless, this unprepossessing man "had that indefinable essence known as sex appeal." Throughout his professional life, we are again told, "Veblen engaged in one love afair after another."109

He was "a character of which legends are made;" "a prankster;" "an iconoclast who scandalized proud professors;" "the ne'er-dowell who astounded everyone by becoming famous." His marriage to Ellen Rolfe ended in divorce, "affairs on both sides" having been an "open scandal." His second wife "suffered a mental illness and died two years later."110

"Deserted and lonely," Veblen retreated to his "isolated cabin near Stanford," where "feeble, pale, ill, wistful, demonic, proud" and "impecunious," he is said to have "died of a suicide [sic] shortly before the stock market crash that seemed to confirm his dire economic predictions."111

Veblen's supposed suicide completes the image of the disfunctional personality whose intellectual acumen must also be impaired. Like his purported propensity to philander, however, it never happened. He died of heart failure in the presence of his neice Hilda Sims, her husband Ralph, their teenage daughter Colette, and his stepdaughter Becky.

Veblen had felt suddenly nauseous and had fallen trying to reach the upstairs bathroom at his Menlo Park home. Ralph Sims lifted him to his bed, surprised at how much his seemingly spare frame weighed, while Hilda summoned a physician -- against Veblen's previously expressed wishes. "Thorstein whispered 'Let be' and pressed my hand ... to remind me that he had told me not to call a doctor to fuss over him when he came to die," Becky recalled years later. When the physician arrived, he injected adrenalin directly into Veblen's heart with "a horribly large needle," but to no avail. Veblen had already expired, much to Becky's relief, for she "just didn't want him to go through that suffering for nothing." She sketched a death portrait on the spot.112

Rather than enhancing our sense of who Veblen was, the flesh and bones Veblen, the literary license with which scholars and others have tended to write about him serves only to obscure his individuality. Worse, it trivializes him. Posterity, in sum, deserves better from the keepers of the historical record, be they credentialed academics or citizen conservators of our cultural heritage like the Sons of Norway, the Minneapolis publishers of Viking magazine.



RETURN TO: Correcting the history about Thorstein Bunde Veblen

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