English, Department of


First Advisor

Melissa J. Homestead

Second Advisor

Matt Cohen

Third Advisor

Gabrielle Owen

Date of this Version

Spring 4-27-2023

Document Type



Franken, Lauren. "'The Queer, Lonely, Intense, Inner Lives of Their Children': Psychoanalysis, Mysticism, and Mabel Dodge Luhan's Narrative Approach to the Story of Her Childhood."


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: English, Under the Supervision of Professor Melissa J. Homestead. Lincoln, Nebraska: April, 2023

Copyright © 2023 Lauren M. Franken


This thesis explores Mabel Dodge Luhan’s narrative approach to writing Background (1933), the first of her four published volumes of autobiography titled Intimate Memories. In the first section I lay the groundwork for this analysis with a brief examination of Background’s publication history. The succeeding two sections offer a historical framework for understanding late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American conceptualizations of childhood, Freudian psychoanalysis, and mysticism. Considering the various lenses through which Luhan analyzed her childhood memories provides a more complex awareness of her narrative approach. The fourth section engages in a close reading of the sections of Background in which Luhan attempts to establish causality between her childhood experiences and some facets of her adult self —an inherently psychoanalytical approach to understanding her childhood. Finally, the fifth section addresses the ways in which Luhan wrote about same-sex erotic encounters during her childhood and adolescence. Both Freudian ideas of psychosexual development and mystical ideas that emerged from New Thought influenced Luhan’s portrayal of these scenes. Ultimately, this project’s analytic task is to consider the adult Luhan who is writing about her child self and casting this narrative through the lenses of both Freudianism and mysticism. In doing so, this research fills a gap in existing scholarship about Luhan by paying close attention to her narrativization of the story of her childhood.

Advisor: Melissa J. Homestead