Wanda Wednesday: Sex

One of the first things that really interested me about Wanda Gág was that she seemed really sexually liberated for her time. Actually, she was really sexually liberated for anyone's time. Professor Batty published a photograph on his blog of Wanda wedged between two laughing men, both of whom were her lovers, at the same time, and both were quite totally okay with that. Laughing. (The third guy was not a lover, just happy.)

Rockwell Kent... Carl Zigrosser (lover)... Wanda Gág... Adolph  Dehn (lover, often referred to as "Mr. Dehn")

There's only one other woman I know of who has pulled that off, even in modern times, and her two boys have never, as far as I know, posed for a picture together with her.

So, I approached the diary frankly fascinated with her sex life. And then, spoiler alert, Growing Pains has no sex at all. In her teen years, Wanda Gág was an absolute celibate in every way. She goes on at length in several diary entries about why it is important to her not to let any boy touch her. At all. Not to let them hold her hand. Nothing. The boys (her "cavaliers"), perhaps seeking a challenge, find her all the more desirable for this.

She slowly warms up to different sorts of bodily contact, but very slowly.

"While we were talking, Donnie's arm stole round my shoulder. Now I have always had about half a dozen remarks in readiness for the boy who would ever put his arm around me- and I never said a single one, I don't know why I didn't, but I didn't, that's all. In the first place, I was so surprised that I was mute for a while; in the second place, it was done in such a nice comradely way that I didn't have the heart to say anything; and in the their place, I liked it. I repeat it- I liked it. I'm shocked at myself but- well I hope no one will criticize anything until they've gone thru the same thing themselves. And Donald had never acted soft anyway." (page 155, Growing Pains)

At the end of Growing Pains, Mr. Adolph Dehn and Wanda have become very good friends, and fallen a little bit in love- not head over heals in love, but that sort of I know you so well and I just noticed how great you are kind of love. They've worked together on several artistic projects, and they eat lunch together every day. One day, they go fishing in a rowboat together. After a somewhat romantic walk, she describes how Adolph makes a small advance,

'"May I kiss your hand, Wanda? Just once' he asked. I said, 'No,' at first but then I let him take it." (p. 449)

Eventually, after a few romantic nights, she lets him kiss her- twice, if I remember correctly. On the face, even. The kiss is a really big deal for Wanda. And then they both, somehow, get scholarships to go to New York City! And then it's over. No more diary. But you have to know, from pictures like the one above, that things really turn out all right for them. And it makes you happy.

I still have a feeling of unfinished business. I need to read more about Wanda. What really interests me, as much as her art and her philosophy, is her sex life. I don't want to know the details of sexual acts or anything. That doesn't interest me. What I really want to know is, How do you go from not letting a man touch you in any way, to having sex with whomever you please and enjoying it? How is that the same person? How is it that you, Wanda, how are you always this contradiction, this amazing enigma? How do you embody two polar moral opposites, in the same body, the same soul? And how are you so happy in doing so? How do you rebel against the social constrictions of your time, and still be a successful children's book author?

I'm glad that Professor Batty is currently writing a book (based on his recent research) which will answer all of our questions. It is much needed. He doesn't have a title or a release date yet... actually, he doesn't know he's doing it yet. But he will. Right?


  1. Interesting photo: Wanda's left hand grasps Dehn's lapel or pocket and merriment abounds!

  2. Another book? I'd better hurry up and finish my current novel!