The biographies in USAwere meant as illustrative panels, portraits
of typical or important personalities of the time, intended to inter-
rupt, and by contrast to give another dimension to the made-up
stories which are the body of the book, much as the portraits of
saints illustrated and reinforced the narrative in the retablos of early
JOHN DOS PASSOS
IN SAN FRANCISCO in eighteen seventy-eight Mrs. Isadora O'Gorman Duncan, a highspirited lady with a taste for the piano, set about divorcing her husband, the prominent Mr. Duncan, whose behavior we are led to believe had been grossly indelicate; the whole thing made her so nervous that she declared to her children that she couldn't keep anything on her stomach but a little champagne and oysters; in the middle of the bitterness and recriminations of the family row,
into a world of gaslit boardinghouses kept by ruined southern belles and railroadmagnates and swinging doors and whiskery men nibbling cloves to hide the whiskey on their breaths and brass spittoons and four-wheel cabs and basques and bustles and long ruffled trailing skirts (in which lecturehall and concertroom, under the domination of ladies of culture, were the centers of aspiring life)
she bore a daughter whom she named after herself Isadora.
The break with Mr. Duncan and the discovery of his duplicity turned Mrs. Duncan into a bigoted feminist and an atheist, a passionate follower of Bob Ingersoll's lectures and writings; for God read Nature; for duty beauty, and only man is vile.
Mrs. Duncan had a hard struggle to raise her children in the love of beauty and the hatred of corsets and conventions and manmade