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

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Russell H. Bartley
Department of History

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


1. Russell H. Bartley and Sylvia E. Yoneda, "Thorstein Veblen on Washington Island: Traces of a Life," International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 7:4 (1994): 589-613. Hereafter cited as "Traces of a Life."

2. Joseph Dorfman, Thorstein Veblen and His America (NY: Viking, 1934); Thorstein Veblen, Essays, Reviews and Reports. Previously uncollected writings. Edited & with an introduction, "New Light on Veblen," by Joseph Dorfman (Clifton, NJ: Kelley, 1973).

3. Russell H. Bartley and Sylvia E. Yoneda, "Thorstein Veblen on Washington Island: of books, intellect and personality." Paper presented at the Inaugural Conference of the International Thorstein Veblen Association, 4-5 February 1994, New School for Social Research, New York, NY.

4 Stephen Edgell, "Thorstein Veblen the Radical Scientist. Discrediting Discreditable Intellectual History." Paper presented at the 37th Annual Conference of the Western Social Science Association, 26-29 April 1995, Oakland, CA, p. 9.

5. Joseph Dorfman, Thorstein Veblen and His America, 7th edition (Clifton, NJ: Kelley, 1972). All subsequent references are to this corrected edition, hereafter cited as Dorfman, Thorstein Veblen.

6 Veblen, Essays, Reviews and Reports. Previously Uncollected Writings. Edited and with an introduction, "New Light on Veblen" (pp. 5-326) by Joseph Dorfman. Hereafter cited as Dorfman, "New Light."

7. Edgell, too, remarks on the contradictory nature of Dorfman's work; see loc. cit., p. 8.

8. Bart1ey and Yoneda, "Traces of a Life," p. 604.

9. Edgell, loc. cit., p. 23.

10 Carlton C. Qualey, "Introduction," Thorstein Veblen. The Carleton College Veblen Seminar Essays. Edited by Carlton C. Qualey (NY & London: Columbia University Press, 1968), p. 2.

11. David Riesman, Thorstein Vebien. A Critical Reinterpretation (NY: Scribner's, 1960), p. 3.

12 Bernard Rosenberg, The Values of Veblen. A Critical Appraisal. Foreword by Max Lerner (Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1956), p. 1.

13 Melvin D. Brockie, "The Cycle Theories of Veblen and Keynes Today," in: Thorstein Veblen: A Critical Reappraisal. Lectures and Essays Commemorating the Hundredth Anniversary of Veblen's Birth. Edited by Douglas F. Dowd (Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 1958), p. 114, n. 3.

14 John P. Diggins, The Bard of Savagery. Thorstein Veblen and Modern Social Theory (NY: The Seabury Press, 1978), p. 215.

15. Rick Tilman, Thorstein Veblen and His Critics, 1891-1963 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 4.

16. See Correspondence between Joseph Dorfman and Andrew A. Veblen [1925-1932], Andrew A. Veblen Papers, A.V395, Box 7, Vols. 42-49, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, MN. Hereafter cited as Dorfman correspondence, MHS.

17. Joseph Dorfman to Andrew Veblen, New York, 5 March 1930 (Dorfman correspondence, MHS), p. 1.

18 Andrew Veblen to Joseph Dorfman, Los Angeles, 25 February 1930 (Dorfman correspondence, MHS), p. 2.

19 Ibid., p. 3.

20 Dorfman to A. Veblen, 5 March 1930, p. 5.

21 Ibid., p. lb.

22 Andrew Veblen to Joseph Dorfman, Los Angeles, 13 March 1930 (Dorfman correspondence, MHS), p. 5.

23. Ibid., p. 4.

24. Ibid., p. 5.

25. Dorfman, "New Light," pp. 22-23, n. 29. One hundred and sixty-seven pages later, he notes Hans Otto Storm's recollection of a conversation in which Veblen had told him "that he was twelve years old before he learned to speak English" [p. 190, n. 222], which would, of course, negate Dorfman's original thesis. More to the point, Dorfman fails to consider Veblen's own personal standard of language mastery, which likely differed from popular measures of fluency; an ability to communicate easily with childhood playmates, as established by the testimony of Veblen's older brother, may not have equated to English-language proficiency in the mind of the mature scholar.

26. A. Veblen to Dorfman, 13 March 1930, pp. 3, 4.

27. Ibid., p. 4.

28 "It seems to me," Andrew Veblen lamented after five years of correspondence with Dorfman, "that the lot of time I have given to giving you authentic information has been spent absolutely to no purpose. You entirely ignore my statements; and even twist a few things into significations that it seems to me you must know are the opposite of what I plainly indicated... It is hard for me to see why I should not heartily regret that I ever paid any attention to your appeals for assistance... The truth is that I despair of doing anything at all that can be helpful, unless you abandon the ideas that you have made fundamental. Of course it does not make things any better to add that I believe you have done the best you can and that your aim is praiseworthy. I do not share the view that your project is 'nefarious' (as I have seen it characterized). I have proved my confidence in your honesty of purpose in no uncertain manner, as the mass of information you have received from me testifies."

With a serenity and poise striking by their absence in Andrew's younger correspondent, he closes this lengthy missive by reassuring Dorfman that: "If you think there is any use in it, why of course I will not refuse to listen to you, and I will do anything in my power to be helpful. I am not even stipulating that I must be convinced that there is any use of it or any hope of use in it. In spite of my disapointment I adhere to the idea the 'while there is life there is hope'." [A. Veb1en to Dorfman, 13(15) March 1930, p. 6.]

While no one showed greater interest in Dorfman's work, followed it more closely or offered more information, advice and constructive criticism than Andrew Veblen, it is his prominent East Coast mentors -- Virgil Jordan, Rexford Guy Tugwell, Wesley Clair Mitchell and Alvin Johnson -- whom Dorfman recognizes by name in the preface to the published book. Like the subject of that book, he consigns Andrew, the distinguished professor from the hinterand, to the uncouth margins of American civilization. How heavily Dorfman's own childhood in Romanovska, Russia, would appear to have weighed!

29 Dorfman, Thorstein Veblen, p. 499.

30 Riesman, Thorstein Veblen, p. 23.

31. Diggins, The Bard of Savagery, p. 34.

32. Franco Ferrarotti, commentary on paper presented by Russell Bartley and Sylvia Yoneda ["Thorstein Veblen on Washington Island"], New School for Social Research, 4 February 1994.

33. Diggins, op. cit., p. 37.

34. Ibid., p. 169.

35. Ibid., p. 161.

36. Richard J. Storr, Harper's University. The Beginnings. A History of the University of Chicago (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1966), pp. 223-224.

37. Dorfman, "New Light," p. 97.

38. David Tylden-Wright, Anatole France (NY: Walker and Company, 1967), p. 276.

39. Dorfman, Thorstein Veblen, pp. 253-254.

40. Diggins, op. cit., p. 169.

41. Dorfman, "New Light," p. 97.

42. Tylden-Wright, op. cit., p. 277.

43. Ibid., pp. 277-278.

44. Dorfman, "New Light," p. 97. As with so many of Dorfman's references, especially in the 1934 volume, he gives no clue as to where the inscribed copy of The Theory of Business Enterprise can be found. The reader is obliged to take Dorfman's word on the matter, an unacceptable proposition and a further violation of the scholarly canon.

45. Diggins, op. cit., p. 169.

46. Veblen to Loeb, Chicago, 10 February 1905. Jacques Loeb Papers (1859-1924). Correspondence, Manuscript Division, U.S. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

47. Ibid., pp., 1-2.

48 Ibid., pp. 2-3.

49. Oscar Triggs published two books while he and Veblen were on the University of Chicago faculty together, both treating topics of interest to Veblen: Chapters in the History of the Arts and Crafts Movement (Chicago: The Bohemia Guild of the Industrial Art League, 1902), an elegantly produced volume reviewed critically but sympathetically by Veblen in The Journal of Political Economy, vol. 11 (December 1902 - September 1903): 108-111; and The Changing Order. A Study of Democracy (Chicago: Triggs, 1905; Charles H. Kerr, 1906). Both men shared an interest in the writings of Carlyle, Ruskin and Morris, examined at length in these two volumes.

50. Dorfman, "New Light," p. 141, n. 179a.

51. "Professors Resign; Mystery on Midway," The Chicago Record Herald (Wednesday Morning, 20 June 1906): 1, 4.

52. Ibid.

53. Max Lerner (ed.), The Portable Veblen (NY: Viking, 1967), p.10.

54. John Kenneth Galbraith, The Culture of Contentment (Boston, NY & London: Houghton Mifflin, 1992), p. 81 n.2.

55. Lerner, op. cit., p. 10.

56. Diggins, op. cit., p. 33.

57. Robert L. Heilbroner. The Worldly Philosophers. The Lives, times, and ideas of the great economic thinkers, 5th edition (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1980), p. 215.

58. Diggins, op. cit., p. 33.

59. Heilbroner, op. cit., pp. 215-216.

60. Veblen to Huebsch, Detroit Harbor, Wisconsin, 25 July 1923. Benjamin W. Huebsch Papers (1876-1964), Box 28. Manuscripts Department, U.S. Library of Congress.

61. Dorfman, Thorstein Veblen, insert between pp. 238 & 239.

62. Blanca Will, niece of Stanford engineering professor and Veblen colleague Guido Marx, produced the slightly less than life-size bronze bust while Veblen was at the New School for Social Research, where it was displayed for an indeterminate period of time, initially in the faculty lounge, then in the New School's library. At some point, it was consigned to a basement storage area and subsequently vanished altogether. After a diligent search in early 1994, Professor Arthur Vidich located the missing bust in the Washington, D.C. home of Joseph Dorfman's daughter, Susan Dorfman Jones, who in March of that year kindly allowed Sylvia to photograph it. At an uncertain date and in a not entirely transparent manner, according to Mrs. Jones, the bust had come into the possession of her father's publisher, Augustus H. Kelley, who in his turn gifted it to her father. The bust now bears a brass plate affixed to its base and inscribed: "To Joseph Dorfman from Augustus M. Kelley, 1975."

63 Veblen Collection, Carleton College Archives, Northfield,



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