On March 1, UWG English professor Dr. Margaret Mitchell spoke about her upcoming novel in “The Other Night School” writer’s series based on the life of the nearly forgotten turn-of-the-century supermodel.
The “Stranger than Fiction” speech has earned its t, which alludes to the romance rooted in a true story full of murder, beauty, and an insane asylum.
“The novel is about this woman who is widely considered to be America’s first fashion model,” says Dr Mitchell. “She was an artist’s model in the 20th century and was born in 1891. As a teenager she was discovered and started modeling for artists, mainly sculptors but sometimes painters. And she became extremely famous. Her name is Audrey Munsen.
Despite her fame, at age 40, Audrey Munsen was committed to St. Lawrence State Hospital by her own mother and lived there for 65 years. In the last years of her life, Mitchell was a young girl, and her own great-grandfather was the superintendent of the mental asylum.
“[The novel’s] not released yet and it is not sold yet but the [Stranger than Fiction] to speak [was] about how I came to the idea and the genesis of the novel,” says Mitchell. “What’s funny about this particular novel is that it grew out of an interest in family history for me.”
Mitchell never interacted with or knew Munsen as a child and the focus on the forgotten dummy was only uncovered through the process of extracting her memories and finding asylums.
“From time to time, my father drove us everywhere [the asylum] and he would tell us stories,” Mitchell says. “He had actually lived there as a child. This idea always seemed to me, even as a child, like something I had to write about one day.
Mitchell first approached the story thinking of a story centered around his grandmother who allegedly lived in a mansion on the same grounds as an asylum. However, while researching St. Lawrence State Hospital and other asylums, she was drawn to the dramatic and somewhat tragic life and career of Audrey Munsen.
The model and actress have dropped out of society’s spotlight several times during her career, only being rediscovered once when a doctor at her old building in New York ended up murdering his wife and s was obsessed with Munsen during his stay in the apartment. He even had a photo of her that linked her to the murder even though she was in Canada at the time of the investigation. Around this time, she received sensational publicity before fading into obscurity afterwards.
In her glory days, she was also an actress in four silent films and best known for appearing nude in a non-pornographic film. She was also an in-demand model who posed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. She has since been immortalized in more than a dozen statues in New York and many other places, including the “Triumph of Peace” in Piedmont Park in Atlanta.
“Audrey considered herself an artist,” says Mitchell. “There are still sculptures of her everywhere because it was the era of civic art, but her name does not appear anywhere. The name of the artist is. You might even see the name of the person who ordered it, but the model name cannot be found.
As a historical narrative, the task of writing and creating a fictional interpretation of Audrey Munsen’s life seemed a daunting challenge for Mitchell. Now she has finished the draft of the novel and is moving on to publishing it.
The release and title of Mitchell’s novel is yet to be determined. Until then, readers can check out her first published novel “Pretty Is” as Maggie Mitchell.