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My dear Douglas, Mary Butts and a performance of letters

Notable realtionships

Mary Butts led an eccentric lifestyle and was not afraid to engage in various passionate relationships. From lover to lover, she maintained her expressive ways. She was someone who had multiple partners, and at times they would be at once. Above all, she was a lady who cherished living in the present, and her relationships showed just that.

Butts was romantically involved with several people, including American composer Virgil Thompson, French author Mireille Havet, Scottish author and magician Cecil Maitland, painter Gabriel Aitkin, and many more who have not been confirmed.

Butts was a bisexual woman with a diverse set of relationships. Beginning near the end of what Butts referred to as her sapphic life, she had intense physical and emotional relationships with a number of women in the 1910s (Bondel). She started to write regularly in her journal on July 21, 1916. At the time, she was 25 years old and shared an apartment with her lover, Eleanor Rogers (Bondel). The two had been dating for two years. Unfortunately, not much is known about Butt's life before her journals, as she only sporadically describes it in her letters and poems (Bondel).

“seized with memories of past ecstacies transcended [with Eleanor], there will have to be a secret manuscript seeing that no one can write openly about these things” (3 September 1916; my emphasis)

– Mary Butts

Her meeting with John Rodker, London's East End writer, caused tension in her relationship with Rogers (Blondel). Butts was torn between her intense feelings for Rodker and her waning love for Rogers, who was enraged by the shift in her feelings. Nevertheless, Butts and Rodker were slowly falling in love (Blondel).

It is interesting to see how Butt interacted with the various people in her life. She did not appear to have any "regular" relationships, and everyone she surrounded herself with seemed an interesting choice. For example, consider her first husband, John Rodker.

John Rodker

John Rodker (1894–1955) was an Anglo-Jewish poet and prose writer born in Manchester to a Jewish immigrant family that had already made the journey from Poland to Manchester before continuing to London (Heinz). Although Rodker was raised in a non-religious home in the Jewish East End, he was engrossed in the Young Socialist League. He was close with Joseph Leftwich, Stephen Winsten, and Isaac Rosenberg, also known as the "Whitechapel Boys." Rodker's poetry was published in various modernist minor journals, such as Poetry, The Egoist, Others, and The Little Review, with the support of well-known poet and critic Ezra Pound, who took him under his wing in 1914 (Heinz). Rodker has been in a few relationships as well. He was in a brief relationship with a young dancer named Sonia Cohen before meeting Butts. Though Rodker and Cohen never got married, they had a daughter named Joan Rodker in 1915. Rodker spent a lot of time dealing with authorities and was in hiding, in jail and even in labour camp in Dartmoor (Heinz). Finally, in the spring of 1918, he returned to London and wed the author Mary Butts, with whom he had Camilla Rodker, his second child and the only child of Butts. He wed the painter Barbara Stanger McKenzie-Smith, his second wife, in 1936 (Heinz). They had a son, named John Paul. However, the marriage did not survive long, and by 1941 the couple was legally divorced. A decade later Rodker wed Marianne Rais (Heinz). She would lead the Imago Publishing Company after Rodker's tragic death from a heart attack at age 60 on October 6, 1955 (Heinz).

Butts left Rodker in 1927 to be with William Park "Gabriel" Atken, her next love interest (Rolle). Atken was a bisexual landscape architect, oil and watercolour artist, illustrator, and draftsman. Despite his drug and alcohol abuse, they became close and travelled to England in 1930 (Rolle). After being married, Butts and Aitken moved to Cornwall and settled at Sennen, not far from Land's End. After being married and touring England, the couple's relationship broke down in 1934. After the separation, Aitken relocated (Rolle).

Gabriel Atken

Atkin is mainly known for his affair with Siegfried Sassoon. However, the majority of their affair is removed from Sassoon’s diary but has been given intense expression in the letters . Atkin spent a good deal of time in London, where he painted watercolour landscapes and created book illustrations. The breakdown of Atkin's relationship with Sasson appears to have been brought on by his promiscuity (he also had an affair with Sasson's friend Osbert Sitwell). Atkin subsequently assimilated into the disorderly drug scene surrounding Jean Cocteau in Paris. Atkin was both an acquaintance and a prospective love interest for Ronald Firbank.

He married Mary Francis Butts in 1930, yet only four years later they divorced in 1934.

Cecil Maitland

One of Butts' ex-boyfriends, Cecil Maitland, met Butts through their common friend, Sally (Van-Asten). While little is known about Maitland, Butts served as the main reminder of his existence and is considered to be the love of her life (Van-Asten). Maitlan came from an ‘Anglo-Catholic’ family. He served as an infantryman in the Great War, during which he was injured in action, leading to the suicide attempts that followed his leave from military service (Van-Asten). Butts spent time with Maitland sharing an interest in the occult, and the two grew close. During this time, Butt's relationship with John was falling apart, despite her being pregnant with his child (Camilla). In March of 1920, their occult and love interests deepened as Butts claimed “Maitland and I are in love with the 4th Dimension” (The Journals of Mary Butts. Nathalie Blondel. 2002. p. 144). At this time, they participated in a blood union and took blood union as the same journal, she states, “‘I made him fetch a corn razor, & slashed a cross on his wrist and on mine . 3 slashes to each in my eagerness to draw blood. We sucked each other’s cuts & kissed them, & lay back licking our own wrists" (Van-Asten). After writing a book together in 1923 titled “Backwards from Babylon”. It was three years later, in 1926, that Butts and Maitland separated. Maitland moved in with a group of friends and was noted to be severely depressed. Near the end of that same year, Maitland died at 34 due to a successful suicide attempt (Van-Asten).

Works cited

Blondel, Nathalie. “The Journals of Mary Butts.” The Journals of Mary Butts, Scribd,

Bondel, Nathalie. “Mary Butts: Scenes from the Life.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1998,

Heinz, Evi. “JOHN RODKER.” Modernist Archives Publishing Project,

“Mary Butts.” The Modern Novel,

Rolle, Elisa. “Queer Places.” Queerplaces - Gabriel Atkin,

Rolle, Elisa. “Queer Places.” Queerplaces - Mary Butts,

Van-Asten, Barry. Cecil Maitland, 1 Jan. 1970,

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