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My dear Douglas, Mary Butts and a performance of letters

Playing the "Freud Game"

Nina Bradley (UVic)

Psychoanalysis, as explored on the page “Butts and Psychology" in this exhibit, is a recurring theme of Mary Butts’ life, letters, and work. Butts does not always take psychology seriously and often uses psychological concepts in amusing ways. In "Armed with Madness", Butts’ characters play a fictional game called the “Freud Game." This game is a parody of Freud’s concept of free association; this method of psychoanalysis involves patients spontaneously and freely sharing their memories and thoughts, rather than answering structured questions (Quinodoz 8-9). The characters in "Armed with Madness" play the “Freud Game” by free-associating on a topic or object to reveal what ideas most readily come to mind (Butts 34).

As a method of exploring who Mary Butts was, this page will function as a digital “Freud Game” played among the exhibit’s contributors. The idea here is to reveal our implicit impressions of this figure and do so in a manner that is consistent with Butts’s interests and work.


Use the space on this page (below "Our Freud Game") to add whatever comes to mind when you think of Mary Butts. This might include words, phrases, quotes, photos, art, or anything else. Other people’s thoughts will create new connections in your mind so feel free to use those as a starting point. Please include your name with your contributions.

Our "Freud Game"

Corfe Castle, Purbeck, Dorset
Joel Hawkes (UVic)
Burton cliff, Dorset

Jenna Marco (University of South Carolina)

The Jurassic coast seaside cliffs in Wessex/Dorset (something about Butts always reminds me of the sea). This image of Burton cliff captures the cliff, the beach, the sea, and the green landscape quite well. Some extra layers - apparently rock falls (sometimes fatal) have become increasingly common along these sea cliffs. Reminds me of how Butts is always keenly aware of the sort of dangerous power nature holds in her writings on travel and landscapes. Makes me wonder how those writings might speak to our current moment of impending climate doom.

Salterns, Parkstone, Dorset, Mary Butts's childhood home

Devon MacLean (UVic)

Whenever I think abouts Butts, I imagine her upbringing at Salterns and its abundance of art, which undoubtedly influenced her work. From the comings and goings of Pre-Raphaelite artists (her father was friends with several) to the substantial amount of William Blake's work housed at Salterns, and her father's interest in classical literature, Butts' early childhood was filled with inspiration, launching her towards immortality as an influential modernist writer.

Rings and things and tides

– Stephen Ross (UVic)

Deep in the Woods - Salterns today

Deep in the Woods

"A trap for more worlds than one ... the House turned its back on the hill and the woods; its green lawn ran out softly between the points of the moon, between tall beeches" (Mary Butts, The Crystal Cabinet)Leigh Rocha (Current owner of Salterns)

"But everywhere there was a sense of broken continuity, a dis-ease. The end of an age, the beginning of another. Revaluation of values. Phrases that meant something if you could mean them. The meaning of meaning? Discovery of a new value, a different way of apprehending everything" (Butts, "Armed with Madness" 17-18)

– Nina Bradley (UVic)

Mary Butts and Gabriel Aitkin, Sennen, 1932-33

Classic Butts

"I ticked Alec off superbly when he came back
here. ‘Superb’ includes his not hating me, either.
What a party! What drink! What company! It will become a classic example." (Butts to Goldring - undated) -Cian Shepherd (UVic)

Alive in the archives

– Nicole Paletta (UVic)

"Don't you call it fun to watch how violently, strangely and in character people will behave? Watch Ross, watch Clarence. Watch me." He was watching her. Green, pointed feet in plaited shoes, bare arms, pointed breasts under a dress full of air. (Butts, Armed With Madness, 32)

– Thomas Armstrong (UVIC)

The Pursuit of Creativity

When reflecting on who Mary Butts was, the first thing that comes to mind is how she was completely dedicated to her craft. In all aspects of her life she was in the pursuit of creativity; her writing, consumption of other art, travels, and her relationships were all pointed towards her creative development. She maintained relationships and habits which were seen as potentially harmful for her, but if these relationships were beneficial to her writing she would give anything to maintain them. The recollection of Mary Butts is surrounded in her dedication. - Alex Lima (UVic)

"I cannot work & I want to. I have no patience & am ashamed not to have it." (Butts, The Journals of Mary Butts, 381)

– Alexander Lima

Hotel Welcome - Modern Day

Butts, Opium, and the French Riviera

This image captures the docks of Villefranche from one of the balconies of the modern day Welcome Hotel. Whenever I think about Butts, I immediately begin to imagine her time in Villefranche - writing, smoking opium, and partying among other legends of the period. I wonder if she woke up each morning to a view much like this. Did it inspired her writings or did she simply prefer to just close the blinds and go back to bed?
- Eric Kwakernaak (UVic)

The Pileated Woodpecker

Picus the Woodpecker

One of the common occurrences of Mary Butts' 'Armed with Madness' is the comparison of characters to animals and/or figures from Greek Mythology. The troublesome character nicknamed Picus draws upon the myth of King Picus, who was turned into a bird by the witch, Circe. The story of Circe is referred to again early in the novel through the nickname of the character called Scylla, named after the woman who was turned into a hideous sea monster by Circe.
The image of the woodpecker is brought to mind not only due to the mythological comparison, but also due to a real life event. In October of this year, I was in the process of reading 'Armed with Madness' outside, when a woodpecker swooped down and nearly collided with me while trying to perch upon a nearby grapevine. Due to my personal dislike of the character Picus, I felt as though he had jumped from the page just to annoy me in person.
- Anika Luteijn (UVic)

Mary Butts, Odo Cross, Gabiel Aitkin, Angus Davidson, Camilla, in Cross's car outside the First and Last Pub, Sennen, Aug 1933

Butts at the pub living it up.

Keileigh Stander (UVic)

Butts and Addiction

When thinking about Mary Butts, the first thing that comes to mind is her battle with her opium addiction. In many ways, I find it sad that my first thought when reflecting on Butts is not her unique and beautiful writing, or even her personality as displayed throughout her letters within our collection. No, instead I find myself focusing on her addiction; something that many may view as one of her lesser or more destructive traits. This in turn leads me to reflect on Butts' years of partying at the Hotel Welcome in Villefranche, France. It is not as though Butts was the first author or even celebrity to partake in the drug and partying scene, so it is worth contemplating why society is typically inclined to focus on an individual’s worst traits. Additionally, it is interesting to think about how Butts or any other historical figure might feel if they knew that today, they are often largely remembered for aspects of their life that have less to do with their crafts or contribution to history and more to do with their involvement in traditionally taboo subject matter. While we may never know for certain how Butts would feel about her addiction often being a primary topic of discussion, it could be assumed that she would be rather uncomfortable. This theory may be backed by Butts' use of "malaria" in place of "relapse" in her correspondence with her aunt Ada Briggs and fellow writer Douglas Goldring. While she had a close relationship with both, there appears to be an implied fear that should her letters fall into another's hands, a dark secret may be made public. This careful consideration of wording would suggest that Butts desperately wanted her legacy and reputation to be solely based on who she was and the work she created, rather than her struggles with addiction.

- Cameron Bolduc (UVic)

"Forgive me..."

Two words that readily come to mind at the mention of Mary Butts are "Forgive me." Throughout Butts' letters to Douglas Goldring, her aunt Ada Briggs, and her daughter Camilla Rodker, there are several instances wherein Butts writes something along the lines of forgive me for taking so long to write you. While this can be read as a form of etiquette, it is intriguing to note that Butts often asks for forgiveness or apologizes directly before or after mentioning a flare-up of malaria (aka, relapsing) or some other illness. This has led me to wonder if Butts felt guilty for her addiction and how it prevented her from being as present in the lives of her loved ones.
- Cameron Bolduc (UVic)

Works Cited

Butts, Mary. “Armed with Madness.” The Taverner Novels, McPherson & Company, New York, NY, 2018, pp. 11–142.

Butts, Mary. Journals of Mary Butts. Edited by Nathalie Blondel, Yale University Press, 2002.

Quinodoz, Jean-Michel. Sigmund Freud: An Introduction. Routledge, 2018.

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