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My dear Douglas, Mary Butts and a performance of letters

Who was Mary Butts?

A Modernist Writer

Of all categories of Mary Butts, her position as a Modernist Writer is one that she would think of as primary. Mary Butts wanted to convey the unconveyable and make the normal significant (Blondel, Mary Butts 1, 5). Her mark on Modernism was her desire to make every landscape animated and living (Blondel, Mary Butts 6) and her desire to use all forms of art in her writing to find a formula of the age, especially music which can be seen in her jazz-like writing style (Blondel, Mary Butts 32). To Mary Butts, being a writer was who she was, and she was ready to leave her mark on the world of literature.

One last hard thing -- Remember that people are jealous of your Mother. About Grandmère I will write tales.

– Mary Butts to Camilla Butts, 5 November 1936

A Person

Through all the lenses to view Mary Butts, we hope that our performance can construct the visage of who Mary Butts was. Among all the positive and negative aspects of who she was it is important to frame her as a wholistic person. In our exhibit it is easy to focus heavily on certain aspects over others, and completely forget others, for many reasons. We hope that above all, to whoever is viewing this exhibit, remembers the place Mary Butts has earned in the history of Modernist Writers.

Mary Butts to Douglas Goldring September - June 1930

Mary Butts to Douglas Goldring September - June 1930

"O Douglas, O Moron, O low-grade intelligence! You gave me a crossed cheque on London, untouchable under a fortnight; open would have been all right. Anyhow (everyone was broke) Phil Lasell came to the rescue & Malin got safely off, plus the 700 francs you so kindly lent me."

It is impossible to say Mary Butts was anything but herself in her lifetime. For those like Douglas who fit into her world, they were treated to one of the most dedicated and genuine women of the Modernist movement known as Mary Butts.

What Others Remember

"On the fringe of the Montparnasse bars were a few talented story-tellers running to seed, like poor generous red-haired Mary Butts with her weakness for squalid parasites. She poured them drinks while she improvised the vivid stories one hoped she would write. Her real talent was akin to Anne Radcliffe, and she was born out of due time" (174)

– Harold Acton, Memoirs of an Aesthete (1948)

Rue de Monttessuy, Paris, early twenty-first century. Butts lived at number 14

Robert Medley, Drawn from the Life (1983)

"On Sunday afternoons, at Mary Butts's apartment (beyond the boulevard Montparnasse towards the Champs de Mars), it was possible to sink back into a familial English laziness. Her brilliant instability was offset by a strongly maternal instinct, and after tea we would frequently stay for a vast dinner of roast beef, for Mary liked to reassert the Englishness of the fifteenth-century Norfolk forebears with whom she identified as strongly as with the ancestor who had been the generous patron of William Blake. Surprisingly for a classical scholar, Mary was obsessed with magic."

"Mary Butts, between writing, smoking opium, arranging the misamours of Igor, her muscular, hysterical boy-friend, managed to teach me a great deal of English poetry. She tried to force me to go to Oxford when old enough. Many evenings we spent in her room reading aloud from Shelley and Keats and translating works by Cocteau. I owe a great deal to Mary Butts. She taught me to find delight in the sound of English words and to see poetic romance in a Blake-like way." (59)

– Francis Rose, Saying Life: The Memoirs of Sir Francis Rose (1961)

Works Cited

Butts, Mary. "Letter to Douglas Goldring." September 1926 - June 1930. Douglas Goldring fonds. University of Victoria Special Collections.

Butts, Mary. “Letter to Camilla Butts.” 5 November 1936. University of Victoria Special Collections.

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

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