Butts, Mary, 1890-1937

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The English writer Mary Butts was born in Parkstone, Dorset, the daughter of Captain F. J. Butts (grandson of Blake's patron Thomas Butts) and Mary (Briggs) Butts. Although she earned a degree in social work in 1914, she devoted herself exclusively to writing from about 1916. Butts was married twice,first to the publisher John Rodker in 1918, and secondly to the artist Gabriel Atkin in 1930. She had one child, Camilla Elizabeth Rodker, born in November 1920. On March 5, 1937, Butts died suddenly in Sennen, Cornwall, where she and Atkin had moved in 1932.

From the description of Mary Butts papers, 1830-1990 (bulk 1915-37). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 80234118

From the description of Mary Butts papers, 1830-1990 (bulk 1915-37). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702153037

Mary Butts was born at Salterns, Dorset, England, in 1893. She was educated at Sandecotes School in Parkstone; at boarding school at St. Andrews, Scotland; at Westfield College of the University of London; and at the London School of Economics. She did welfare work for the London County Council during World War I. During this period she began writing stories and poems and her first novel, Ashe of Rings. She studied at Aleister Crowley's Temple of Black Magic at Cefalu Abbey in Sicily. She married twice, first to John Rodker, with whom she had a daughter, Camilla; then to Gabriel Aitken. She lived in Paris for many years, and was a member of Left Bank circles which included Jean Cocteau and Ford Maddox Ford. She was living in Cornwall when she suddenly became ill and died in 1937.

From the description of Mary Butts miscellany, 1918-1992. (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 84412108

English writer Mary Butts was born in Dorset. After many years in London and Paris, in 1932 she settled in Sennen, Cornwall, with her second husband, the artist Gabriel Atkin. She died there at the age of 46.

From the description of Mary Butts collection, 1928-1936. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702164441

From the description of Mary Butts collection, 1928-1936. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 78478648

The English writer Mary Butts was a pioneer in the modernist style, writing between about 1910 and 1937, and often published alongside authors such as Ezra Pound, H.D., Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce. Profoundly interested in the supernatural, and writing as often about the classical world as the modern, she was acclaimed as a short story writer and novelist in her lifetime. For many years after her death at the age of forty-six, her work was little known and her place among her contemporaries largely unrecognized.

Born Mary Franies Butts on December 13, 1890, in the village of Parkstone in Dorset, England, she was the first child and only daughter of Captain Frederick John Butts, a veteran of the Crimean War, and his second wife, Mary Jane (Briggs) Butts. A second child, Anthony Butts, was born in 1901. The family also included Mary's maternal grandmother and four unmarried aunts, who lived close by in Parkstone. Of these, she was closest to Aunt Irlam Briggs, an artist who often used her niece as a model, and especially to Aunt Ada Briggs. Ada remained a central family figure throughout Mary's life, lending her money, mediating disputes between Mary and her mother, and later raising Mary's own daughter. Butts's relationship with her mother was always strained, and grew steadily worse after her father died, when her mother sold first a collection of William Blake prints and drawings inherited from Mary's great-grandfather

Thomas Butts, Blake's patron, and then the family home, Salterns, in 1923.

Mary Butts spent her childhood at Salterns, and attended the local schools until the age of fifteen. After her father's death in 1905, her mother married Francis Frederick Musgrove Colville-Hyde, and Mary was sent to St. Leonard's School for Girls in St. Andrews, Scotland. In 1909, she enrolled at Westfield College, London University, which she attended until 1912, when she was sent down for breaking college rules. She went on to earn a Social Science Certificate from the London School of Economics in 1914, and worked for some time for the Children's Care Committee in Hackney. In 1916 she worked for the National Council for Civil Liberties, under Raymond Postgate.

Once in London, Butts shed the constraints of her Victorian upbringing and adopted a bohemian lifestyle. Her social circle encompassed artists of all types: actors and particularly dancers, for she admired both the provocative Ballets Russes and the free dance of Isadora Duncan; painters, for whom she often modelled, including Gladys Hynes, Nina Hamnett, and Roger Fry; and, importantly for her own work, many of the literary avant-garde, including Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, and Ford Madox Ford. Her social work involved her to some extent in the suffrage movement, and she was friendly with the outspoken feminist Wilma Meikle, among other well educated young women for whom sexual freedom was an important component of intellectual and political equality.

For several years in the mid-1910s, Butts lived with her lover Eleanor Rogers, about whom little is known. She broke with Eleanor gradually after she fell in love with the publisher and writer John Rodker. Like Butts and most of her friends at that time, Rodker opposed the First World War, and spent much of 1917 in prison as a conscientious objector.

Mary Butts and John Rodker married in 1918, and operated Rodker's Ovid Press together. In November 1920 their daughter, Camilla Elizabeth Rodker, was born. Just three months after Camilla's birth, Mary Butts left Rodker for Cecil Maitland, a wounded war veteran who frequently attempted suicide. Maitland shared her interest in magic and the occult, and the two of them spent the summer of 1921 at Aleister Crowley's Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu, Sicily, where they studied clairvoyance and practiced black magic under Crowley's guidance. At about this time Butts began to use drugs regularly; she remained addicted to opium for the rest of her life.

Butts spent the better part of the 1920s at parties and nightclubs, and, by all accounts, did more than her share to give that decade its reputation for hedonism. In her own view, however, the First World War had so damaged the few of her generation who survived it, and so blighted their chances for traditional happiness, that every day was a battle of courage against despair, and the endless party was a movement, a spiritual duty, to keep joy, beauty, and hope from going out of the world altogether. Explaining this philosophy to her Aunt Ada in 1929, Butts wrote, "But if you pray for me, my dear, don't bother about my young men, my cigarettes, dances, adventures which are one's distractions, refreshments, and have been fairly earned. There is a rather beautiful bacchanale going on for a few hundreds of us who earn our play, quite as good as any greek one--like all lovely things, we've had to create it and keep it bright" (Box 17, Folder 243).

During this time Butts lived alternately in Paris and London, basing herself primarily in Paris in the latter part of the '20s. She also spent much time among fellow writers and artists in the South of France and in Brittany. Among her many friends at this time were Jean Cocteau, Monroe Wheeler and Glenway Wescott, Peggy Guggenheim, Mireille Havet, and Duff Twysden. She left Maitland in 1925, but was greatly upset by his death in 1926. Over the next several years she was involved with a number of people, including the composer Virgil Thomson and a Russian emigré named Sergei Maslenikoff, before she met Gabriel Atkin, an artist, in 1928. Butts married Atkin (she preferred to spell it Aitkin) in London in 1930, and moved back to Britain permanently.

Butts's divorce from John Rodker was not final until 1927, and in the years following their separation responsibility for their daughter had become a source of conflict. In 1921 Camilla was left in the care of a friend in London, Poppy Vanda, where she remained until 1926. Mary Butts then took her to France and put her in a series of lodgings and schools until late 1928, when Rodker, alarmed by a visit to Camilla, insisted that she be looked after properly and educated in England. After several false starts, in 1929 Camilla was enrolled in the local school in Parkstone, where Mary Butts herself had been a student, and came to live with her great-aunt Ada Briggs, who essentially raised her from that point on.

For the first two years after their marriage, Mary Butts and Gabriel Atkin lived in London and Newcastle, near his family. In 1932, they moved to Sennen, a village near Land's End in Cornwall, and bought a cottage there which they called Tebel Vos. The marriage with Atkin was troubled, and he left her in 1934. At about this time she returned to the Christian faith, attending church in Sennen regularly. Her closest friend during this period was Angus Davidson, who bought a cottage near hers in 1934, and whom she designated her literary executor. On March 5, 1937, Mary Butts died suddenly after emergency surgery for a perforated ulcer.

Further details about Mary Butts's life can be gleaned from her fiction and poetry, much of which draws on or closely mirrors her real life. She wrote steadily from an early age; although a poem and an essay were published in 1906, her first real success as a writer came toward the end of the 1910s, when her work began to be published and well reviewed in little magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. She was encouraged early in her career by John Rodker, Ezra Pound, and Ford Madox Ford, and in the 1920s her growing literary reputation was helped along by friends like Glenway Wescott, who wrote a glowing review of her first collection of short stories, Speed the Plough (1923), and Jean Cocteau, who illustrated her epistolary novel Imaginary Letters (1928). Butts's years in Cornwall were her most productive as a writer: during this period she wrote several novels, including The Death of Felicity Taverner (1932) and The Macedonian (1933); many stories and essays; a steady stream of book reviews; and her memoir, The Crystal Cabinet, which was published posthumously.

For a fuller description of Butts's childhood and family, see her memoir, The Crystal Cabinet: My Childhood at Salterns . For a detailed treatment of her life, her work, and her relationships with other figures of the modern era, see Nathalie Blondel, Mary Butts: Scenes from the Life (Kingston, New York: MacPherson & Company, 1998).

BUTTS AND BRIGGS FAMILIES

The names of individuals represented in the papers are emphasized. For a more detailed Butts genealogy see the Appendix .

Thomas Butts (1759-1846) (Blake's patron) m. Elizabeth Cooper ----Thomas Butts, Jr. (1788-1862) m. Mary Ann Barrow -------- Frederick John Butts (1833-1905) 2nd. m. Mary Jane Briggs (1863-1944) ------------ Anthony Bacon Drury Butts (1901-1941) ------------ Mary Franies Butts (1890-1937) m. John Rodker (1894-1955) * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 2nd. m. Gabriel Atkin (1897-1937) ---------------- Camilla Elizabeth Rodker (1920- ) m. H. Israel (d.1950s) * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 2nd. m. Reginald Bagg --------------------Daniel Israel (b. ca. 1949) --------------------Edward Israel (b. ca. 1951) Thomas Briggs (b. 1799) m. Mary Robinson ----James Briggs (1830-1874) m. Sarah Anne Ellis (1859-1924) -------- Ada Elizabeth Briggs (1861-1951) -------- Emma Irlam Briggs (1867-1951) --------Monica Briggs (1872-1901) --------Agnes Briggs (ca. 1870-1940) -------- Mary Jane Briggs (1863-1944) m. Frederick John Butts (1833-1905) * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 2nd. m. Francis F. Colville-Hyde (d. 1919) ------------ Anthony Bacon Drury Butts (1901-1941) ------------ Mary Franies Butts (1890-1937) m. John Rodker (1894-1955) * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 2nd. m. Gabriel Atkin (1897-1937) ---------------- Camilla Elizabeth Rodker (1920- ) m. H. Israel (d.1950s) * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 2nd. m. Reginald Bagg --------------------Daniel Israel (b. ca. 1949) --------------------Edward Israel (b. ca. 1951)

From the guide to the Mary Butts papers, 1830-1990, 1915-37, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Lowry, Malcolm, 1909-1957. Malcolm Lowry - John Davenport papers, 1926-1970. The University of Tulsa, McFarlin Library
referencedIn Lawrence & Wishart records, 1927-1951 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn [Player File : Barrett, John, 1872- / compiled by the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, N.Y.]. National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
creatorOf Butts, Mary, 1890-1937. Mary Butts papers, 1830-1990 (bulk 1915-37). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Wescott, Glenway, 1901-1987. Glenway Wescott papers, 1900-1990. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Goldring, Douglas, 1887-1960. Douglas Goldring fonds. [1900-1964]. University of Victoria Libraries, UVic
referencedIn Loomis, Francis B. (Francis Butler), 1861-1948. Francis B. Loomis papers, 1897-1939. [microform]. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Glenway Wescott papers, 1900-1990 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn [Genealogies of Barrett families]. New England Historic Genealogical Society
referencedIn Wescott, Glenway, 1901-1987. Glenway Wescott papers, 1900-1990. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Lawrence & Wishart. Lawrence & Wishart records, 1927-1951. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Papers of Richard Ellis Roberts, 1917-39, n.d. Bodleian Library, Oxford
creatorOf Butts, Mary, 1890-1937. Mary Butts papers, 1830-1990 (bulk 1915-37). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Butts, Mary, 1890-1937. Mary Butts collection, 1928-1936. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Barrett, John. Miscellaneous manuscripts, 1727. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Mary Butts papers, 1830-1990, 1915-37 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Gates, Horatio, 1728-1806. American Revolution collection : military matters, 18th-20th centuries. Lexington Historical Society
creatorOf Butts, Mary, 1890-1937. Mary Butts miscellany, 1918-1992. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Leighton, Warren, Mrs,. Mrs. Warren Leighton papers, 1823-1858. Maine Historical Society Library
creatorOf Butts, Mary, 1890-1937. Mary Butts collection, 1928-1936. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Atkin, Gabriel. person
associatedWith Atkin, Gabriel, 1897-1937. person
associatedWith Bagg, Camilla Rodker, 1920- person
associatedWith Barrett, Samuel. person
associatedWith Briggs, Ada E., 1861-1951. person
associatedWith Briggs, E. Irlam (Emma Irlam), 1867-1951. person
associatedWith Bull, Harcourt Wesson. person
associatedWith Butt family. family
associatedWith Butt family. family
associatedWith Butt family. family
associatedWith Butts, Anthony, 1901-1941. person
associatedWith Butts, Frederick John, 1833-1905. person
associatedWith Butts, Thomas, 1759-1846. person
associatedWith Byington, Robert H. person
associatedWith Cocteau, Jean, 1889-1963. person
associatedWith Colville-Hyde, Mary, 1863-1944. person
associatedWith Davidson, Angus, 1898- person
associatedWith Dickerson, Jonathan. person
associatedWith Forster, E. M. (Edward Morgan), 1879-1970. person
associatedWith Goldring, Douglas, 1887-1960. person
associatedWith Ingram, Herbert Frank, d. 1984. person
associatedWith Joyce, James, 1882-1941. person
associatedWith Julian, Emperor of Rome, 331-363. person
associatedWith Lawrence & Wishart. corporateBody
associatedWith Lawrence & Wishart. corporateBody
associatedWith Leighton, Warren, Mrs, person
associatedWith Lindsay, Jack, 1900- person
associatedWith Lindsay, Jack, 1900-1990. person
associatedWith Loomis, Francis B. (Francis Butler), 1861-1948. person
associatedWith Lowry, Malcolm, 1909-1957. person
associatedWith Lynes, George Platt, 1907-1955. person
associatedWith Maitland, Cecil, d. 1926. person
associatedWith Mayne, Ethel Colburn, d. 1941. person
associatedWith Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972. person
associatedWith Revell, Stanley. person
associatedWith Revell, Stanley. person
associatedWith Roberts, R. Ellis (Richard Ellis), 1879-1953. person
associatedWith Rodker, John, 1894-1955 person
associatedWith Ross Williamson, Hugh, 1901-1978. person
associatedWith Royde-Smith, Naomi. person
associatedWith Royde-Smith, Naomi. person
associatedWith Sinclair, May. person
associatedWith Sinclair, May. person
associatedWith Wells, H. G. (Herbert George), 1866-1946. person
associatedWith Wescott, Glenway, 1901-1987. person
associatedWith Williams, Charles, 1886-1945. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Sennen (England)
Cornwall (England : County)
Paris (France)
Great Britain
Great Britain
Paris (France)
Paris (France)
Cornwall (England : County)
Sennen (England)
Subject
World War, 1914-1918
Women authors, English
World War,1914-1918
Authors, British
Authors, English
British literature
Conscientious objectors
Conscientious objectors
English literature
Modernism (Literature)
Magic
Occultism
Occupation
Activity

Person

Birth 1890-12-13

Death 1937-03-05

Britons

French,

English

Information

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