Jessica Mann

An Eye On Posterity

The Journals of Mary Butts

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Yale University Press 499pp £30 order from our bookshop

Mary Butts: Scenes From The Life- A Biography

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McPherson & Company 554pp £22.50 order from our bookshop

LUCKY THE SCHOLAR who discovers a hitherto unstudied subject. Nathalie Blondel has staked out an academic corner with an obscure (otherwise described as ‘unjustly neglected’) British writer called Mary Butts, whose work appeared between the World Wars. It included a life of Alexander the Great called The Macedonian, some collections of short stories and several novels, among them Death of Felicity Taverner and Scenes from the Life of Cleopatra. All were in modernist, experimental style, using stream of consciousness, disruption of chronology and a great deal of classical metaphor and literary allusion. Much of Butts’s work has been republished during the last few years and Nathalie Blondel’s biography of the author appeared in 1998. Now Blonde1 has edited a volume of journals and notes through which BUGS ‘articulated her “thinking into, over and under and round” ;he people, places, books, Butts: events, ideas of her craft as a writer’. It is important to read the biography before turning to these journals because Butts’s personal records are too sketchy to make a complete story. They begin in 1916 when she was twenty-five, and end abruptly in the spring of 1937, when she suddenly collapsed with peritonitis and died.

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