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Mary Butts: Scenes from the Life

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Mary Butts: Scenes from the Life.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Nathalie Blondel(Author)

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A distinctive and original voice within the Modernist movement, the English novelist Mary Butts was a prodigy of style, learning and energy, whose work compared with Katherine Mansfield, D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot, and was championed by Pound, Robert McAlmon, Ford Madox Ford, and others.

Nathalie Blondel was born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1960 and grew up in Colchester, Essex. She was educated at Colchester Girl's High School and Liverpool University, where she completed a doctorate in 1989 on the fiction of Mary Butts and the American writer Jane Bowles. Subsequently she has edited three of Jane Bowles's unpublished stories in collaboration with Paul Bowles, and has worked as a writer and translator: her subjects have included Jean Cocteau, Arthur Symons, Frances Bellerby, Patrick Hamilton, and Jocelyn Brooks, as well as Mary Butts. Nathalie Blondel currently is Research Fellow in Modern Literature and Lecturer at Oxford Brookes.

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Book details

  • PDF | 600 pages
  • Nathalie Blondel(Author)
  • McPherson & Co Publishers,U.S.; 1st Edition - 1st Impression { US } edition (1 Feb. 1998)
  • English
  • 4
  • Poetry, Drama & Criticism

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Review Text

  • By Nigel Jackson on 27 August 2012

    In a diary entry dated March 1921 written in Paris, Mary Butts ponders upon the nature of 'the artist as the true, because the oblique adept', exemplifying the elusive obliquity of the 'knight's move' in chess which is a subtle but persistent theme in her thought, writing and life-career. Nathalie Blondel's biography of this near-forgotten novelist of the 1920s and 1930s is a fascinating and comprehensive chronicle, dry but nonetheless highly satisfying in its detail and documentation. Her great-great grandfather was Thomas Butts who was a patron of William Blake and in her grand childhood home there was a 'Blake Room' where many of the artists watercolours hung and fascinated the young Mary in her childhood, shaping her creative imagination and in her memoir 'The Crystal Cabinet' MB hints suggestively regarding a 'family secret' passed down her line, a 'priestly line' of Eumolpidae, a secret having to do with what mediaeval philosophers called the 'aevum', intermediate between time and eternity.This book covers her Victorian childhood at Salterns which she spent exploring the landscape around the old Dorsetshire house and her early days working in London during WWI campaigning for imprisoned conscientious objectors, a period in which she was regarded by friends such as Stella Bowen as an 'aristocratic anarchist', a larger than life figure , impulsive and compassionate, tracing her trajectory as peace activist and militant feminist - her relationships and amours with both women and men are covered, her marriage to the publisher and writer John Rodker and her travels to Paris in the early 1920s with her lover Cecil Maitland - deeply interested in the esoteric she falls in with the libertine occultist Aleister Crowley who invites her and Maitland to come to his 'Abbey' at Cefalu in Sicily, an establishment she quickly comes to realise is a 'sham', dismissing AC as a ego-centric fraud and megalomaniac (and in esoteric matters as Roslyn Reso Foy has written '...Crowley most likely gained more knowledge from Butts than she did from him'). Her novel 'Ashe of Rings', an exquisite and unusual literary masterpiece of the 1920s is published and she is carried on the tides of Parisian night-life in the "années folles", indulging in alcohol, club life and cabarets, smoking opium and taking cocaine and heroin (her unpublished essay 'Fumerie' which explores the subtler aspects of opium experienced and interacted with as a living entity, is a work which one would like to read - Blondel cites a tantalizing passage therefrom). MB was nothing if not sociable and her friends in London and Paris included such figures as Elsa Lanchester (to whom she sub-leased her flat),Ezra Pound, Peter Warlock (who stimulated her interest in magic), Nina Hamnett (who painted her portrait) and Jean Cocteau (who drew her portrait) and her life during this period is a long party, despite the occasional presence of her daughter Camilla, during which she works assiduously on her writing, unfortunately developing addictions which persisted and dogged her to the end. Her troubled relationship with her mother whose sale of the family Blake collection and family seat she never forgave highlights MB's pervasive sense of 'la chute' - of loss and dispossession throughout her life, of being an exile from a disappeared world, the haunted landscape of childhood, a lost England of the imagination. Blondel examines Butts' subtle mytho-poetic imagination, a fusion of Hellenistic erudition (inspired by Jane Harrison's 'Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion') and a penetrating awareness of the folkloric numen and the 'visible Pan' of the English landscape and countryside viewed through the lens of childhood perception, focussed upon the mysterium of the Sanc-Grail. MB's interest in magic and the occult turns to weariness as she tires of the crassness and jejune pretensions of this type of outlook - she concludes perceptively that a single page of WB Yeats' 'Per Amica Silentia Lunae' is, qualitatively speaking, worth more than all the gaseous bombast of AC's 'Equinox', wisely eschewing the risible charade of the 'magical adept' but rather aspiring thenceforward to assume the mantle of the true artist and writer she was destined by Providence to be. Henceforth she pursues a literary-artistic vision which has been aptly termed 'modernist anti-modernism' - for the fascinating paradox of MB is that she deploys the stylistic idiom of literary modernism (in her beautiful elliptic prose-style with its tersely mannered, pertly chic and compressed poetics) but only to ultimately transcend that position in pursuit of a unique artistic vision of the Sacral, mirrored in mythic refractions of her own personal life-history experienced as an initiatic journey, replete with demonic trials and adversaries, portents, omens and supernatural ordeals, alight with the glory of a heroic quest pursued amid the distilled resentments, attractions, stratagems and frictions of human interactions, dysfunctional family relationships and the desacralization of the world by modernity, the 'obscene icons' of the counter-tradition and its sinister agencies who seek to subvert and destroy the eternal light of the Holy, embodied in such figures as the priestess-like Felicity Taverner who in a mysterious manner personifies the sanctity of the English landscape. Other works such as the amazing 'Mappa Mundi' and 'Brightness Falls' explore subtle intersections and perichoreses of the Imaginal geographies underlying mundane cityscapes of Paris and London with that rare visionary perception of haunting power which transpires at the 'hour of spiritual angularity'...The detailed biographical account follows MB back to England and to her sojourn in the 1930s in Sennen, Cornwall, where ever-sensitive in her clairvoyant way to the atmospheres of Celtic lore, spirits and lingering ghosts of the local countryside she lived with her husband, the equally-troubled artist Gabriel Aitken. Here MB writes and works on doggedly amid growing domestic disharmony and malaise, still addicted to a potent mixture of alcohol and home-grown opium tea: but here her spiritual sensibility undergoes a mysterious and radical transfiguration after she becomes an epistolary friend of Charles Williams whose mystical novels she admires tremendously, signing her letters to him 'Under the Mercy' in the spirit of the 'Companions of the Co-Inherence' of whom she may be counted a fellow-wayfarer. Impressed and influenced by the charismatic priest Fr. Bernard Walke and guided by the Divine Grace of the Mystery whose presence she senses during Mass at the old Cornish church of St Hilary, MB converts to orthodox Christianity and from the mid 1930s to her death, she found her spiritual home in the Anglo-Catholic communion, renouncing the delusions of modernism and rooting herself in a Traditional position as a strong Royalist and Catholic Christian. MB emerges as a survivor, she comes through the storm of maleficent illusions which beset and deceive modern mankind - her conversion has the feel of a personal spiritual victory over darkness, a quiet miracle of Divine Grace.Her final years at Sennen make for poignant reading, her health failing and struggling still to gain full recognition and support for her subtle and beautiful literary artistry. Her lonely death in 1937 comes as a sad and untimely event and although her name lived on as part of the bohemian legend of the 'Roaring Twenties', dressed a la mode at the Cafe Dome with her flaming red hair and jade ear-ring, Mary Butts literary legacy is perhaps only now being fully appreciated. This biography, with its copious photos and portraits, notes and annotations is a really wonderful and comprehensive resource on this unique writer and literary figure whose spiritual odyssey and artistic pre-occupations continue to intrigue and inspire...Mary Butts was an artist of rare genius and greatness and Nathalie Blondel's biography is a fine point of departure for the exploration and appreciation of her work and life


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