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This article is taken from PN Review 124, Volume 25 Number 2, November - December 1998.

The Rediscovery of Mary Butts David Seed

Praised by Ezra Pound, friend of Douglas Goldring, and Djuna Barnes, it has been Mary Butts' fate to suffer almost total exclusion from histories of Modernism. Even recent revisions like Shari Benstock's Women of the Left Bank give her no mention. This is why Nathalie Blondel's new biography from McPherson, Mary Butts: Scenes from the Life is so welcome because its dazzling array of detail, drawn partly from Butts' diaries and other manuscripts, firmly locates her within a number of overlapping contexts. She was born in 1890 into a family whose ancestors knew William Blake. Indeed Blake gave Butts the title or her 1937 memoir (published immediately after her death that same year) The Crystal Cabinet. This work was an act of pious commemorations of her cherished Salterns, the family home near Poole where she spent her childhood. The house must have been a veritable treasure-trove to the young girl. In addition to Blake originals and other historical artefacts it also contained an extensive library to which Butts' father gave her free access. The mother, on the other hand, strove to uphold Victorian decency and destroyed any books she thought were 'risky'. Salterns may have established one ideal for Butts of cultural elegance, all too short-lived because on her father's death many possessions were sold off. At any rate this childhood experience must have triggered Butts' sympathy later in life for the Sackville-Wests' loss of their own family home Knole.

During the First World War Butts met ...

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