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Mary MacLane: teen diarist from Montana who set America ablaze in 1902
August 30, 2013 10:51 AM   Subscribe

At the turn of the last century, Mary MacLane wrote of her life in Butte, Montana, but she was no Laura Ingalls Wilder. Instead of comforting tales of a tough life, she instead imagined herself conversing with the Devil, and she could come across like "an off-kilter Walt Whitman with odes to her red blood, her sound, sensitive liver." Her first diary was originally titled I Await the Devil’s Coming, but her publisher re-titled it The Story of Mary MacLane, released to much (publisher-stirred) flurry and attention (Google books preview). Thanks to her book, she was able to move to Chicago. She wrote two more books, a variety of news paper columns and even a movie entitled Men Who Have Made Love to Me (Google books), which she wrote, directed, and starred in, directly addressing the camera at times. But for all the attention and publicity of the era (she was commemorated in a drink recipe, paid $500 for her likeness to be used on cigar boxes, and a Butte baseball team took her name as the team name), she has largely faded away, in part thanks to a public who turned from intrigued to mocking. Recently, Mary MacLane has found a renewed interest, thanks to the re-publishing of her original diary under its original name, as well as an anthology of her writing with additional notes (Google books preview).

You can read the original publications of her three books on Archive.org:

#1 The Story of Mary MacLane (1902)
#2 My friend Annabel Lee (1903)
#1.5 The story of Mary MacLane : past and present (1911) featuring a few extra pages of material written in 1910
#3 I, Mary McLane: a diary of human days (1917)

Inspired by Marie Bashkirtseff, a Ukrainian-born diarist, painter and sculptor whose diaries were also recently re-published but are also available in older forms on Archive.org (sample: Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff (1908) )
posted by filthy light thief (22 comments total) 100 users marked this as a favorite

 
FLT, you've done it again. Splendid.
posted by mykescipark at 10:54 AM on August 30, 2013


Her silent movie is considered lost, but apparently her script is available, as it was used to re-create her film on stage, which sounds fascinating.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:00 AM on August 30, 2013


Audiences who were first shocked by MacLane’s revelations soon turned mocking. The New York Press, for instance, thought it amusing to render the children’s poem, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in MacLane-style verse:
The lamb? Fool. It is no genius.

It will be slain ere long.

And I? I must live on.

I will torture that lamb,

For I am bad. And like the eyes of the Devil,

It follows me everywhere!”

New York Press, this makes me want to read the hell out of MacLane's books!
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:17 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll be downloading and reading the first of these as soon as I have time now.
posted by immlass at 11:19 AM on August 30, 2013


Her first diary was originally titled I Await the Devil’s Coming, but her publisher re-titled it The Story of Mary MacLane.

Ha!
posted by Iridic at 11:21 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


GenjiandProust, exactly! But I think the modern day sensibilities are rather different than they were 100 years ago.

I am also interested in the parodies of her story, which include The Story of Willie Complain, The Devil's Letters to Mary MacLane, By Himself, and The Story of Mary MacJane. Sadly, I couldn't find them on Archive.org or Google books.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:22 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reading just a bit of the Autobiography, her prose reminds me a lot of Lautréamont. What a difference a few decades and being a) French and b) male made!
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:25 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


This confused me greatly as I first interpreted "at the turn of the last century" to mean "1999".
posted by elizardbits at 11:26 AM on August 30, 2013


I was debating the language on that phrase. Is "turn of the prior century" any more clear? Oh well.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:27 AM on August 30, 2013


The Story of Willie Complain is on the Montana Memory Project
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:30 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Excellent post. Before I got to the "more inside" I was smugly planning to drop some information about Marie Bashkirtseff, but then I found you had that covered. I will, however, mention that I'm currently reading an 1835 novel, Идеал [(The) Ideal], by Elena Gan (Russian Wikipedia), in which she vividly expresses the horror of loneliness and boredom that awaits an intelligent woman who is not extremely lucky. Our age may be fucked up in a myriad of ways, but at least women have a fighting chance to live their own lives and be heard.
posted by languagehat at 11:44 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I tried reading her book after hearing about it in The Atlantic - it's like Edwardian LiveJournal.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:50 AM on August 30, 2013


Analogy: Mary MacLane is to Kathy Acker as Marya Delvard is to Diamanda Galas.
posted by larrybob at 11:55 AM on August 30, 2013


languagehat, I'd love to know more about Marie Bashkirtseff, as she sounds like another fascinating person. As for Gan, do you know if there are any decent translations of her work?
posted by filthy light thief at 11:55 AM on August 30, 2013


Superb post, filthy light thief, and how perfectly timed! I recently finished I Await The Devil's Coming, and I highlighted the hell out of my Kindle edition. Quite coincidentally, I read IATDC right after Miles Franklin's My Brilliant Career, and was quite struck by the similarities between the two. MBC is set in the Australian outback and the style is quite different, but it's no less full of yearning, passion, and throttled ambition.

And darn it, languagehat. I'm about to drop $67 on a paperback because of you. Cheers!
posted by peripathetic at 1:10 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh goodness, I might find myself falling down a rabbit hole in the near future. Elena Gan, also written/referred to as Helena von Hahn, is the mother of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the Russian-German occultist.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:31 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


> I'd love to know more about Marie Bashkirtseff, as she sounds like another fascinating person.

I don't really know any more about her than is in your links; she does sound fascinating, but she wrote her diary in French, so it's not part of my intensive Russian reading program (basically reading all of Russian literature from the start).

> As for Gan, do you know if there are any decent translations of her work?

Catriona Kelly, in her excellent An Anthology of Russian Women's Writing, 1777-1992 (a companion to the history I suckered peripathetic into buying), explains her omission of Gan by saying she is "already well represented in translation," but I don't know where those translations are to be found. It's hard enough finding her in Russian!

> And darn it, languagehat. I'm about to drop $67 on a paperback because of you. Cheers!

Ha, my evil plan is working! But Amazon has it used from $19.47; don't overspend.

> Elena Gan, also written/referred to as Helena von Hahn, is the mother of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

Yeah, and that's how I used to think of her, but now that I've become so impressed by her as a writer, I tend to forget about that. (For those who don't know, Russian doesn't have an /h/ phoneme, so foreign names used to get /g/ as substitute; now they tend to use /kh/ instead—it's Kheminguei, not Geminguei.) Like another current favorite of mine, Alexander Veltman, she was popular in the 1830s and '40s and then fell into oblivion. I would absolutely love a Collected Works for each of them. Curse you, fickle literary history!
posted by languagehat at 1:59 PM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the great post, Filthy Light Thief.

The Story of Willie Complain is available full text via Hathi Trust.

The Devil's Letters to Mary MacLane is available in the Kindle edition for $2.99.

Hathi Trust also has several other full text scans of Mary MacLane's later titles.
posted by Sidthecat at 2:29 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sidthecat: The Devil's Letters to Mary MacLane is available in the Kindle edition for $2.99.

At first, I was going to balk at the price for a digital edition of an out of print book, but it looks like one of Michael R. Brown's publications that expand upon the works and titles related to Mary MacLane.

Thanks for the other links, too!
posted by filthy light thief at 2:49 PM on August 30, 2013


And another tangent appears: the questionable literary empire of E.A. Weeks.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:54 PM on August 30, 2013


This is great, thanks.
posted by Divine_Wino at 4:26 PM on August 30, 2013


her sole amusement is wandering the empty plains. (*)

Yeah, pretty much describes where I grew up. (Altho I had trees.)

When she feels low, she compares herself to the black mud of a sow’s pen.

I visited Butte, Montana nearly a century later, and can totally relate. When you approach it from the east, that feeling of going down, down, down is all the fair warning you'll get. Also true as you travel sufficiently east of Butte (Billings gives you no warning at all).
posted by Twang at 6:43 PM on August 30, 2013


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