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Series I: Papers of Mary Butts, [ca.1900]-37

Call Number: GEN MSS 487, Series I

Scope and Contents

Series I, Papers of Mary Butts (Boxes 1-15) spans the years ca. 1900-37, and is organized into three subseries: Correspondence, Writings, and Photographs and Artwork.

The first, Correspondence, is organized under two headings: Family Correspondence and General Correspondence. Most of the correspondence dates from the 1920s-30s, and consists almost exclusively of incoming letters to Mary Butts. (Drafts of many of Butts's outgoing letters can be found throughout her notebooks in the second subseries, Writings.) A close reading by the archivist has determined that the supplied dates on many of the letters, appearing in ink as "Postmarked [date]," are not reliable. Camilla Rodker Bagg has questioned or annotated many of these in pencil; some have been corrected in pencil by the archivist. The manner in which these dates were originally supplied is described in Chapter 6 of Robert Byington's "The Quest for Mary Butts," in Series III, Papers of Others (Box 21, Folder 304).

Family Correspondence consists of letters from Mary Butts's immediate family, including her mother, her brother Anthony, her daughter Camilla, and her first and second husbands, John Rodker and Gabriel Atkin. The most extensive correspondence is from her mother and brother. Her mother's letters largely concern Camilla's welfare, as well as efforts to sell a painting of Sir William Butts, thought to be by Holbein the younger, in order to stabilize the family's finances. Letters from Anthony Butts give news of his social life and of mutual friends in London and France, including Paul Robeson. Butts' letters from John Rodker concern Camilla, Rodker's travels, and mutual friends; two undated letters from Rodker refer to an "adventure" or accident that Butts had. Most of the letters from Gabriel Atkin contain small sketches by him, and, although most are undated, seem to be from the period before he and Butts married. Also present are two letters written during Mary Butts's childhood: one from her father, and one from Mary to her maternal grandmother.

General Correspondence consists of letters to Mary Butts from friends, literary acquaintances, and publishers, from 1916-37. These include Jean Cocteau, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Djuna Barnes, Carl Van Vechten, Wyndham Lewis, E. M. Forster, H. G. Wells, Ethel Colburn Mayne, and May Sinclair, among others. Several of Butts's correspondents write in response to reviews she has written of their work, or in reply to a questionnaire she sent out in 1935, which solicited accounts of supernatural experiences for an anthology to be published by Methuen. Correspondence with publishers includes Wishart & Co., The Cornhill, The Criterion, on behalf of which Eliot writes, and The Bookman, represented by Hugh Ross Williamson, who was also a friend.

Discussion of Butts's writings is most extensive in her correspondence with publishers, but many of her friends also write in praise of or discuss specific works in detail. For instance, Jack Lindsay served as an historical consultant for Butts's novel Scenes from the Life of Cleopatra. Correspondence with R. G. Goodyear contains a very long draft of a reply to him, nearly an essay, titled by Butts "Reasons Why Young Intellectuals Need Have No Fear of Their Fathers' Faith." For other outgoing letters, see Writings.

The second subseries, Writings, spans the years 1909-37, and contains notebooks, drafts of Butts's works, a few printed versions of shorter works, and two scrapbooks of reviews of her works. The subseries is organized under eight headings: Notebooks, Poetry, Short Stories, Novels, Plays, Non-fiction Books, Essays, and Reviews. The majority of Butts's writings are holograph drafts written in bound volumes: often the contents of each is listed in Butts's hand at the front. It should be noted, however, that Butts did not maintain strict distinctions between the categories listed above, and that the volumes frequently contain material other than what she lists as the contents. For example, a volume that primarily contains the draft of a novel may also include a poem or two at the end, or the beginning of a short story, or notes for an essay or book review. Cross references have been provided where the work could be identified, but the reader should be aware that small portions of any given work may be found scattered throughout the Writings subseries in a way that cannot be reflected in the finding aid. In addition to the genres named above, what appears to be automatic writing can be found throughout the subseries, and is noted under the description for each heading where it occurs.

The Notebooks span the period 1916-1937, with a significant gap from February 1923 to October 1924, which may represent a missing volume or volumes. The volumes were numbered at some point after the gap occurred; to facilitate identification and use, these volume numbers are included in the box and folder list. The notebooks, which Butts used primarily but not exclusively as diaries, contain standard diary entries; notes about and early drafts of her writings; drafts of outgoing letters; accounts of dreams; lists of books lent to friends; tallies of expenses; and what appears to be automatic writing (for example, see Volume 13, Box 3, Folder 63). Butts devised a system of notation for mystical experiences, and coded the margins of her notebooks accordingly. The key to this notation system is at the back of Volume 16 (Box 3, Folder 67). In addition, Volume 7, April-December 1920 (Box 2, Folder 57), contains extensive marginal annotations by John Rodker regarding the final months of their marriage and her feelings for Cecil Maitland.

Poetry consists of individual poems and groups of poems dated between 1909-31, as well as several undated poems. Because the poems date from earlier than the notebooks, they contain information about Butts's life that is not documented elsewhere, such as her romantic interest in women, including a former teacher named Gwen Ingram, among others, as well as early affairs with men. Other poems concern modern life in London, a visit to Italy in 1912, the First World War, and her life and friendships in France in the 1920s.

Poetry is organized under two subheadings, Bound Volumes and Related Drafts, and Individual Poems. The bound volumes are arranged roughly chronologically, with each bound volume followed by loose drafts and printed versions that correspond with works in that volume. An alphabetical list of the contents of each volume is provided in the box and folder list, and the corresponding loose drafts and printed versions are arranged alphabetically by title. Mark Drury, a name in the title of two of the volumes, is a pseudonym for Mary Butts. Individual Poems contains loose drafts and printed versions that do not correspond with the bound volumes, and is arranged alphabetically by title. Several of the volumes contain what appears to be automatic writing; this is noted in the box and folder list where it occurs.

Short Stories spans the years 1918-37, and is similarly organized under two subheadings: Bound Volumes and Related Drafts, and Individual Stories. The bound volumes are arranged chronologically, with each volume followed by corresponding loose drafts and printed versions. Here, too, an alphabetical list of the contents of each volume is provided, and the related loose drafts are arranged alphabetically. Individual Stories is arranged alphabetically by title.

Novels includes material written between about 1916-37, and is arranged alphabetically by title. It includes Butts's works of historical fiction as well as her modern novels. It also includes one work she co-authored with Cecil Maitland, "Backwards from Babylon," and what is possibly her first novel, "Unborn Gods" (ca. 1916). Plays includes three works, arranged alphabetically by title. Non-Fiction books includes just two titles, her memoir The Crystal Cabinet and a work titled "View of the Present State in the West."

Essays spans 1928-37. As with Poetry and Short Stories, the material is organized under two subheadings: Bound Volumes and Related Drafts, and Individual Essays. The bound volumes are arranged roughly chronologically, and each is followed by corresponding loose drafts and printed versions. Individual Essays is arranged alphabetically by title.

Reviews is organized under two subheadings: Reviews written by Mary Butts and Reviews of Mary Butts's Writings. The drafts of reviews written by Mary Butts span the years 1929-37, and are with one exception written in bound volumes. The volumes are arranged chronologically, with the one loose draft at the beginning of the chronological sequence, and one folder of printed versions together at the end of the sequence, arranged chronologically within the folder. Mary Butts pasted reviews of her own writings into two scrapbooks labeled "Press Cuttings," in rough chronological order. A few loose clippings are foldered separately following the scrapbooks.

The third subseries is Photographs and Artwork. This includes Mary Butts' photograph album, which contains snapshots of Butts and her friends and family between 1917-37. It also contains a portrait photograph of Butts by George Platt Lynes, taken in 1928. A list of individuals who appear in the photographs is provided in the box and folder list, and an identification key by Butts's biographer Nathalie Blondel accompanies the album. Also accompanying the album are clippings and other material that were placed between the pages by Camilla Bagg, and which have been kept with the album because of their relationship to some of the photographs.

This subseries also includes original drawings by Jean Cocteau, Gabriel Atkin, and an unknown artist. Atkin's drawings are comic illustrations of Wordsworth. Cocteau's drawings include one pencil portrait of Mary Butts, a portrait of a male figure wearing a beret, a sketch of a male nude, and a semi-abstract drawing of a reclining figure holding what could be an opium pipe. Also present are two photographs and one photomechanical reproduction of other drawings by Cocteau. There is also a portrait, presumably of Mary Butts, by an unknown artist; it shows a female figure wearing a striped dress, seated in a chair.


  • [ca.1900]-37


Conditions Governing Access

From the Collection:

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile material in boxes 25-26 may be consulted only with permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies or photographic prints for reference use have been substituted in the main files.


Oranized into three subseries: Correspondence, Writings, and Photographs and Artwork.


6.3 Linear Feet (15 boxes)

Language of Materials

From the Collection: English

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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