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Mary Butts papers

 Collection
Call Number: GEN MSS 487

Scope and Contents

The Mary Butts Papers consist of writings, correspondence, and other papers of the British writer Mary Butts, as well as papers of her daughter Camilla Rodker Bagg and other family members, and the research files and drafts of writings about Butts of several researchers. The papers span the years 1830 to 1990, but the bulk fall between 1915-37. They are organized into three series: Papers of Mary Butts, Family Papers, and Papers of Others. Camilla Bagg inherited her mother's papers after her death in 1937, and took possession of them when she came of age in 1945; until then they had remained in Cornwall with Butts's literary executor Angus Davidson. Camilla describes the condition of the papers in 1945, as well as her reluctance to part with or allow access to them, in her essay, "A Literary Friendship," in Series II, Family Papers. While she did eventually allow several researchers access to them, the papers remained in her possession until 1998, when they were purchased by this library, along with some of her own papers relating to her mother, and those of other family members and researchers that she had acquired over the years. Camilla inherited papers of her grandmother, uncle, great-aunts, and father after their deaths: Mary Colville-Hyde died in 1944; Anthony Butts committed suicide in 1941; Irlam and Ada Briggs both died in 1951; and John Rodker died in 1955. In the 1980s, Camilla acquired drafts of works about Mary Butts and research files about her and the family from Robert Byington, Herbert Frank Ingram, and Stanley Revell.

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.

Series II, Family Papers (Boxes 16-20), includes a leaf from a family Bible bearing inscriptions from 1830, but the rest of the papers date from the 1880s to 1990, with the bulk between 1920-85. This series contains papers of Camilla Bagg, Ada E. Briggs, Irlam Briggs, Anthony Butts, Mary Colville-Hyde, and John Rodker. With a few exceptions, such as the leaf from the Bible, all of the papers relate to Mary Butts' life and work. The series is organized into seven subseries: Papers of Camilla Rodker Bagg, Papers of Ada E. Briggs, Papers of Anthony Butts, Butts Family Papers, Papers of Mary Colville-Hyde, Papers of John Rodker, and Photographs and Artwork. Throughout this series, the same caveat should be observed regarding supplied dates on the correspondence appearing in ink as "Postmarked [date];" they are not consistently reliable.

Papers of Camilla Bagg spans the years 1930-90, and is organized under three headings: Correspondence, Writings, and Other Papers. Correspondence is organized under two subheadings: Family Correspondence and General Correspondence.

Family Correspondence spans the years 1930-36, and includes letters from Mary Butts, Mary Colville-Hyde, and Ada Briggs. General Correspondence spans the years 1931-89, and largely concerns the literary legacy of Mary Butts, including Yale University's attempts to acquire her papers in the 1950s-60s. Correspondence concerning the fate of the papers includes letters from Butts's literary executor Angus Davidson, her friend Harcourt Wesson Bull, and the family solicitors, Warren Murton Foster & Swan, as well as from Robert Gathorne-Hardy and Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, from whom Camilla sought advice. Other letters are from researchers interested in Mary Butts or the Butts family. Chief among these is Robert H. Byington, who began research for a biography on Mary Butts in the early 1960s and became very friendly with Camilla. The two maintained an extensive correspondence until the early 1980s; their falling out is described in detail in Camilla's essay "A Literary Friendship," which can be found below under the heading Writings (Box 16, Folder 225). Copies of Camilla's outgoing letters to Byington are present throughout their correspondence; they document her feelings about her mother, family history, and her own life as an adult. Other researchers include Louis Adeane, G. E. Bentley, Stanley Revell, and Herbert Frank Ingram; Camilla's correspondence with Ingram can be found in Series III, Papers of Others(Box 21, Folder 313).

Writings contains a single long essay. Camilla Bagg wrote "A Literary Friendship" in the 1980s, following a conference on Mary Butts at the University of California, Davis, in 1984. This document focuses on the deterioration of Camilla's trust in Robert H. Byington, to whom she had given almost exclusive access to Butts's papers while he worked on his biography. However, it is also her explanation and justification for not having made the papers more widely avaliable when they came into her possession in 1945.

Other Papers contains a partial transcript of the 1984 U. C. Davis conference "Mary Butts: Her Writings and Her World;" photographs of Butts's gravestone; auction catalogs from the sales of Butts family items between 1932 and 1966; clippings Camilla had placed in Mary Butts's notebooks; and a chart showing which real Butts, Briggs, and Colville-Hyde family members correspond with fictional characters in Curious Relations, a novel by Anthony Butts that was published under the pseudonym William D'Arfey.

Papers of Ada E. Briggs contains Correspondence and Other Papers. It includes substantial files of letters from Mary Butts, Camilla Rodker, Mary Colville-Hyde, and John Rodker, as well as a few letters from other people important in Mary Butts's life, such as Gabriel Atkin, Cecil Maitland, and Angus Davidson. Also present are financial records concerning Camilla Rodker and money lent or given to Mary Butts; a copy of the auction catalog from the sale of Salterns in 1923, annotated to show which items she or her sisters bought back for the family; a clipping of a news photo showing Salterns after it burned in 1950; and an annotated copy of "In a Bombed House: an Elegy in Memory of Anthony Butts," by William Plomer, into which is tipped "A Catalogue of Some of Blake's Pictures at The Salterns."

Papers of Anthony Butts consists of two incomplete drafts of plays, titled "Iphigenia in Argos" and "Dora Jordan, or, the Comic Muse," and one incomplete draft of a letter to an unidentified recipient.

Butts Family Papers contains a Butts genealogy and a leaf from a family Bible inscribed with genealogical information. The first item, "Pedigree of the Family of Butts," is a bound typescript genealogy covering 1260-1890, with additional manuscript entries up to 1930, and manuscript annotations throughout by Mary Colville-Hyde, as well as a few annotations by Camilla Rodker Bagg. The "Pedigree" was discovered in a second-hand bookshop and given to Camilla by Herbert Frank Ingram in the 1960s, but appears to have been made for or by Captain F. J. Butts in the 1890s. The leaf from the Bible contains information about the family of F. J. Butts's uncle Joseph Edward Butts and his wife Sarah. It lists the births of their children, 1805-1821, and contains an 1830 inscription to Sarah Butts. This leaf was originally stored in the Bible of Thomas Butts (1759-1846), F. J. Butts's grandfather and Blake's patron, which has been cataloged separately. That Bible is inscribed with family information from 1784-1890, its last entry recording the birth of Mary Franies Butts.

Papers of Mary Colville-Hyde contain Correspondence, Writings, and Other Papers. Correspondence includes letters from Camilla Rodker, Sir Hickman Beckett Bacon, and Keith Miller Jones, as well as outgoing letters to Anthony Butts, her mother Sarah Briggs, and the Butts family solicitors. Also present is the printed version of an article Colville-Hyde wrote about Holbein portraits of Sir William and Lady Butts owned by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, printed in Apollo in 1935. Her Other Papers include a copy of her will and printed articles regarding the restoration of the supposed Holbein portrait of Sir William Butts that the family sold to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the 1930s.

The selection of John Rodker's correspondence that was given to Camilla Bagg by her older half-sister Joan, Rodker's daughter from a liaison with Sonia Cohen before his marriage to Butts, concerns only Camilla and Mary Butts, and spans the years 1921-37. It includes correspondence with Camilla, Ada Briggs, Mary Butts, Mary Colville-Hyde, and Rodker's and Butts's solicitors. Rodker's correspondence with Mary Butts spans the years ca. 1926-36, and chiefly concerns arrangements for Camilla, but several of Butts's letters give news of herself and mutual friends, and a few touch on Rodker's publishing ventures. Correspondence with solicitors firms concerns Rodker's divorce from Mary Butts and their legal settlement over Camilla, in which Mary Colville-Hyde agreed to pay a portion of Camilla's expenses. Correspondence with Mary Colville-Hyde largely concerns this arrangement, and his related efforts in the 1930s to help her sell the painting believed to be by Holbein; included here is a copy of a history of the painting written by Mary Colville-Hyde. Correspondence with Ada Briggs chiefly concerns Camilla, but a few letters discuss Rodker's relationship with Mary Butts. Rodker's active interest in Camilla's well-being is further documented in his correspondence with schools, doctors, and others in whose care she was placed. Copies of Rodker's outgoing letters can be found throughout his correspondence. Rodker's papers also include one folder of notes concerning Camilla.

The final subseries, Photographs and Artwork, contains family photographs from the 1880s through 1926, including photographs of Mary Butts from childhood through her marriage to Rodker; photographs of Mary Colville-Hyde and Ada Briggs in their youth and in their later years, including one showing Ada Briggs as Poole's first Councilwoman, ca. 1920, and a photograph of a portrait of Ada by Irlam Briggs from the same time; a photograph of a portrait minature of Captain F. J. Butts painted circa 1860; and a photograph of the family together on Captain Butts's yacht in the 1890s. Artwork includes two portraits of Mary Butts by her aunt Irlam Briggs, both showing her in her teens or twenties; one is a watercolor, the other an oil painting of her as St. Cecilia.

Series III, Papers of Others (Boxes 21-22), contains a draft of a biography of Butts by Robert H. Byington, and research files about Butts compiled by Herbert Frank Ingram and Stanley Revell, which Camilla Bagg eventually acquired. Robert Byington's extensive draft for his biography, "The Quest for Mary Butts" (1981), is a narrative description of his twenty years of research on Butts. It includes accounts of interviews and correspondence with a number of Butts's friends and contemporaries, including Virgil Thomson, Rebecca West, Glenway Wescott, and many others. It also describes Byington's use of Butts's papers and his friendship with Camilla Bagg.

Also in this series are the research files and related correspondence of Herbert Frank Ingram, a Dorset writer who wrote about Mary Butts for the Poole and Dorset Herald and tried to have a longer biographical article about her published as part of a series of pamphlets about famous Dorset people. Both the newspaper article and the longer sketch are included here, as is his correspondence with Camilla Bagg, incoming and outgoing, from 1966-84, and with his friend Harry Johnstone, who did much research for him on Mary Butts. Ingram's research files include copies of articles about Butts by other writers, excerpts from memoirs and articles in which Butts is mentioned, printed book reviews by Butts, and reviews of her writings as well as reviews of Anthony Butts's and William Plomer's fictional treatments of the family. There is an extensive file on the Butts and Briggs families, which includes information about the Butts family from the middle ages through the twentieth century, as well as clippings documenting the deaths of Irlam and Ada Briggs and a financial scandal in which Mary Colville-Hyde was a victim. Ingram's files also include copies of the death certificates of Mary Butts and her brother Anthony; the dust jacket for the 1933 Wishart edition of Mary Butts's novel Ashe of Rings; photographs of Salterns; and copies of drawings of Mary Butts.

This series also includes one folder of research notes on Mary Butts and John Rodker compiled by Stanley Revell. It contains his notes from several interviews with Camilla Bagg in the 1980s, as well as information from other sources.

Dates

  • 1830 - 1990
  • Majority of material found within 1915 - 1937

Creator

Language

English

Conditions Governing Access

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.

Conditions Governing Use

The Mary Butts Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Bernard Quaritch, Ltd., on the Edwin J. Beinecke Book Fund, 1998.

Extent

14.7 Linear Feet (27 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Overview

Series I, Papers of Mary Butts, consists of correspondence, writings, photographs, and artwork. Series II, Family Papers, contains papers of Butts's daughter Camilla Rodker Bagg, her mother Mary Colville-Hyde, her brother Anthony Butts, her aunts Ada and Irlam Briggs, and her first husband John Rodker, and photographs and artwork. Series III, Papers of Others, contains a draft of Robert H. Byington's biography of Butts, "The Quest for Mary Butts;" the writings, research files, and research correspondence of Butts researcher Herbert Frank Ingram; and a single file of notes about Butts compiled by Stanley Revell.

MARY BUTTS (1890-1937)

The English writer Mary Butts was a pioneer in the modernist style, writing between about 1910 and 1937, and often published alongside authors such as Ezra Pound, H.D., Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce. Profoundly interested in the supernatural, and writing as often about the classical world as the modern, she was acclaimed as a short story writer and novelist in her lifetime. For many years after her death at the age of forty-six, her work was little known and her place among her contemporaries largely unrecognized.

Born Mary Franies Butts on December 13, 1890, in the village of Parkstone in Dorset, England, she was the first child and only daughter of Captain Frederick John Butts, a veteran of the Crimean War, and his second wife, Mary Jane (Briggs) Butts. A second child, Anthony Butts, was born in 1901. The family also included Mary's maternal grandmother and four unmarried aunts, who lived close by in Parkstone. Of these, she was closest to Aunt Irlam Briggs, an artist who often used her niece as a model, and especially to Aunt Ada Briggs. Ada remained a central family figure throughout Mary's life, lending her money, mediating disputes between Mary and her mother, and later raising Mary's own daughter. Butts's relationship with her mother was always strained, and grew steadily worse after her father died, when her mother sold first a collection of William Blake prints and drawings inherited from Mary's great-grandfather Thomas Butts, Blake's patron, and then the family home, Salterns, in 1923.

Mary Butts spent her childhood at Salterns, and attended the local schools until the age of fifteen. After her father's death in 1905, her mother married Francis Frederick Musgrove Colville-Hyde, and Mary was sent to St. Leonard's School for Girls in St. Andrews, Scotland. In 1909, she enrolled at Westfield College, London University, which she attended until 1912, when she was sent down for breaking college rules. She went on to earn a Social Science Certificate from the London School of Economics in 1914, and worked for some time for the Children's Care Committee in Hackney. In 1916 she worked for the National Council for Civil Liberties, under Raymond Postgate.

Once in London, Butts shed the constraints of her Victorian upbringing and adopted a bohemian lifestyle. Her social circle encompassed artists of all types: actors and particularly dancers, for she admired both the provocative Ballets Russes and the free dance of Isadora Duncan; painters, for whom she often modelled, including Gladys Hynes, Nina Hamnett, and Roger Fry; and, importantly for her own work, many of the literary avant-garde, including Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, and Ford Madox Ford. Her social work involved her to some extent in the suffrage movement, and she was friendly with the outspoken feminist Wilma Meikle, among other well educated young women for whom sexual freedom was an important component of intellectual and political equality.

For several years in the mid-1910s, Butts lived with her lover Eleanor Rogers, about whom little is known. She broke with Eleanor gradually after she fell in love with the publisher and writer John Rodker. Like Butts and most of her friends at that time, Rodker opposed the First World War, and spent much of 1917 in prison as a conscientious objector.

Mary Butts and John Rodker married in 1918, and operated Rodker's Ovid Press together. In November 1920 their daughter, Camilla Elizabeth Rodker, was born. Just three months after Camilla's birth, Mary Butts left Rodker for Cecil Maitland, a wounded war veteran who frequently attempted suicide. Maitland shared her interest in magic and the occult, and the two of them spent the summer of 1921 at Aleister Crowley's Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu, Sicily, where they studied clairvoyance and practiced black magic under Crowley's guidance. At about this time Butts began to use drugs regularly; she remained addicted to opium for the rest of her life.

Butts spent the better part of the 1920s at parties and nightclubs, and, by all accounts, did more than her share to give that decade its reputation for hedonism. In her own view, however, the First World War had so damaged the few of her generation who survived it, and so blighted their chances for traditional happiness, that every day was a battle of courage against despair, and the endless party was a movement, a spiritual duty, to keep joy, beauty, and hope from going out of the world altogether. Explaining this philosophy to her Aunt Ada in 1929, Butts wrote, "But if you pray for me, my dear, don't bother about my young men, my cigarettes, dances, adventures which are one's distractions, refreshments, and have been fairly earned. There is a rather beautiful bacchanale going on for a few hundreds of us who earn our play, quite as good as any greek one--like all lovely things, we've had to create it and keep it bright" (Box 17, Folder 243).

During this time Butts lived alternately in Paris and London, basing herself primarily in Paris in the latter part of the '20s. She also spent much time among fellow writers and artists in the South of France and in Brittany. Among her many friends at this time were Jean Cocteau, Monroe Wheeler and Glenway Wescott, Peggy Guggenheim, Mireille Havet, and Duff Twysden. She left Maitland in 1925, but was greatly upset by his death in 1926. Over the next several years she was involved with a number of people, including the composer Virgil Thomson and a Russian emigré named Sergei Maslenikoff, before she met Gabriel Atkin, an artist, in 1928. Butts married Atkin (she preferred to spell it Aitkin) in London in 1930, and moved back to Britain permanently.

Butts's divorce from John Rodker was not final until 1927, and in the years following their separation responsibility for their daughter had become a source of conflict. In 1921 Camilla was left in the care of a friend in London, Poppy Vanda, where she remained until 1926. Mary Butts then took her to France and put her in a series of lodgings and schools until late 1928, when Rodker, alarmed by a visit to Camilla, insisted that she be looked after properly and educated in England. After several false starts, in 1929 Camilla was enrolled in the local school in Parkstone, where Mary Butts herself had been a student, and came to live with her great-aunt Ada Briggs, who essentially raised her from that point on.

For the first two years after their marriage, Mary Butts and Gabriel Atkin lived in London and Newcastle, near his family. In 1932, they moved to Sennen, a village near Land's End in Cornwall, and bought a cottage there which they called Tebel Vos. The marriage with Atkin was troubled, and he left her in 1934. At about this time she returned to the Christian faith, attending church in Sennen regularly. Her closest friend during this period was Angus Davidson, who bought a cottage near hers in 1934, and whom she designated her literary executor. On March 5, 1937, Mary Butts died suddenly after emergency surgery for a perforated ulcer.

Further details about Mary Butts's life can be gleaned from her fiction and poetry, much of which draws on or closely mirrors her real life. She wrote steadily from an early age; although a poem and an essay were published in 1906, her first real success as a writer came toward the end of the 1910s, when her work began to be published and well reviewed in little magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. She was encouraged early in her career by John Rodker, Ezra Pound, and Ford Madox Ford, and in the 1920s her growing literary reputation was helped along by friends like Glenway Wescott, who wrote a glowing review of her first collection of short stories, Speed the Plough (1923), and Jean Cocteau, who illustrated her epistolary novel Imaginary Letters (1928). Butts's years in Cornwall were her most productive as a writer: during this period she wrote several novels, including The Death of Felicity Taverner (1932) and The Macedonian (1933); many stories and essays; a steady stream of book reviews; and her memoir, The Crystal Cabinet, which was published posthumously.

For a fuller description of Butts's childhood and family, see her memoir, The Crystal Cabinet: My Childhood at Salterns. For a detailed treatment of her life, her work, and her relationships with other figures of the modern era, see Nathalie Blondel, Mary Butts: Scenes from the Life (Kingston, New York: MacPherson & Company, 1998).

BUTTS AND BRIGGS FAMILIES

The names of individuals represented in the papers are emphasized. For a more detailed Butts genealogy see the Appendix .

Thomas Butts (1759-1846) (Blake's patron) m. Elizabeth Cooper
----Thomas Butts, Jr. (1788-1862) m. Mary Ann Barrow
--------Frederick John Butts (1833-1905) 2nd. m. Mary Jane Briggs (1863-1944)
------------Anthony Bacon Drury Butts (1901-1941)
------------Mary Franies Butts (1890-1937) m. John Rodker (1894-1955)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 2nd. m. Gabriel Atkin (1897-1937)
----------------Camilla Elizabeth Rodker (1920- ) m. H. Israel (d.1950s)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 2nd. m. Reginald Bagg
--------------------Daniel Israel (b. ca. 1949)
--------------------Edward Israel (b. ca. 1951)

Thomas Briggs (b. 1799) m. Mary Robinson
----James Briggs (1830-1874) m. Sarah Anne Ellis (1859-1924)
--------Ada Elizabeth Briggs (1861-1951)
--------Emma Irlam Briggs (1867-1951)
--------Monica Briggs (1872-1901)
--------Agnes Briggs (ca. 1870-1940)
--------Mary Jane Briggs (1863-1944) m. Frederick John Butts (1833-1905)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 2nd. m. Francis F. Colville-Hyde (d. 1919)
------------Anthony Bacon Drury Butts (1901-1941)
------------Mary Franies Butts (1890-1937) m. John Rodker (1894-1955)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 2nd. m. Gabriel Atkin (1897-1937)
----------------Camilla Elizabeth Rodker (1920- ) m. H. Israel (d.1950s)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 2nd. m. Reginald Bagg
--------------------Daniel Israel (b. ca. 1949)
--------------------Edward Israel (b. ca. 1951)

Appendix: Butts Family

Thomas Butts (1759-1846) (Blake's patron) m. Elizabeth Cooper
----William Hardwick Butts (b. 1791)
----George Butts (b. 1792)
----Joseph Edward Butts (b.1784) m. Sarah
--------Thomas Butts (b. 1805)
--------Edward Herringham Butts (b. 1810)
--------Henry Wellington Halse Butts (b. 1812)
--------William George Butts (b. 1814)
--------Elizabeth Butts (b. 1818)
--------Charles Napoleon Butts (b. 1821)
----Thomas Butts, Jr. (1788-1862) m. Mary Ann Barrow
--------Emily Butts (died young)
--------Aubrey Thomas Butts (died in India)
--------Charles Edmund Butts (died in Paris)
--------Clara Frances Butts (died young)
--------Mary Ann Blanche Butts (b. 1844) m. G. E. Graham Foster Pigott
------------George Edward Graham Foster Pigott
------------Aubrey Graham Foster Pigott (d. 1865)
------------Mary Graham Foster Pigott
--------Frederick John Butts (1833-1905) m. Eleanor Stanbridge (d. 1888)
------------Cecil Aubrey Tilbrook Butts (1861-1885)
------------John Mortimer Craven Butts (1867-1868)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 2nd. m. Mary Jane Briggs (1863-1944)
------------Anthony Bacon Drury Butts (1901-1941)
------------Mary Franies Butts (1890-1937) m. John Rodker (1894-1955)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 2nd. m. Gabriel Atkin (1897-1937)
----------------Camilla Elizabeth Rodker (1920- ) m. H. Israel (d.1950s)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 2nd. m. Reginald Bagg
--------------------Daniel Israel (b. ca. 1949)
--------------------Edward Israel (b. ca. 1951)
Title
Guide to the Mary Butts Papers
Author
by Ellen Doon
Date
May 2001
Language of description
Finding aid written in English

Revision Statements

  • 2010-02-10: Transformed with yale.addEadidUrl.xsl. Adds @url with handle for finding aid. Overwrites @url if already present.
  • 2007-08-13: beinecke.butts.xml converted for compliance with Yale EAD Best Practice Guidelines with brbl-migrate-01.xsl (mr2007-08-13).
  • 2007-07-26 : PUBLIC "-//Yale University::Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library//TEXT (US::CtYBR::::[MARY BUTTS PAPERS ])//EN" "butts.xml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).

Repository Details

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