On the Bloomingdale’s ad

First off, almost any really controversial ad is *designed* for precisely that – and not only ads. We live in jaded, decadent times filled with endless content. What’s the way to get maximal violent attention? Say something that hits people in their basic reactions. Their guts, their biases, their (to paraphrase Orwell) bellyfeels. If you want to attract conservative controversy (which will draw in leftist controversialists), flagrantly attack God or the Founders or sexual restraint or opposition to abortion, as hard and as snarkily/demeaningly as possible, in the headline, lede, and first paragraph. If you want to attract leftist controversy, do the same with a story of someone defined as marginalized and lower-hierarchy being demeaned or hurt by a mainstream and higher hierarchy-person. If you want to attract libertarian controversy, find some way in which total freedom is being threatened. But do it, else your audience is lost to the next social media alert. Such are the times we are living in.
The archetype of the deliberately controversial ad, which calculatedly uses every means to create attention very much including negative attention, is Carly Fiorina’s “demon sheep” ad of 2010 – http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/05/07/404977168/-tbt-fiorinas-demon-sheep-went-down-in-political-ad-infamy . The deliberately crude, somewhat incoherent, low-fi ad was bankrolled by a very rich candidate and created by a very well-regarded ad maker. Thus, every point was constructed to create maximum controversy, including the faux-incompetence. It generates the type of newsy buzz that’s far more effective at getting attention than any kind of linear, sincere direct approach.
So. Almost any ad from a major, sophisticated source that has content that’s going to shock, offend, or overjoy us on the basic reaction level is deliberately done so.
Now, the ad. Well-enough known by now, this is not the complete ad but is the business end of it: http://www.adweek.com/files/imagecache/node-blog/blogs/bloomingdales_ad_weird_0.png
The headlines online were legion: Bloomingdale’s touts date rape for the holidays. There was feminist outrage (as there should be about rape). There was the usual mechanical online fury, followed by the usual mechanical apology. And Sharon Presley was worked up enough about it to maintain it advocated rape by males.
But let’s pause for a moment. Not easy in our day and age, but let’s try.
What does the ad *actually* communicate? Not seized on as the thousandth uniform piece of evidence for one of our hobby horse positions. Not what everyone else is screaming it is. What does *it* show?
It shows two attractive models photographed traditionally, against a traditional color backdrop, dressed very elegantly. The woman has her face turned from the man and she is laughing almost in triumph. He is looking a bit skeptically, but not surprised. Note the pulled back edges of his lips – there’s a slight discomfort; if they had words they might say “She got me.” Note the gender-neutral pronouns in the words: “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.”
There is not one shred of support for the following embedded premises projected onto this ad (which embedded process I consider a major unidentified fallacy of our time, congruous with the utter unwillingness to question one’s interpretations, especially of opponents):
1: that the written phrase is an editorial statement by Bloomingdale’s – it could have been something one of the characters thought, or had just said (which does not mean that either of them agrees with it either – they could have been quoting a third person)
2: that any spiking actually happened
3: that spiking is per se connected with date-rape
4. that spiking eggnog means the use of a date-rape drug
5: that the male was the spiker and not the spikee – indeed, the photo suggests the opposite, my pointing out of which sent Sharon Presley into orbit
And, perhaps most contra-evidentially: that best friends date or have sex. Those very words alone exclude the date-rape scenario.
The ambiguity in the ad is entirely purposeful. I don’t think they realized there would be this level of online rage, but they knew there would be something. Even if there had been none, the ad would have been effective, because *ambiguity generates arousal*. The ad’s deliberate ambiguity is functioning as a kind of Rorschach test, showing what people bring to the ad.
For my part, I instantly read it as a deliberate evocation of an earlier time – say, the 1930s to 1960s – when drink-spiking was a socially acceptable prank or gag and a movie trope. It fit perfectly with the soft elegance of the photography and the high-status signaling especially around the female; also the traditionality of eggnog. Given the modernity of the models themselves, again especially around the female, that furnished another level of slight cognitive dissonance – which once again conduces to arousal.
It’s all about arousal.
Would you be looking at the ad if there weren’t all this controversy? I had hardly thought of Bloomingdale’s in ages, but now I sure am. Mission achieved.
And the arousal went beyond Bloomingdale’s dreams.
And this is why our times are hyper-aroused but utterly unfulfilled.

RIP Dan Poynter

A trailblazing giant in the publishing world has died.

Dan gave me/Abernathy & Brown/Petrarca Press our start through his books and generous giveaways of priceless publishing info in the very old days by free return fax – his version of the WWW and the “sharing economy,” circa 1990. All you had to do was punch in your fax number and choose whatever you wanted faxed back – his system would fax back 100 pages if you liked!

And he went skydiving and landed on the North Pole. – http://works-words.com/NSM-WIKI/WP/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Dan-Poynter-North-Pole.jpg

Handsome devil when younger: http://works-words.com/NSM-WIKI/WP/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/2012-Inductee-Poynter-Dan.jpg

Gratitude to you, good sir.

Obit: http://www.dropzone.com/news/People/Legendary_Author_Dan_Poynter_Passes_Away_1160.html

Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Poynter

PBS Documentary in the Works

We are delighted to announce that a documentary on Mary MacLane is in the works for PBS in Montana.

Margie Judd, a Butte, Montana native and seasoned film-maker, has begun shooting interviews with people involved in the legacy of Mary MacLane. Provisionally scheduled for 2015 release, Mary MacLane: First Woman of the Twentieth Century promises to introduce a new audience to the writer’s work and ever-interesting life history.

Michael R. Brown was interviewed for the project inside Mary MacLane’s room in the 1901 residence in which she wrote I Await the Devil’s Coming and launched her immense sensation, and other interviews are in progress.

Watch the trailer

Join The Film’s Facebook community

Explore The Film’s Website

A Christmas gift for my Butte-history friends

Happy holidays! 2015 will bring still more releases from us, among them Mary in The Press: Miss MacLane and Her Fame – two volumes (minimum), 1200+ pages total. People have talked about Mary MacLane’s fame for one-hundred-twelve years, but no one’s ever had a comprehensive view of it. This will no longer be so: because every signficant trace of it that’s been found in newspapers and periodicals will be in print.

As a sneak preview we’ll be releasing some of our finds along the road to publication. Our first is an interesting look at a young man associated, in 1902, with Butte: boxer James Munroe.

* * *

Munroe is Still an Unknown Quantity

Must Be Satisfied With Popular Idolatry Until He Is Tested in a Real Fight – Experts Reserve Decision – Think He May Have the Foundation of a Champion Pugilist, but Agree He Has Much to Learn First – Republic Special

New York. Jan 17—Jack Munroe, the miner and new idol of the prize ring, who with Mary MacLane made Butte, Mont., famous, was on exhibition at the office of the New York newspapers to-day, where he posed for photographs. Munroe says his object in coming east is to clinch a number of challenges which have been hurled at him since he bested Jeffries, and he will sign articles to fight Sharkey in a few days.

Charley White, the referee, and Gus Ruhlin were present when Munroe posed for photographs to-day.

Ruhlin watched quizzically as the young man from Butte stripped. Munroe felt the scrutiny of the Akron Giant and blushed as he showed his white, soft skin. As he stood out in the glare of the sunlight in front of the camera and extended his big arms, he looked at Ruhlin, and his lips compressed as though he were saying to himself:

“You may think I’m an easy mark old man, but I’ll change your mind if I get a chance at you.”

Munroe, who arrived last night on the empire State Express, was immediately recognized as the man who enjoys the distinction of having been the only boxer who has ever scored a knockdown against James Jeffries, heavy-weight champion pugilist of the world.

Is Yet To Be Tested

Thus far he is a pugilistic accident and, until he is put to the test, no man can tell whether the adulation that follows him is warranted. But he is on the pedestal now and the fickle public, hoping that he is the rising star in the pugilistic firmament, gives him the adoration that the weak give to the strong.

At first glance one would say that Munroe does not look like a fighter. A little study serves to convince that he looks like nothing else. His smiling, good-natured visage, with high cheek bones, upon which that of the man that set Terry McGovern’s star—Young Corbett—another product of the West.

He is not as tall as Jeffries, Ruhlin, Fitzsimmons or Corbett, but he towers above Tom Sharkey. In his street clothes, however, he gives the impression of a man of great strength.

The impression does not stand when he is seen stripped. He has not the shoulders of Fitzsimmons, or Jeffries, or the chest development of any of the top-notchers in the fighting game. A dozen men might be picked up in a five minutes’ walk who would beat him in tests of strength. His muscles are covered with fat and layers of fat hang over his ribs. There is the foundation for beds of wiry sinews, but as yet the foundation is about all that exists.

Is Almost Bashful

Every new man in the pugilistic game is different in the beginning and Munroe is no exception. He is not a talker—as yet. It takes time to learn to talk as pugilists talk. In complying with the demands made upon him for poses for photographs and material for interviews, he is almost bashful. But he shows a native shrewdness in action and conversation that is convincing.

In the matter of legs, Munroe is overly equipped. His calves bulge and, from the knees down, he is built like the supports of a square piano. In his fighting attitude he stands solidly upon his feet and, braced upon his mighty legs, it would be a hard matter to knock him off his balance. In putting up his fists he betrays no knowledge of science as it is exemplified by the best fighters. He is undoubtedly slow. But Jeffries was slow when he began. A good instructor can probably put speed into the Percheron legs and gigantic arms of Munroe.

For a man who has done hard work in the mines and has toiled as a delver in the tunnels through the mountains, Munroe has small hands. Unlike Fitzsimmons and other big pugilists, he has wrists that show. His hands do not run off into his arms. Above the waist he is very well proportioned. He appears to be light amidships, but it is hard to size up a man’s capabilities from appearances until he has trained off his stomach, and at this time Munroe has too much of a protuberance in front.

He wears a No. 9 shoe and he has not a bad neck. His shoulders slope away well. He is not stooped, as one would imagine a miner should be. His forehead is good. Above the chin he shows capacity for calculation.

Is Not Quite Six Feet

His eyes, overhung by bushy, mouse-colored eyebrows, are small and gray, and hard. His ears stand out from his head like spinnakers. When he smiles his mouth turns up slightly at the corners. He has a sense of humor, which is more than can be said of most pugilists, and he enjoys the company of men who talk about things not identified with his own interests. In time he may change, but as yet he abhors to talk about himself.

In weight he is no match for Jeffries. He strips at 198 pounds. But a blow with 198 pounds of bone and living muscle behind it can easily be powerful enough to knock out any man in the world.

In height Munroe is 5 feet 11 ½ inches in his stocking feet. This is over two inches less than Jeffries and half an inch less than Fitzsimmons, but it is three inches more than Sharkey, and there was a time when Tom Sharkey was considered Jeffries’s equal at the fighting game.

Some day, not so far away, Munroe will meet Sharkey in the roped arena. Then it will be possible to get a good line on him. It may be that the miner-football player is of championship stuff.

Munroe admitted to-day that Mary MacLane was a schoolmate of his in Butte, and when it was suggested that he and Mary had done quite a little to popularize Butte, the miner-pugilist replied:

“Oh, I don’t know. A lot of good people have come out of Butte, and there are a lot of them there yet. Besides, I am not in the same class with Mary MacLane.”

St. Louis Republic, 18 Jan 1903, Pt III, p 3

The great day is come. Mary MacLane, all the way in print.

Years to make, groomed and spit-shined and scrutinized a few too many times – Mary MacLane’s works (almost all) in quality paperback – Human Days: A Mary MacLane Reader. 550 pages of writing, some not seen in almost 110 years. All three books, 21 colorful feature articles, more than 50 unseen personal letters and telegrams, 50 pages of detailed textual notes tracing a vast network of literary references and devices. On sale now at Amazon (with nice Amazon discount price, too). I’ll be most grateful for all support, social media and otherwise: buy, read, mention, share, and review on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, etc. Samples and so forth coming soon. Click through to my Amazon Assoc. page .

New Mary MacLane Volumes to See Print in 2015

24 SEPTEMBER 2014. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Mary MacLane (1881-1929), recently rediscovered and winning praise from The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and many others, was the first of the modern media personalities. A pioneer in self-revelation, in defying established rules, in living on her own terms – and writing it brilliantly – she burst out of Butte, Montana at age 19 with a journal of private thoughts and longings that incited national then international attention. She sold almost 100,000 volumes in her first month, became a gambler and newswoman, in 1918 wrote and starred in the path-breaking silent film Men Who Have Made Love to Me, influenced Gertrude Stein, inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald, sparks theater, stage, and music projects to this day … yet her still-astonishing public life has remained unknown. Until now.

Petrarca Press is proud to announce 2015 publication of the latest in their Mary MacLane series: Mary in The Press: Miss MacLane & Her Fame. It provides, for the very first time, more than one thousand pages of interviews, news stories, reminiscences, attacks, opinions, plaudits, personal letters, cartoons, photographs, and more – almost all unseen for a century. With a detailed introduction and lengthy footnotes and bibliography, this mammoth two-volume edition unfolds for the first time the enormous controversy – and adoration – over the writer a forthcoming PBS documentary calls “The First Woman of the Twentieth Century.”

Editor Michael R. Brown, foremost MacLane scholar in the world today, says: “This is the other half of Mary’s story, and it’s taken decades of research to tell it. She gave herself totally in her writing, and the world’s slowly remembering that. She was, among other things, a self-grown 19 year old Surrealist – in America of 1901! – and her writing at its best is incomparable. But the public reaction was just as incredible, and it’s never been collected, much less interpreted. Any home she stayed in was swarmed by journalists; clubs of rebellious young ladies formed and the press labeled them ‘victims of MacLaneism’; the furor was discussed in London and Switzerland; Mark Twain mused on whether she was a genius; gold mines were named after her – and horses. And prize cattle. Her hometown baseball team. Cigars. Tabasco sauce! When she moved on from New York to Boston, it made the papers all the way to the West Coast.

“But this was just the outer fireworks. More deeply, almost every paper or magazine in the country reacted passionately, for or against (and sometimes both). With headlines needing only to say ‘Mary,’ she was literally a household name, and the content, style, morality, even sanity of her work were debated endlessly. Some of our biggest writers – like H.L. Mencken, the great realist Hamlin Garland (who declared her style perfect), Harriet Monroe (who’d go on to champion Ezra Pound among others) – praised her powers, while newspapers printed mocking poems and hateful attacks. Mary in the Press collects it all, without omission, and lets each piece take its stand. These recoveries range from the papers’ single-sentence humor jabs, to news pieces brief and long (from the marriage of her sister – it made national news – to detailed reports on Mary’s silent movie), to a chapter-length analysis from 1917, to dozens of letters from across America to Pulitzer’s New York paper after it’d hired her to write a few feature articles, to the ugliest attacks, to deeply-seeing analyses, to the preserved words of those who loved and admired her.

“It begins with over 120 pages of interviews with Mary and those who knew or emulated her, almost all unseen for a century or more. Her interviews are unparalleled performances in which she expresses her precise, Surreal individualism with absolute spontaneity. They’re unlike any other spoken-word records I’ve ever found, a species to themselves. The collection then classifies each following piece by its posture toward MacLane – so we start with the Laughers, for the mocking and humor, and quite a lot of it, then go to the Lovers, for those who adored, to the Reporters – the largest section, several hundred pages, for the factual-leaning pieces – then through the Haters, the Analysts, the Musers, the Seers, the Artisans (those who’ve used Mary in artworks), the Obituaries, the Memories (for the reminiscent), Academics, Fictionists, an epilogue of items on her Parents and Childhood, and we send the reader off with several hundred of the newspapers’ Squibs, which go from the atrociously banal to the truly witty.

“The book portrays not only the profound effect she had, but the age she helped change.

“It is almost thirty years since I first found Mary MacLane. She was forgotten, and there was nothing in print on her life. I’ve worked since to correct these problems. This is the book I wish I’d had at my side when I read those first words.”

Editor Michael R. Brown is presently at work on MacLane’s first-ever biography: A Quite Unusual Intensity of Life: The Lives, Worlds, and Work of Mary MacLane, also calendared for 2015. He published Tender Darkness in 1993 – the first MacLane anthology ever – and in late September 2014 is releasing to print the vastly-expanded 600-page anthology Human Days: A Mary MacLane Reader.

Check http://maclanefame.com (under construction) for exclusive content and updates. Regularly visit Petrarca Press’ central site http://marymaclane.com for all news about the ongoing discovery of Mary MacLane.

For publication information and pre-ordering for Mary in The Press: Miss MacLane & Her Fame, email groupmail@petrarcapress.com or dial 530-566-6615. ISBN and SAN information forthcoming.

Two new Mary MacLane books into print soon

Two news-pieces for you friends, lovers, countrypersons of the great Mary MacLane.
 
First, the quality paperback of Human Days: A Mary MacLane Reader will be in print in a few weeks. Final production details are being smoothed, but a proof copy’s on the table a few feet away. 600 pages, reprints nearly all her writing with many pages of notes. Edited by me, Foreword by Bojana Novakovic.
 
Second news: I’m in editing right now of a new book on MM, and it goes rapidly. Working title: “Mary in the Press: Miss MacLane and Her Fame.” It collects the enormous media sensation she was/caused and organizes it thematically, starting with “Interviewers” and moving through categories like “Haters” and “Reporters” and “Lovers” and “Seers” and “Feminists.” Not even close to done, but it’s already at 521 pages. Enormous number of new discoveries, including almost 100 pages (so far) of interview articles with MM (and a few of her imitators/followers), 160+ pages of newspaper stories … so the final may well be over 600 pages, and this looks to be two volumes. No web page or anything for it yet, but there will be.
 
After that, will be working on MM’s biography. : )
 
With regard to the biography, Barry Alfonso asked on the Facebook group for “Human Days: A Mary MacLane Reader” what we’ve learned of MM’s last days. The answer: We’ve found some important clues to her last decades – nothing even close to a full accounting, but some highlit bits. It’ll be detailed in the biography, but her death certificate has been found. We know a friend she had in the 1920s, that she still visited Harriet Monroe (and HM’s observations about MM). We’ve located a Bohemian club she used to frequent. We have a 1925 letter she wrote to a magazine, a c. 1926 letter from her to HM, a 1920 letter to a newspaper, an account of her giving a recitation of “Men Who Have Made Love to Me” in the 1920s … and the various accounts of her final years, from family and landlady and her friend. So, there is something, but we’re always looking for more. Hopefully more soon!

My introduction to The Devil’s Letters to Mary MacLane

From the forthcoming book Mary in the Press: Miss MacLane and the Yellow Papers – Petrarca Press * Rocklin, California * April 2013

*

Introduction

by Michael R. Brown

The recent rediscovery of Mary MacLane’s writing has made the once-inescapable tale of her first book’s success again familiar: shortly after book publication of her proto-blog I Await the Devil’s Coming (under the publisher’s colorless title The Story of Mary MacLane) in April 1902, a spectacular success broke over the twenty-one year old author and the several literary genres she’d opened up. Mostly lost to history in the foam and surges and various undertows, however, has been the coincident silly season. Bits and pieces have been discussed in recent years – for the most part in obscure venues, as in unpublished doctoral dissertations – but its full extent remains unexplored.

We know that within a few months, no fewer than three characters reminiscent of MacLane had appeared on New York stages: from an outright parody to a breath-of-fresh-air Montana maiden on a mid-ocean passenger ship.

We know that by autumn thousands upon thousands of newspapers had poked fun at the young woman. In those months, among a daily’s half-page or so full of one or two-sentence items humorous or newsy or marvelous (which to today’s eyes look curiously like a Tweet-flock), on page four or seven or eight was sure to be a reference or two, direct or not: intense young women, the Devil, Butte (and Montana), schoolmistress-crushes, red sunsets, olives, toothbrushes – all facilely permutated and whipped together with other popular interests. This does not cover the hundreds, if not thousands also, of articles in the yellow press: some number of them interviews original or reprinted or invented, dovetailing with and reenforcing the ever-renewed humor-squibs.

There were advantages, to be sure. It kept the author out in front and books selling – indeed, sold out even in Boston in the autumn. The young author was put in involuntary symbiosis with the yellow press. Though it benefited her in the near-term, it gave her long-term prospects a yellow dimness. For it was possible to write her off as a mere attention-seeker. She had never been respectable, had never tried to be – but after the yellowing, she was tagged.

Some fought it. Prof. Oscar L. Triggs of the University of Chicago declared that in her book readers “will see the soul of a woman laid bare. Few people will probably have the strength and courage to read it, or the wit to understand.” The Bancroft Library’s future magister, Jack London’s friend Porter Garnett, declared MacLane of greater moment than England’s Poet Laureate, Alfred Austin: “the one is sui generis, the other a mere variant.”

But such voices – and there were not only two – were unheard above the yellow yelling. MacLane was a sensation, precedently had been marketed as such by her publishers (despite her having wanted to “avoid anything like mere cheap notoriety and sensationalism”), and there was no escape.

For all potential lost, however, we – near eighty-five years after her death – find a curious long-term benefit invisible in the vari-colored splashes of the time: the brief jabs, pokes, and giggles – importantly, all unguarded – show us not only how she was taken but what was found funny, mocking, affectionate, dismissive. The lines thrown off by writers scrambling for a few cents per, blurted without time to think, give an odd direct line into the inner rules of the world that Mary MacLane confronted.

A forthcoming volume from Petrarca Press – Mary in the Press: The Yellow Papers and Miss MacLane – will provide a look into the extensive humor industry that sprang up around her. Included will be still another genre: humor books devoted to her alone – two in print by the autumn of 1902, each a fairly direct caricature: one pretending to be The Story of Willie Complain and written by Willie himself, the other by a rather solid Boston lady who tells us her tale: The Story of Lizzie McGuire.

There were probably other books, of the moment, at present unknown; each will go visible again in their time.

We know, also, that there was an entirely different thing that had less to do with froth or the moment: a book published more than a year after the sensation had faded, several times the length of Willie or Lizzie – and, unalike to almost any MacLane-parody, a work of some seriousness and sustained effort: the anonymous, until now enigmatically authored (and published) Devil’s Letters to Mary MacLane: published c. December 1903, to a bit of attention for a few months, and hereinbelow returned to print for the first time in nearly 110 years.

*

To dispose of an unfortunate bibliographic error: pleasing as would be a fourth book, MacLane did not write it. Though published anonymously (“By Himself”), the publisher submitted an author record to the Library of Congress: uniquely among the parodies and rare among contemporary responses to MacLane, a woman – Mrs. T.D. McKown, until now lost to history. The publisher – Inter-State Book Company, of Chicago – appears to have been a one-shot created for the purpose. The copyright notice bears the name E.A. Weeks, and the line of inquiry this opens shows clearer shapes in the distance. Weeks is a figure known to scholars of works of A. Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, James Whitcomb Riley, and others as a literary pirate, busily active as E.A. Weeks and Co. out of Chicago in the 1890s. This publisher – little about whom outside the professional is known – would brazenly pirate and file for copyright works, at times by British writers, to which he had no conceivable right. With greater cheek yet, one group of such works formed his “Enterprise” series, out of which names of then-famed, now varyingly remembered, writers emerge, e.g. Anthony Hope, Leo Tolstoy (with Master and Man), Bertha N. Clay, Alexandre Dumas (The Memoirs of a Physician).

And yet, Weeks was not only a fraud. Scholars have commented that his books often show fine production values – imitation laid paper, gilt edges, fine cover work – and Letters is in this line. The cover-illustration of a red Satan holding up a missive has kept its color in the editor’s copy, and the curiously luxurious top-gilt has kept a century’s dust from fusing pages. The mysterious publisher, after dropping from the record from about 1899 until publication of Letters, deigned to speak to the newspapers on his new project, saying that his author was “a woman of high social standing in a Western state.” After this, E.A. Weeks and Inter-State Book Company drop from the record – at any rate, under those names.

The unnamed author, Mrs. T.D. McKown was in reality Sarah H. McKown; her maiden name is at present unknown. She was born in 1869 in Alabama, and in 1892 married Thomas Dean McKown, a physician and sometime inventor from Chickamauga, Georgia. By 1897 the couple was living in Cripple Creek, Colorado, and by 1903 she appears to have been living, at age 34, in Denver apart from her husband. By 1910 the couple was together, living in a Georgia town close by the Tennessee border. By 1912, possibly because her husband was in failing health, she was appointed Postmaster of nearby Pittsburg, Georgia at the age of 43. In 1914 her husband died, and at this point she is unfortunately lost to the record. As far we know, she published nothing else and never spoke publicly about her one book.

*

The obvious is readily said. Sarah H. McKown is no undiscovered great. She brings with her the clear expression inculcated in her time and an agreeable smatter of quotations from worthy sources. In her avoidance of prolix pomp she is writes on the side of the moderns – with steel pen instead of quill. She never slows our progress with irony or fine airs, and at few points is the reader delayed in wonder or admiration.

What she does bring is a sustained masquerade in which – for perhaps the first time – a female author, of apparent conventional morals and religiosity, adopts the persona of Satan with surprising assurance and gusto. Over dozens of entries, the Devil commits or hints at the expected transgressions, but the author’s tone is anything but foreboding. That is held for not-overconvincing comments to MacLane about how many converts she is winning for him, etc.

When the Devil is simply being the Devil, he has a simply grand time as a relentless salesman, hypnotic seducer (necessarily quite the dancer), a cross-dressing gender-switcher who slips into a Woman’s Club meeting, a regular exclaimer on the beauty of the female body, and so forth. This, more than any direct parody of MacLane, is where the text has its independent being. In this text’s world, MacLane dwindles. She is but an excuse. Which adds a further layer: MacLane had asked in I Await to be used – by the Devil himself. And McKown – who is not the Devil, yet writes as him – comes closest to fulfilling the desire.

Perhaps entirely innocently of the implications, Mrs. McKown – safely anonymous – commits an act of masked lesbian appropriation. As MacLane wrote, after April 1902 “so many imitations of him presented themselves, all with the one crude purpose, that he and his sometimes charm grew a bore and a monotony.” And so, the 34-year old doctor’s wife of Cripple Creek came perhaps closest to fulfilling MacLane’s first-book’s professed desires. And that MacLane was at least mixed in her sexual preferences adds a further luster of complication to the game of masks and truths.

*

A last strangeness: for all the mysteries of the two women’s lives, a specific reason may be discerned for McKown’s sliding into print.

Following the redoubtable Mr. Weeks’ clues, the sole Mrs. T.D. McKown to be found in the Western US in those days is a woman in Colorado, the president of a social club with 125 active members: the Cripple Creek’s Woman’s Club. To a reader of the Letters, this brings to mind two Devil’s letters as one – the most colored, detailed, outer-facing from our extrovert author: the depiction of Cripple Creek’s Fourth of July, and McKown’s triply gender-flipped penetration of the Woman’s Club. The book’s highly specific entries intersect at Cripple Creek and the Club – the same two lines that cross at Mrs. McKown. That the Cripple Creek entry is instantly followed by the Club entry stands almost as a clue.

Now that MacLane’s 1903 feature articles for the Denver Post have been recovered, McKown’s motive in writing as she did – at four times beyond the length of Willie or Lizzie – comes clear: MacLane’s first article tartly describes a visit to a Woman’s Club in nearby Colorado Springs. It casts the setting of the Woman’s Club and the personalities therein as a foreground that would fade against Colorado’s lasting natural background, thus: “At Colorado Springs in the varnished hall I looked at women and considered them as was my bounden duty. There were all sorts there. All the sorts and conditions that go to make up the different types of the genus club-woman.”

And as with the lesbian bending that returns again and again in her text, McKown – writing very quickly, probably consciously turned to defend her morals, religion, and Colorado Springs sisters – likely never knew. But we can – for she has turned us into voyeurs, too.

Is MacLane’s MacLane using McKown’s Devil? Is McKown’s Devil using MacLane’s MacLane? The standoff appears fixed and, at this very late date, perpetual.

Long may they glower! Our post-moderns could make a fine industry in elaborating it all through their portable pro tem halls-of-mirrors.

All this, in a work written for that most devilish of motives – revenge! – and in fun that is possible only through seriousness.

*

Michael R. Brown

26 April 2013

New Mary MacLane review up

Good to see her rounded qualities, especially her wryness, recognized in this review for Lambda Literary: “the real lesson she imparts is to embrace other-ness; at a time when we’re fighting in court to prove that our love is the same as everyone else’s and encouraging teens to just fit in until ‘It Gets Better,’ Mary MacLane’s voice is still loudly proclaiming its uniqueness – and saying to hell with what others may think.”  http://www.lambdaliterary.org/reviews/04/15/i-await-the-devils-coming-by-mary-maclane/