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



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 Bits and pieces have been discussed in recent years – for the most part in obscure venues, as in unpublished doctoral dissertations – but its full extent remains unexplored.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.”

My Introduction to “I, Mary MacLane – Annotated Edition”

The final book by “the first blogger” and “first of the Flappers” is Mary MacLane’s testament in every way and completes the arc of her career. After years of external adventure – gambling on the Florida coast, lengthy reclusion in a repressive New England town, newspaper feature-writing in Denver, high living in Manhattan – she returned to Butte, Montana and turned within to explore her internal worlds. After the martial excitement of her first book and the deep stylistic focus of her second, My Friend Annabel Lee – both available in Petrarca Press annotated editions for Kindle – her last, written from 1911 to 1917, positions the reader in the most intimate contact she would ever permit: we are with her inside herself, in – except for the first and, movingly, a later entry – an eternal tomorrow. Her insight, subtle humor, fearlessness, and sovereign mastery of language never desert her – or us. Detailed textual notes tracing out her references, drawn from the recent Petrarca Press anthology Human Days: A Mary MacLane Reader, make this edition unique among all those currently on offer.

My Introduction to Mary MacLane’s “My Friend Annabel Lee – Annotated”

( Petrarca Press – Kindle edition.)

Mary MacLane’s least-known book affords a completely different view of the writer being rediscovered as “the first blogger,” known even in her time as “the first of the Flappers.” Written in 1902-1903 after the international sensation of her 1902 proto-blog I Await the Devil’s Coming (published as The Story of Mary MacLane), the 21-year-old author threw critics and public a curve. Rather than try to top her first book’s fire and thunder, she turned around completely and wrote a book of tremulous sensitivity – and ruthless self-analysis. Set in the form of dialogues, with an exchange of letters near the end, MacLane splits herself in two and has the two sides meet in friendship and battle: the gnomic, ironic, declarative, unflappable Annabel Lee and the depressive, credulous, clingy narrator, “Mary MacLane.” Nature is almost non-existent in this tale: the setting hardly ever moves from their shared apartment, and then only to return to the scene of psychic tension. A close reading of its beauties and relentless focus on style discloses her most finished book and the purest exhibition of her incipient Surrealism. Detailed textual notes, drawn from the Petrarca anthology Human Days: A Mary MacLane Reader, make this edition – of the book she may have most written to, by and for herself – unique among all those currently on offer. With this publication, all of MacLane’s books become available in Petrarca Press annotated editions for Kindle.Mary MacLane’s least-known book affords a completely different view of the writer being rediscovered as “the first blogger,” known even in her time as “the first of the Flappers.” Written in 1902-1903 after the international sensation of her 1901 proto-blog I Await the Devil’s Coming (published in 1902 as “The Story of Mary MacLane”), the 21-year-old author threw critics and public a curve. Rather than try to top her first book’s fire and thunder, she turned around completely and wrote a book of tremulous sensitivity – and ruthless self-analysis. Set in the form of dialogues, with an exchange of letters near the end, MacLane splits herself in two and has the two sides meet in friendship and battle: the gnomic, ironic, declarative, unflappable Annabel Lee and the depressive, credulous, clingy narrator, “Mary MacLane.” Nature is almost non-existent in this tale: the setting hardly ever moves from their shared apartment, and then only to return to the scene of psychic tension. A close reading of its beauties and relentless focus on style discloses her most finished book and the purest exhibition of her incipient Surrealism. Detailed textual notes, drawn from the Petrarca anthology Human Days: A Mary MacLane Reader, make this edition – of the book she may have written to, by and for herself – unique among all those currently on offer. With this publication, all of MacLane books become available in Petrarca Press annotated editions for Kindle.

My Introduction to Mary MacLane’s “I Await the Devil’s Coming”

( Petrarca Press, Kindle Edition )

One of the unconfessed fascinations within some consumers of art is the artist’s high-wire act. A great American newsman once said he watched a prominent colleague of his with fascination: not for his news-delivery, but rather expecting that one day the colleague would suddenly blow into “the amazing exploding newsman” – so tightly wound was he.

Similarly, the unconfessed major premise of some classical musical critics was sharply revealed a few years ago when a vastly-praised pianist – Joyce Hatto, just deceased in 2006 – was revealed to have had a whole latter career as a manufactured scam: her entire enormous recorded corpus for the last few decades of her life was a pastiche of manipulated recordings from other pianists, passed off as her own recorded under the most poignant circumstances: while she fought terminal cancer. In some cases, critics who had denigrated the original performances found the resurrected versions, set within the frame of a heart-rent tale, luminous and revelatory.

This would have come as no surprise to the Romantic era, which honestly exalted the individual performer and would have found perplexing our recent vogue-idea that art – high or otherwise – should be as impersonal and abstract as possible, as if it had come from nowhere and no one and should be thus apprehended, to carry the perceiver into a like depersonalized state. They’d never have gotten themselves into such a fix. We seem to find it impossible that an individual state or a consciousness could be of high art. Yet we exalt our artist-superstars – the cooler they are, the more heated the response.

Preceding art-eras, particularly the Romantic, cannot be understood through the lens of modern depersonalizing. Such a lens will inevitably invert, reverse, and fun-house-undulate the object it attempts to render. Which defeats the very precision and sharpness, the unveiledness, the refusal to fall for illusion, on which we pride ourselves as moderns, even more as post-moderns. The Romantic era brooked no hard split between art, artist, personality, passion, and perceiver. If one actually enters into the Romantic mood, the spidery structures of modernism – seen from without, with a more passionate mood through oneself – are suddenly known as unfulfilling to the whole person.

Yet modernism did not come from nowhere. Like other eras before it, the Romantic era painted itself into a corner: through its dwelling in its own intensity. The editor has listened to Wagner and thought, “Where could it have gone from here, if not into reaction? Ninety-hour operas, twice as loud? And what after that? Where is the exit point?” Wagner made Strauss a necessity, if an ugly one.

It is in this setting of a conflict of era-tongues that the recent rediscovery of Mary MacLane rises up from the stage-floor like a magician’s chef d’oeuvre. MacLane – more Romantic than the Romantics, more post-modern than we’ve yet been able to complicate ourselves into – defeats, fulfills, transcends, and thumbs her nose at these genres simultaneously. They fall off her sides, unable to apply, because there’s no hook: MacLane was a deeply original consciousness, in circumstances of mixed inspiration, exasperation, and desperation who had mastered a body of classic literary matter, extracted from it a vast range of expressive devices and moods, and set to the great artistic work: making something new at the interface of internal and external life. For, borrowing from Hume, there’s no internal tale that doesn’t have some reference to the outside – even in a single metaphor – and no external tale that bears no mark of the consciousness that made it. And so comes MacLane as one of the great reorienters. “Oh!” she would exclaim to a newspaper reporter amid the great success her first book occasioned, “don’t think that I approve of what I say in my book. I don’t – of much of it. I don’t approve of myself.” But, she said, it was true, and that was her aim: to be true.

Long excavation of not only her written legacy but of the traces of her unwritten life leads the editor to say that MacLane is first and foremost a structure of moods, a world (like a good musical composition) unto its own, communicated – at times by stylistic means that seem nearly magical – directly to other consciousnesses. That is all. She has no fixed doctrine – in her 1917 article on marriage she comes the closest to describing her own path, with the words “absolute freedom” – but with full knowledge that it will bring with it things undesired and unwished. She is no utopian: beginning with herself. She finds an irreducible pairing of complementary sides at every point in life, and in her last book attempts to give direct voice to it with adjective-strings, surfacely akin to Whitman but without his open-road optimism.

Yet it is not with her career’s final years with which we are concerned, but its earliest: the book that began the phenomenon. Au courant publishers Melville House has played an important role in the MacLane rediscovery by reprinting her first and last books in March of this year, with associated PR campaign. (Her quieter middle book, My Friend Annabel Lee, is as ever left to fend for itself.) In particular, their restoration of MacLane’s original title – I Await the Devil’s Coming – for her first book is a signal service to MacLane’s original intentions, crossed by her 1902 publisher’s mild drop-in: The Story of Mary MacLane. One of the unfortunate tonal changes occasioned by the drop-in was the removing of the gestural significance of MacLane’s regular, steady references through the text to waiting for the Devil: a continual upward glance at the actual title that gives what might seem a rambling work a steadying influence, and her onomatopoeic repetition of waiting … waiting … waiting … for the one for whom one is never supposed to have to long wait once one is willing: the Devil himself.

But many other beauties in the original text remain inaccessible to the reader, particularly to one new to MacLane’s highly specialized style. For all the controversial elements permitted to remain, I Await the Devil’s Coming was edited – and many changes made in 1902 did MacLane’s original conception and execution no service, and in some cases compromised the radicality of her vision. A reader of the text reproduced so many times day may find striking MacLane’s affirmation of her body, system by system, her “calm, beautiful stomach” and her liver, heart, lungs, her “two good legs” – but would never know that that she had praised even her intestine, “vibrating with conscious life.” Neither would that reader have seen the punctuation system she had developed which permitted many quasi-musical hesitations and extensions. Perhaps most unfortunately, a reader possibly concluding that MacLane was incapable of meta-criticism (or humor), would never have read her entry of February 19. (In its entirety: “Am I not intolerably conceited?”)

And no reader would see the arc described by the original version, from the beginning dedication to the absent Devil, through the waiting, to an ending direct address to – as the author might have said – the sure readers of earth: a trajectory that precapitulates that of MacLane’s career to its completion seventeen years later in 1918.

It was for these hidden joys the editor thought it imperative, when publishing the first MacLane anthology in 1993, to remove the 1902 publisher’s egregious alterations and show the almost-invariable superiority of the original version.

This need persists today with Melville House’s welcome reprint of the 1902 edit, so the original text of I Await the Devil’s Coming is herewith presented, with expurgations and editings removed, that what Mary MacLane was able to bring up out of herself into the world may be seen for what – and all that – it is. Her text is an enduring testament to the power of the individual consciousness turned with complete absorption to a task that arises out of its own depths, with intensity turned all the way up, and Devil take the hindmost.

The discussions are already ongoing, as they rightly ought, on how to classify MacLane, on the extent of her influence, on how much of her self-involvement was real, how much was theatrical or performative, and all the takings-apart we of these times enjoy in our cooler-temperature way. But let us not lose sight of the original creators, who are clearly more than mere mannequins to hang our word-nets over. MacLane, and the rest, are great fun to dissect, but we forget at times that dissection implies a living body – which implies a life.

Here, in the form intended for it, is Mary MacLane’s most alive book.

Michael R. Brown – Rocklin, California – 31 March 2013

Buy for Kindle:

Mary MacLane’s rediscovery – a chronology (updated/expanded regularly)

Edit: This is based on my notes for our forthcoming study of MacLane’s life, work, and times: A Quite Unusual Intensity of Life.

There isn’t time to tell the story, because I’m in the midst of it – I will tell it, in time. But for now, the day I’ve looked to come since around 1987: Mary MacLane is starting to gain the readers she deserves. I’ll be documenting this rediscovery as it emerges, best as I’m able while working on editing the numerous reprints I’m planning.

It began with the Melville House reprints her 1902 age-19 breakthrough, The Story of Mary MacLane – now under MM’s original title, I Await the Devil’s Coming – and her 1917 deep-plunging introspective journey, I, Mary MacLane, with introductions by estimable writers: Jessa Crispin of Bookslut fame and novelist/memoirist Emily Gould (onetime former co-editor of, respectively; the latter has written of MacLane before.

And so it began.

On 12 March, Emily Gould adapted her introduction for The Rumpus, and the tremors began. Melville House’s expert publicity department had gotten advance copies out, and I was contacted by a writer for The AtlanticHope Reese – for background on an MM article, which duly appeared on 19 March, one day after The New Yorker, by happenstance, had published a blog entry – under MM’s name – with a lengthy excerpt from I Await the Devil’s Coming.

Twitter picked up on The Atlantic and New Yorker pairing, and interest began to feed into itself. Now there is a continuing stream of new readers discovering MM’s work, and the inspiration I’ve found in her since 1985 – and a few others, who have kept her close to their hearts – is spreading. So here’s a list of the reviews and major comments and happenings as they come. It will be kept updated as much as possible, as soon as possible. Going through all the Twitterism will be a project in itself, so that will have to wait.

4 May 2013: “He Loves Me” published at . With this, all of Mary MacLane’s published work – with the exception of a negligible and dubious article on boxing – has been returned to print. The print edition of Human Days is now being edited for publication, and then work will begin on the Mary MacLane biography.

3 May 2013: “Butte Society – ‘The Lady in Green Tights'” published at .

3 May 2013: “Mary MacLane on Marriage (1902)” published at .

26 April 2013: The Devil’s Letters to Mary MacLane, by Sarah H. McKown, published at Introduction by Michael R. Brown

7 April 2013: updated

3 April 2013:

1 April 2013: – my Kindle edition of the unexpurgated text of I Await the Devil’s Coming AKA The Story of Mary MacLane

29 March 2013: – “Prairie Prophet: Mary MacLane’s wild, blasphemous 1902 debut was an early example of the hit confessional memoir” by Rachel Hurn

28 March 2013: – 1st ed., 2d printing of my Mary MacLane anthology, the biggest/best book on her ever done

27 March 2013: (my Kindle reissue of MM’s forgotten 2690-word revisit with the Devil in 1903, “Mary MacLane in Vivid Detail Tells the Transition of her ‘Kind Devil’ of Old”

26 March 2013: (my Kindle reissue of MM’s 3850-word classic 1910 essay, “Men Who Have Made Love to Me”

26 March 2013:

24 March 2013:

21 March 2013:

20 March 2013:

19 March 2013:

18 March 2013:

12 March 2013:

2011-2012 Bojana Novakovic’s musical interpretation, The Story of Mary MacLane – by Herself tours Australia. Videos:

16 December 2011 – My MacLane collection Human Days: A Mary MacLane Reader (1st ed., 1st printing) published to Kindle. Limited number would be printed in US (for university use) and Australia (for theatre sales).

23 November 2011 – – I post a 5-hr reading of <i>The Story of Mary MacLane</i>.

March 2011 I, Mary MacLane, play by Joan Melcher (see Melcher, 2007) has sold-out run at Big Sky Repertory Theatre, Butte, Montana.

January 18 -31, 2010: Writings of MM arranged and staged at Another Sky: a festival of women’s voices from the long 19th century, Metropolitan Playhouse, New York. Normandy Sherwood and Katherine Allen recreate segments of Men Who Have Made Love to Me and display them at Playhouse.

2007: I, Mary MacLane, play by Joan Melcher – has staged readings at the Montana Festival of the Book and the High Plains Book Festival.

May 2004: Considerable section on MM in Maverick Autobiographies: Women Writers and the American West, 1900–1936 by Cathryn Halverson (University of Wisconsin Press) – based on Halverson’s PhD dissertation (1997)

2000: PhD dissertation on MacLane: “The unparalleled individuality of me”: The story of Mary MacLane, by Kathryne Beth Tovo (University of Texas at Austin)

1997: PhD dissertation on MacLane and Opal Whiteley: Autobiography, genius, and the American West: the story of Mary MacLane and Opal Whiteley by Cathryn Halverson (University of Michigan)

1 January 1997: Charles H. Kerr issues MM anthology, ed. Penelope Rosemont –

mid-1990s: Patricia Scanlon adapts and stars as Mary MacLane in several New York productions.

24 December 1993: (I publish the first MM anthology ever, ed. Elisabeth Pruitt).

1991: Photo-duplicated edition of The Story issued by Reprint Services, Irvine [California].

Late 1980s: Abandoning Mary by Ada McAllister. Unpublished dream-play based on MacLane’s life 1890s-1910. Written late 1980s, produced irregularly thereafter.

c. August 1985: I find MM in Kaplan (1964) and begin research at local libraries then New York Public Library.

1981: Jonathan Cape (UK) reissues The Story, ed. Michael Yocum, for MM’s 100th birthday. Receives some British notice (e.g., London Times) but little American sales/attention.

c. 1980 The Story and I, Mary MacLane microfilmed by Microfilming Corp. of America for inclusion in the Gerritsen Collection of Women’s History; uncertain whether My Friend Annabel Lee was included.

c. 1979: Alice Walker mentions The Story as a work “that should be better known.”

fl. 1975: Unpublished “Mary MacLane Bibliography” by Phil Lipson, Seattle, 1970s.

1974: Patricia Meyer Spacks reprints sections from The Story and discusses them at some length in

1964: Bert Kaplan reprints passages from The Story in with sympathetic introduction

1958: Jeanette Howard Foster mentions MM as mixedly “sex-variant” in nature in

1945: Christina Stead and William James Blake reprint passages from The Story – probably the first since the 1911 edition – in (intro. by Louis Untermeyer)

6 August 1929: MM dies of tuberculosis complicated by a fibrous uterine tumor.

January 1918: Essanay releases MM’s only silent movie, Men Who Have Made Love to Me.

Mid-1917: MM leaves Butte and moves to Chicago.

1917: Frederick A. Stokes Co. publishes I, Mary MacLane: A Diary of Human Days.

1903: Anonymous publishes The Devil’s Letters to Mary MacLane.

Mid 1903: MM writes for the Denver Post.

1903: Herbert S. Stone & Co. publishes MacLane’s second book, My Friend Annabel Lee.

Later 1902: MM writes for the New York World.

1902: Two parody books are on the market: The Story of Willie Complain and The Story of Lizzie McGuire.

Late April 1902: Herbert S. Stone & Co. publishes The Story of Mary MacLane.

13 January 1901: MM begins I Await the Devil’s Coming.

1899: MM gradates from high school, discovers stepfather has spent legacy from her father; she and her sister are unable to attend Stanford University as planned.

c. 1896: Family moves to Butte, Montana.

1890: MM’s mother remarries, family moves to Great Falls, Montana.

1889: MM’s father dies.

2 May 1881: MM is born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

1854: MM’s mother born.

1839: MM’s father born.

c. 1830: MM’s paternal grandfather emigrates from Scotland to Canada.

Mary MacLane’s Lessons for Bloggers

I’ve recently had a good bit of correspondence on Mary MacLane  in connection with the last few days’ rediscovery of her first book – written in 1901, at age 19, in Butte, Montana – in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and a new edition (under her original title I Await the Devil’s Coming) by Melville House. I’ve been asked my take on various aspects of this writer gleaned from her life and work. A recent correspondent asked what lessons bloggers, and in general writers of today, could draw from MacLane’s enduring first book.

Differences to today’s blogoworld (i.e., the missing in a lot of today’s blogs):

1. Consistent literary artistry. The quotes I looked up for the notes in our big MacLane anthology show how Classically-grounded MacLane was: for all her cutting-edgeness, even today, the King James, Shakespeare, Milton, Dante were her literary operating system.
2. Never a raw download. In MacLane there’s a powerful guiding hand building up an impression, a picture, and a total career as a writer. She thinks and acts in the long arc, not the flashbulb moment.
3. Avoids cheap exposure and particularly over-exposure. She knew when to flash and when to go dark.
4. Mixes genres. She never talked only of self, or of society in general, or other people in particular, or nature. Make a personal, inimitable blend.

The lessons:

1. Steep yourself in the ancestors, from MacLane on through the other Confessionals, like the Beats, Anne Sexton, and so on. Then do your new radical thing that overturns the ancestors.
2. Choose. Always choose. The less formless, the more power. MacLane shows us how much pure literary power can be gained from deeply conscious incision.
3. A touch of the Classical virtues like dignity and decency to the opponent can increase our stature, even today. There’s a statue, from about 100 years ago, of a forgotten politician outside San Francisco’s City Hall with a wonderful plaque. After his various attainments are listed, there’s a last line: AN HONORABLE FOE. We need to rediscover the spirit of that politician – and the opponents who honored him.
4. Diversity, deeply-woven. Don’t self-blinderize.
5. Balance. Once you reveal everything, what next? If revelation is infinitely postponed, what point? The magic happens at the point of balance. That’s the way forward. That’s where everyone is at their top as a creative artist, because the material and the method will always be maximally different. We’re the “Characters Welcome” age. Use that to your advantage. It provides a path to success without compromising integrity.
6. To a fault, avoid facile ways out. MacLane is never afraid to work.
7. For our over-loud age: understand the power of negative space. Every so often you’ll see MacLane not specify something she’d normally, logically be expected to specify. Look at the dimension that opens up.
8. Allegiance to your own voice. Never compromise that. If you find yourself in the gutter, be the best you in the gutter you can be. She’s the same writer in c. 1926 as in c. 1898, but as I, Mary MacLane (1917) shows she moved with the times. Many try to make a blog and subsequent literary career out of poses or mere harshness, especially if sexuality/drugs get frothed in. Won’t last. Not ever. So ask: what do you want for your future? Ask if you have the inner drive, what Jung called a “gradient,” that makes you write, and write more than navel-gazing. If you have the drive and more than personal grousing, you have something you can create out of. Some mistake mere success-drive and general aggression for inspiration.
9. Move in all areas of society; draw from their voices and disdain none. MacLane only broke out in defiance after she had absorbed, deeply, and was quiet first. She avoided self-ghettoizing.
10. Lay your groundwork. Confucius said (he really did, this time): “slow growth is good growth.” Take a caution from her career’s external details: she never made it into the pantheon of her time, despite Pulitzer’s New York paper’s saying “Even her severest critics agree she can write”: the yellow papers took her up, and she had fabulous scandal-success for The Story – but it flamed out public interest in her. She was smart enough not to want scandal.
11. Have a mythology – your own life-arc creation mythos. That is to say, make one – but make it sincerely by applying your own unique consciousness to the unique circumstances you’ve experienced/are experiencing. Let it emerge: don’t contrive purely consciously – that creates a “dead hand”. Permit yourself a numinous mystery that has nothing to do with enchanting or seducing readers.

We – today’s bloggers and everyone who writes – can all learn this from Mary MacLane: where you can never go wrong, what always has the most power when done right, is being yourself. But your real self: which is an effortful thing to find. Mary MacLane is one of the rare ones who guides us as she learns about herself. But she’s subtle enough to leave us wondering how much she knew ahead of time. She’s in a delicate interplay with the reader. And herself. After all, she analyses herself down to little selves in I, Mary MacLane – she fractures up the self itself then heals it together. Which puts her far beyond the personae-spinners of today.

There’s more to say on this, and I’ll say it before long.