Mary MacLane

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Mary MacLane, 1911

Mary MacLane (May 1, 1881 — August 1929) was a controversial Canadian-born American writer whose frank memoirs helped usher in the confessional style of autobiographical writing.[1] MacLane was known as the "Wild Woman of Butte".[2]

MacLane was a very popular author for her time,[3] scandalizing the populace with her shocking bestselling first memoir and to a lesser extent her two following books. She was considered wild and uncontrolled, a reputation she nurtured, and was openly bisexual as well as a vocal feminist. In her writings, she compared herself to another frank young memoirist, Marie Bashkirtseff, who died a few years after MacLane was born,[4] and H. L. Mencken called her "the Butte Bashkirtseff."[2]

Early life and family[edit]

MacLane was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1881,[4] but her family moved to the Red River area of Minnesota, settling in Fergus Falls, which her father helped develop. After his death in 1889, her mother remarried a family friend and lawyer, H. Gysbert Klenze. Soon after, the family moved to Montana, first settling in Great Falls and finally in Butte, where Klenze drained the family funds pursuing mining and other ventures. MacLane spent the remainder of her life in the United States. She began writing for her school paper in 1898.[5]


From the beginning, MacLane's writing was characterized by a direct, fiery and highly individualistic style. She was, however, also strongly influenced by such American regional realists as John Townsend Trowbridge (with whom she exchanged a few letters), Maria Louise Pool, and Hamlin Garland.

At the age of 19 in 1902, MacLane had her first book publised, The Story of Mary MacLane by Herbert S. Stone of Chicago. It sold 100,000 copies in the first month [6] and was popular among young girls, but was pilloried by conservative critics and readers, and lightly ridiculed by H. L. Mencken.

Some critics have suggested that even by today's standards, MacLane's writing is raw, honest, unflinching, self-aware, sensual and extreme. She wrote openly about egoism and her own self-love, about sexual attraction and love for other women, and even about her desire to marry the Devil.

I, Mary Maclane was published by Frederick A. Stokes in 1917.

In 1917, she wrote and later starred in an autobiographical silent film titled Men Who Have Made Love to Me,[7] which is now believed to be lost.


Among the numerous authors who referenced, parodied or answered MacLane was Gertrude Sanborn, who published an optimistic riposte to MacLane's 1917 memoir I, Mary MacLane under the title I, Citizen of Eternity (1920).

Personal life[edit]

MacLane had always chafed, or felt, "anxiety of place,"[2] at living in Butte, which was a mining town far from the centers of culture, and used the money from her first book's sales to travel to Chicago, then Massachusetts. She lived in Rockland, Massachusetts from 1903–1908, then in Greenwich Village from 1908–1909, where she continued writing and, by her own account, living a decadent and Bohemian existence.[8] She was close friends with feminist writer Inez Haynes Irwin, who is mentioned in MacLane's private correspondence and appears in some of MacLane's 1910 writing in a Butte newspaper.

MacLane died in Chicago in early August 1929, aged 48. She was soon forgotten and her prose remained out of print until late 1993, when The Story of Mary MacLane and some of her newspaper feature work was republished in an anthology titled Tender Darkness.

Contemporary collections and performances[edit]

In January 2011, the publisher of Tender Darkness (1993) announced forthcoming publication of an integrated complete-works anthology and biographical study of MacLane. The first volume, Human Days: A Mary MacLane Reader (with Foreword by Bojana Novakovic), is scheduled for publication in late 2011. The second volume, A Quite Unusual Intensity of Life: A Mary MacLane Companion, also issued under the Petrarca Press logo, is to be published in late 2012. The two volumes are to total 1200+ pages.

In 2011 Novakovic wrote and performed "The Story of Mary MacLane By Herself" in Melbourne. In 2012 the production was staged in Sydney. It was well received by critics and audiences.[citation needed]



  • The Story of Mary MacLane (1902)
  • My Friend, Annabel Lee (1903)
  • I, Mary MacLane: A Diary of Human Days (1917, 2013)
  • Tender Darkness (reprint anthology) (1993)
  • The Story of Mary MacLane and Other Writings (reprint anthology) (1999)
  • Human Days: A Mary MacLane Anthology (foreword by Bojana Novakovic) (2011)
  • A Quite Unusual Intensity of Life: A Mary MacLane Companion (2012)
  • I Await the Devil's Coming (2013)

Selected articles[edit]

  • Consider Thy Youth and Therein (1899)
  • Mary MacLane at Newport (1902)
  • Mary MacLane on Wall Street (1902)
  • Mary MacLane in Little Old New York (1902)
  • On Marriage (1902)
  • Mary MacLane Soliloquizes on Scarlet Fever (1910)
  • Mary MacLane Meets the Vampire on the Isle of Treacherous Delights (1910)
  • Mary MacLane Wants a Vote - For the Other Woman (1910)
  • Woman and the Cigarette (1911)
  • Mary MacLane Says - (1911)
  • Mary MacLane on Marriage (1917)

Screenplays and filmography[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Mattern, Carolyn J., "Mary MacLane: A Feminist Opinion", Montana The Magazine of Western History, 27 (Autumn 1977), 54-63.
  • Miller, Barbara, "'Hot as Live Embers--Cold as Hail': The Restless Soul of Butte's Mary MacLane", Montana Magazine, September 1982, 50-53.
  • Terris, Virginia R., "Mary MacLane--Realist", The Speculator, Summer 1985, 42-49.
  • Wheeler, Leslie A., "Montana's Shocking 'Lit'ry Lady'", Montana The Magazine of Western History, 27 (Summer 1977), 20-33.


  1. ^ The Chicagoan, obituary editorial, August 1929. Quoted in Tender Darkness, Introduction.
  2. ^ a b c Watson, Julia Dr. (2002). "Introduction", The Story of Mary MacLane. ISBN 1-931832-19-6.
  3. ^ New York Times obituary article, 9 August 1929
  4. ^ a b Story of Mary MacLane (1902 and 1911), first entry.
  5. ^ Tender Darkness, bibliography
  6. ^ Tender Darkness, introduction
  7. ^ a b "Mary MacLane", Accessed: December 16, 2012.
  8. ^ Unpublished personal letters in the collection of the Tender Darkness publisher are to be published in forthcoming anthology.

External links[edit]