Mary MacLane

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Mary MacLane
Mary MacLane in 1918.jpg
MacLane in 1918
BornMay 1, 1881
DiedAugust 6, 1929(1929-08-06) (aged 48)
Chicago, Illinois, United States

Mary MacLane (May 1, 1881 – c. August 6, 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 uncontrollable, 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]


Mary MacLane (From the inside cover of The Story of Mary MacLane, Herbert S. Stone and Company, 1902)

From the beginning, MacLane's writing was characterized by a direct, fiery, 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 1901, MacLane wrote her first book, titled by its author I Await the Devil's Coming but changed by its publishers, Herbert S. Stone & Co., to The Story of Mary MacLane. It sold 100,000 copies in the first month [6] and was influential on young women, but was pilloried by conservative critics and readers, and lightly ridiculed by H. L. Mencken.

Some critics[citation needed] 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.

Her second book, My Friend Annabel Lee was published by Stone in 1903. More experimental in style than her debut book, it was not nearly so sensational, though MacLane was said to have made a fairly large amount of money.

Her final book, I, Mary Maclane: A Diary of Human Days was published by Frederick A. Stokes in 1917 and sold moderately well but may have been overshadowed by America's recent entry into World War I.

In 1917, she wrote and starred in the 90-minute autobiographical silent film titled Men Who Have Made Love to Me,[7] for Essanay Studios. Produced by film pioneer George Kirke Spoor and based on MacLane's 1910 article of the same title for a Butte newspaper, it has been speculated to have been an extremely early, if not the earliest, sustained breaking of the fourth wall in cinema, with the writer-star directly addressing the audience. Though stills and some subtitles have survived, the film is now believed to be lost.


Among the numerous authors who referenced, parodied, or answered MacLane were Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harriet Monroe, famed lawyer Clarence Darrow, Ring Lardner Jr., Sherwood Anderson and Daniel Clowes in Ice Haven. Among the less-remembered was Gertrude Sanborn, who published an optimistic riposte to MacLane's 1917 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 city far from cultural centers, and used the money from her first book's sales to travel to Chicago and then throughout the East Coast. She lived in Rockland, Massachusetts, wintering in St. Augustine, Florida, from 1903–1908, then in Greenwich Village from 1908–1909, where she continued writing and, by her later published accounts, living a decadent and Bohemian existence. She was close friends with the feminist writer Inez Haynes Irwin, who is referenced in some of MacLane's 1910 writing in a Butte newspaper and who in turn mentioned MacLane in a 1911 magazine article.

For a period she lived with her friend Caroline M. Branson, who had been the long-time companion of Maria Louise Pool until the latter's death in 1898. They lived in the Rockland's house that Pool left to Branson. Mary Maclane also had a multi-decade friendship with Harriet Monroe.

MacLane died in Chicago in early August 1929, aged 48. She was less frequently discussed through the mid to late 20th century, 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 Tender Darkness: A Mary MacLane Anthology.

Contemporary collections and performances[edit]

In 2011, the publisher of Tender Darkness (1993) published an expanded anthology titled Human Days: A Mary MacLane Reader (with a Foreword by Bojana Novakovic).

In 2011, Novakovic wrote and performed "The Story of Mary MacLane – By Herself" in Melbourne, Australia, which was subsequently staged in Sydney, Australia in 2012.

In the 2010s, MacLane's work was translated into French, Danish, and Spanish. A German edition was published in 2020.



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

Selected articles[edit]

  • [Untitled article on stoicism] (1898)
  • Consider Thy Youth and Therein (1899)
  • Charles Dickens – Best of Castle-Builders (graduate oration, 1899)
  • Mary MacLane at Newport (1902)
  • Mary MacLane at Coney Island
  • Mary MacLane on Wall Street (1902)
  • Mary MacLane in Little Old New York (1902)
  • On Marriage (1902)
  • A Foreground and a Background (1903)
  • Mary MacLane Discusses the ‘Outward Seeming of Denver’ (1903)
  • The Second 'Story of Mary MacLane' (1909)
  • Mary MacLane Soliloquizes on Scarlet Fever (1910)
  • Mary MacLane Meets the Vampire on the Isle of Treacherous Delights (1910)
  • The Autobiography of the Kid Primitive (1910)
  • Mary MacLane Wants a Vote – For the Other Woman (1910)
  • Men Who Have Made Love to Me (1910)
  • The Latter-Day Litany of Mary MacLane (1910)
  • The Borrower of Two-Dollar Bills – and Other Women (1910)
  • A Waif of Destiny on the High Seas (1910)
  • Woman and the Cigarette (1911)
  • Mary MacLane Says – (1911)
  • Mary MacLane on Marriage (1917)
  • The Movies and Me (1918)

Screenplays and filmography[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

The 2020 novel Plain Bad Heroines features MacLane's life and work as a reoccurring interest for multiple characters in the book, which draws its title from a passage from MacLane's The Story of Mary MacLane.[8]

Further reading[edit]

  • Halverson, Cathryn. "The Devil and Desire in Butte, Montana." In Maverick Autobiographies: Women Writers and the American West, 1900-1936. Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography series, William L. Andrews, general editor. University of Wisconsin Press, 2004. Borrowable at Internet Archive.
  • 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. ^ "Plain Bad Heroines is an Engrossing Gothic Horror Story". Lambda Literary. 2020-11-11. Retrieved 2020-11-28.

External links[edit]