Topics: Genius, loneliness.
Review by : Chrisbookarama
How would I describe Mary MacLane? She is the personification of a meeting between Sylvia Plath and The Craft’s Fairuza Balk character in Lorde’s basement. She’s that goth girl in the back of your High School English class who thinks she’s smarter than the teacher, and she’s probably right. She’s the girl your mom warned you about.
“This is not a diary. It is a portrayal. My inner life shown in its nakedness.” That explains what The Story of Mary MacLane is about in the author’s own words. At the beginning of 1901, Mary set about recording her “three months of Nothingness.” She begins by telling the reader that she is a genius, an egotist, and there is no parallel.
Mary was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and grew up in Butte, Montana. Of her family she doesn’t have much good to say about any of them. They all bore her. They did leave the legacy of being “the real MacLane” of her generation.
I am the real MacLane of my generation. The real MacLane in these later centuries is always a woman. The men of the family never amount to anything worth naming—if one accepts the acme, the zenith, of pure selfishness, with a large letter “s.”
Being a singular woman, she feels her genius wasted in Butte. She waits for the devil to bring her happiness. This is her favorite topic. Mary wanted her memoir to be titled I Await the Devil’s Coming, but the publisher wasn’t having it. She begs the devil to come and marry her for “three days” and has imaginary conversations with him. The devil is a man, a manly man, just as she wants him.
“What would you have me do, little MacLane?” he would say again.
I would answer: “Hurt me, burn me, consume me with hot love, shake me violently, embrace me hard, hard in your strong, steel arms, kiss me with wonderful burning kisses—press your lips to mine with passion, and your soul and mine would meet then in an anguish of joy for me!”
Mary has one friend, a former teacher who moved away, her anemone lady. She writes her long letters, some she sends. Mary is in love with the anemone lady.
I feel in the anemone lady a strange attraction of sex. There is in me a masculine element that, when I am thinking of her, arises and overshadows all the others.
“Why am I not a man,” I say to the sand and barrenness with a certain strained, tense passion, “that I might give this wonderful, dear, delicious woman an absolutely perfect love!”
And this is my predominating feeling for her.
So, then, it is not the woman-love, but the man-love, set in the mysterious sensibilities of my woman-nature. It brings me pain and pleasure mingled in that odd, odd fashion.
Do you think a man is the only creature with whom one may fall in love?
When not thinking about the devil, the anemone lady, and sometimes Napoleon, Mary steals and lies to entertain herself. She has conversations with tinkers, and dirty old ladies. She takes long walks on the prairie, and writes her portrayal.
The Story of Mary MacLane is a strange book. It was quite a hit with teenaged girls when it came out. Mary wished for someone to understand and many young women did. In many ways Mary, for all her genius, is like other girls. She is waiting for something, for her life to start. She thinks forty is old (she wouldn’t live to see fifty), and enjoys her body. She even has a crush.
Even though I raised my eyebrows at her claims of genius, once I read her words, I couldn’t disagree. This was not the kind of writing the public of 1902 would expect of a nineteen year old lady. She opens herself up, knowing “I am not good. I am not virtuous. I am not sympathetic.” She’s sexual and angry and all the things a good Victorian girl shouldn’t be.
In 2013, Melville House republished The Story of Mary MacLane as I Await the Devil’s Coming.
This was a LibriVox recording read by Kristin Hughes. Ms Hughes has the kind of voice perfect for Mary.
- The Craft, Columbia Pictures, 1996
- The Simpsons Wiki