Introduction to Tender Darkness: A Mary MacLane Anthology
Abernathy & Brown
The world for Mary MacLane was one-half wonder, one-half adventure. She found inspiration all around her, from the great plateaus and mountains of her native Butte to the rarified gentry of Newport in its robber-baron glory days. She captured the fancy of millions in this country and abroad, was elevated to near-mythic status in her own time, and was gossiped about incessantly, imitated constantly, and condemned mercilessly. She was hailed by some of the finest authors and critics of her day as a literary genius, and was endlessly celebrated (when she was not being reviled) by the lowest of the yellow press. She was the prototype of today's media icons. And yet this unique individual - pioneering free spirit, bon vivant, gambler extraordinaire, newswoman, writer for and star of the silent screen - has somehow remained out of print and unavailable to readers in her own country for more than seventy-five years.
She wrote her first book in 1901, at the age of nineteen. It created a nationwide sensation when published a year later, sold almost 100,000 copies in its first month, and made her a rich woman. The Story of Mary MacLane was like a flame suddenly springing up in the closed tinderbox of those dry, stuffy Edwardian times. In an era in which women, like children, were to be seen and not heard, Mary MacLane gave her sex a voice. And what a voice it was. With a frankness and sophistication far beyond her tender years, she wrote openly of such diverse things as drugs, death, the Devil (whom she blithely announced she wished to marry, should he ever appear), truth, bisexuality, and beauty. Her writing rings true today, and actually says more to us now than it did to her own generation. As we approach the end of the Twentieth Century in America, many of us have been forced to realize that the traditional values and attitudes no longer hold true. The rules no longer apply. And Mary was fighting to rewrite the entire rulebook, in the hide-bound America of 1901 - fighting to live her life, and to write about it, on her own terms.
While she was greatly misunderstood in her time, there can be no doubt that she was a figure of major importance. The Chicagoan eloquently eulogized "this errant daughter of literature" upon her death in August 1929 as "the first of the self-expressionists, and also the first of the flappers. She represented the missing link between the shaved bare leg of the present and the bashful ankle of the past. She should be as important to any student of modern manners as the Java ape-man is to an- thropologists. She throws the subject into perspective, for she broke loose upon a startled world as far back as 1902.
"How did it happen that a revolution in manners, a transvaluation of values in the female code of behavior, started, or seemed to start, with an unruly young woman who couldn't bear the sight of the tooth-brushes hanging up in the family bathroom at Butte, Montana? What seed fell upon that austere provincial soil to produce this amorous diarist with a narcissus complex? What mystic or glandular voices spoke to Mary, bidding her go forth into the world as the Jeanne d'Arc of the Warm Mammas?
"The New Woman has had many famous prophets, from Susan B. Anthony to Henrik Ibsen, but the origin of her wild young sister, the New Female, has not yet been carefully traced. The career of Mary MacLane is Chapter I in The History of Flapperism, ready-made for any ambitious sociologist. This is a work that is crying to be written - yea, crying out loud."
But The History of Flapperism was never to be written, and Mary MacLane was gradually forgotten. For a scant two months after she died, so too died the decade she helped create: the Roaring Twenties, collapsing in on itself one awful October day known forever after as Black Thursday. But no matter. Now, in this book, after too many years in the shadows, Mary MacLane lives again.
The present volume affords a broad overview of MacLane's most productive years. Included are the complete text of her first book (printed for the first time in its original, unexpurgated form); a 1902 interview with the enigmatic writer; seven of her colorful newspaper feature articles (two of them written, in the first flush of her success, for Joseph Pulitzer's flagship Manhattan daily, the rest in 1910, when MacLane had returned to Montana after seven years of East Coast lionizing); notes; and a detailed bibliography.
I am indebted to many people and institutions for their kind assistance. To Carole Bell, Rosemary C. Hanes, and Pat Rigsby of the Library of Congress; Francena Brumbaugh of Stanford University; Harry Clancy; Ellen Crain of the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives; Ann Deromedi and JoAnn Myers of the Thermopolis (Wyoming) Public Library; Anne Drew and John Hughes of the Butte-Silver Bow Public Library; Martha Finnerty; Jacqueline Fretwell of the St Augustine (Florida) Historical Society; the George Washington University Library; Bob Hemmingson of the Fergus Falls (Minnesota) Public Library; Willis Kim of the University of California at Berkeley Library; Margaret Kulis of the Newberry Library; Paula Lee and Richard Popp of the University of Chicago Library; Phil Lipson; Ronald S. Magliozzi of the Museum of Modern Art; Carolyn J. Mattern; Ada McAllister; the New York Public Library; the Otter Tail County (Minnesota) Historical Society; Lucille Nichols Patrick; the Rockland (Massachusetts) Public Library; Richard A. Schrader of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library; Dr Mary Smith; Bruce Stuppi; Dr Virginia Terris; Tracy Thornton of the Montana Standard; the University of San Diego Library; Dave Walter and Rebecca Kohl of the Montana Historical Society; and Leslie Wheeler - my grateful thanks. And to Margery Wood and Elizabeth Wood, my very special appreciation.