Welcome to…

The Mary Butts Letters Project


Home as a letter and manifesto

Dear reader,

Thank you for your visit.

We value your contribution to this exploration of modernist letters, and specifically the correspondence of British author Mary Butts (1890-1937). As you navigate this site, there are few things you need to know:

  1. We have more questions than answers
    Where might the letters of an obscure British modernist author, Mary Butts, take us?
  2. The Mary Butts Letters Project begins with the printed page,
    travailing the hidden, open, and regulated spaces of libraries and archives, searching for letters
  3. And constantly returns to the digital,
    as it scans, transcribes, and critically and artistically explores the letters scattered across libraries in North America and Europe, and reassembles them here.
  4. The Project begins with Butts’s letters to friend and fellow author, Douglas Goldring,
    housed in the University of Victoria Special Collections, transcribed in 2019.
  5. Scans of letters will continue to be added to this site,
    in an act of preservation – of a valuable resource;
    in the continued recovery of a lesser-known modernist author, helping to restore her to a more prominent (and we believe deserved) position within the modernist canon;
    in the exploration of an assemblage of transnational communities of international modernism, both physical and textual, that Butts inhabited and helped create in the 1920s and 1930s;
    as part of a growing assemblage of digital modernist projects around the world.
  6. Indeed, the Mary Butts Letters Project is an assemblage of aims and practices
    overlapping, supportive, isolated, and contradictory: aims both serious and playful in the spirit of Butts’s work, academic enquiry, and artistic production. And conscious of it various parts and paths, forged from letters, authors, literature, scholars, emails, and institutions.
  7. The Project beats a path of theory,
    developing a (spatial) theoretical framework that will enable original and imaginative responses to the letters and other transnational spaces.
  8. We look to begin to theorize the modernist letter.
    What might a modernist letter be?

Who was Mary Butts?

Mary Butts (1890-1937)

Mary Butts is a British modernist author of an experimental queer – proto-environmental – feminist – occult – ritual- and jazz-infused work. Born into some privilege, she grew up in a country house filled with the work of the Pre-Raphaelites and perhaps more importantly William Blake, an influence she identifies as visionary. Butts spent much of the 1920s in France, an enthusiastic participant in the bar and café culture of Paris and the French Riviera, before relocating to the small fishing village of Sennen Cove on the west coast of Cornwall in 1932. She collaborated and smoked opium with Jean Cocteau; studied, briefly, under notorious occultist Aleister Crowley; occasionally took tea with Virginia Woolf (who really didn’t like her); found a like-minded author and friend in Ezra Pound; and carried on a long correspondence with Charles Williams on matters spiritual and religious and with preeminent writer of ghost stories, M. R. James on things that go bump in the night. Along with seven novels (two still unpublished), numerous short stories (for which she was best known), a smattering of poems, and a prodigious number of journal entries, she also penned a voluminous correspondence.

Read digitized letters from…

University of Victoria

UVic Libraries Special Collections

Yale University

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

University of Buffalo

Archival & Manuscript Collections


I can’t hem a handkerchief neatly, but I can write.

– Mary Butts, June 1920