Mary Butts and the “War-fairy-tale”: Femininity, Archaeology, and Great War Rhetoric in Ashe of Rings

Angie Blumberg, Auburn University
Vol. 38, No. 2 (Fall 2019), 357-379

This essay addresses the neglected modernist writer Mary Butts, focusing on her novel Ashe of Rings (1925) while also drawing on her autobiography The Crystal Cabinet (1937) and two pamphlet essays, “Warning to Hikers” (1932) and “Ghosties and Ghoulies” (1933). Described by Butts as a “War-fairy-tale,” Ashe of Rings invokes the prehistoric Dorset landscape to mediate the traumas of modernity and the First World War. Paying particular attention to her representations of ancient landscapes, this essay foregrounds Butts’s appropriation of archaeological experience as a means of reshaping discourses that the war had transformed. Personifying the violence of industrial conflict and modernity in the novel’s femme fatale, and foiling her with a heroine linked intimately to the prehistoric landscape, Butts re-negotiates debates about femininity impelled by the crises of war and undermines the war rhetoric of sacrifice through her heroine’s ritual communion with that ancient landscape. This essay thus adds to a limited body of scholarship on Butts’s work, develops an understanding of Butts as a significant woman writer of the First World War, and offers a new way of reading literary mediations of the war through representations of material encounters with the distant past.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]